Simon Lee Gallery was part of the first wave of international galleries to open in Hong Kong—and it was Katherine Schaefer who led the charge. Katherine began working for Simon Lee Gallery in London in 2009, moved to Hong Kong in 2011 and the following year flung open the doors to the gallery’s space in Pedder Building—establishing a base in the city before the arrival of Art Basel persuaded many other international galleries to take the leap.
Over the past six years the Hong Kong gallery has gone from strength to strength, making a name for itself by showcasing both big-name international artists—such as Jim Shaw and Angela Bulloch—and local stars like Chris Huen-Sin Kan.
Here, Katherine reflects on the stress of installing Simon Lee Gallery’s first ever show in Hong Kong, explains what she loves about the city and discusses the rumours swirling about artist Cady Noland.
What was the first work of art that moved you?
For me it started with the classics at age 12 with Rembrandt. The beautiful European museums blew me away and it was on a trip to Amsterdam with my family that I first visited the Rijksmuseum—my three brothers bored quickly and my parents left me at the museum with the audio guide. I was glued to the paintings until the museum closed!
What was the first exhibition you hosted?
Matias Faldbakken was the first artist we exhibited in the gallery in Hong Kong back in 2011. Having Matias as our first artist to visit Hong Kong was so exhilarating. He presented a large locker sculpture, which he marked by dragging through it a laser cutter—defacing the sculpture with a simple line.
There was a touch of drama in planning this show—we had to order a locker from China (and get a single unit rather than 10,000), get it to Hong Kong, then into Pedder Building and up to our space. It was a 10 tonne locker and there was no hoisting back then, so we used 20 blankets for sliding and protection and had 20 guys carry it up the stairs. It took them 20 hours!
It felt bold to be presenting critical, conceptual art right off the bat and I’m so happy we did. This show and many subsequent ones are thanks to the incredible eye, vision and encouragement of Simon Lee—my mentor and someone who I am sincerely indebted to for the experiences I have had in the world of contemporary art.