Street art comes in from the cold in Hong Kong

Street art comes in from the cold in Hong Kong

The hottest art galleries in town are showcasing the best international street artists, here's why and where to check them out now

Amsterdam-based artists Wayne Horse, Daniel Jimenez van Wageningen, Morcky Troubles, and Chaz from The London Police do a live graffiti performance organzied by local artists agency E.V.E.N.T.
When French graffiti artist ZEVS climbed a ladder and stuck a paint-splattered Chanel logo onto the Giorgio Armani store last year, it created a flurry in the media. He was instantly arrested, passport seized, and the news spread furiously through the city.

Although other members of the street art community are not scribbling on Central's storefronts, they are quietly making their mark in galleries across Hong Kong. Recently, several galleries have sprouted up across the city with street art on their agendas. The international street art scene is surfacing in Hong Kong with new-found momentum.

It’s time to bring [street art] into the galleries. — Daniel Jimenez van Wageningen

"For a long time street art [in Hong Kong] was underground. You couldn’t really find it in Central," says Alina Dickey who opened No Borders Gallery in 2009 with her husband Bill. The couple moved here from Moscow hoping to inject the humor, grittiness and youth of international street art into Hong Kong. This month they have flown in four of Amsterdam’s most active graffiti elite: The London Police, Daniel Jimenez van Wageningen, Morcky Troubles, and Wayne Horse.

Comparing this to just two years ago is a significant leap -- in 2008, when Hong Kong's Schoeni Gallery brought in the big guns from London’s graffiti circuit, first showing Banksy’s work and later D*Face, the hype fizzled very quickly. Yet today, more and more international graffiti artists are finding temporary shelters in Hong Kong galleries.

"It’s time to bring [street art] into the galleries. It’s different and that’s why it happened," says graffiti artist van Wageningen. "Street artists are dealing with emotions, whether it's laughter or frustration, it's very personal. If you are an urban dweller you are dealing with the same issues no matter which city you are in: high rent, you want a tan, your child is sick."

Forest Bird, a gallery devoted to urban art opened by Berlin architect Ulrike Pohl just last month, is currently showing famed German street artist Nomad. Pohl says, "I am interested in the background of these artists, their work is about their experiences on the street. It’s real, it’s honest and I respect that attitude."

Other new spaces such as above second gallery and ufoArtgalley are staying closer to home and unearthing Hong Kong’s potent underground art scene, while also bringing in international artists. This week ufoArtgallery’s "Dead Art Comes Alive" exhibition opens, giving local street artists a platform for their work. Then in May ufo will bring in highly anticipated Amsterdam street artist SIT.

Meanwhile, above second’s current exhibition "Day Job" features a group of local amateur photographers. "Hong Kong is like New York, San Francisco or London before the creative community started flourishing. At one point all these places had nothing. It took a small group of people to start it. So we have the opportunity to do something here," says Jasper Wong, co-founder of above second.

Check out all the street art shows in town now at the following galleries:

"Nomad: The Art of Losing it"
March 31 - June 31, 2010
Forest Bird Address: 39 Staunton Street, Soho, tel +852 2810 116
"April Rules"
April 1 – May 3, 2010
No Borders Gallery, 39 Aberdeen Street, Soho, tel +852 2517 6003

"Dead Art Comes Alive"
April 21- 28: Benjamin Qwek, Start From Zero, and Nimchi Yuen
April 29 – May 6: Mimi Leung, Mike Chan and Emily Eldridge
May 7 – 15:  Shann Larsson, Sonya Fu and Tanya Bennett


"SIT: 9"
May 20-June 19 
ufoArtgallery, G/F 39 Graham Street, Central, tel +852 2151 3772

"Day Job"
April 9- April 31
above second, 31 Eastern Street, tel +852 3483 7950

"Speak up" presented by E.V.E.N.T
features local street artist Olgierd Nitka aka XYZ and other local artists
9pm, May 5, 2010
Philia Lounge, 4 Arbuthnot Road, Central, tel +852 2147 2389,

Amsterdam-based artist Daniel Jimenez van Wageningen begins drawing while DJ Re:Flex spins in a live graffiti demonstration organzied by local artists agency E.V.E.N.T.

Amsterdam-based graffiti artist Chaz from The London Police begins drawing at the opening of April Rules exhibition at No Borders Gallery.

Amsterdam artist Morcky Troubles' work in No Borders Gallery.

Paris-based artist Wu Yue in front of a collaborative painting with Above Second co-founder Jasper Wong at the Above Second gallery.

Above Second gallery on Eastern Street in Sai Ying Pun.

German artist Nomad arrives at the opening of Forest Bird.

Nomad's "Sticks" at Gran Canaria, the Canary Islands.

Work by Amsterdam-based artist SIT whose exhibition "9" opens at ufoArtgallery on May 20, 2010.

A freelance writer, Payal Uttam found her way back to Hong Kong after a prolonged stint in Chicago.

Read more about Payal Uttam