We chat with Sharlane Foo to learn more about Opera Gallery’s influence in shaping art collection and curation in Hong Kong and her unique outlook as a woman in the art industry

If you've walked up Wyndham Street, there's no doubt your eyes will be immediately drawn to the eye-catching visuals behind the floor-to-ceiling windows of the 4-storey stand-alone building. These striking masterpieces are the type of modern, innovative artworks Sharlane Foo, director of Opera Gallery Hong Kong, is bringing to the city.

With extensive experience in art curation and a background in Southeast Asian Art History, Sharlane knows how to read her audience: her keen understanding of the market in Hong Kong enables her to design collaborations and programmes that further strengthen Opera Gallery’s reputation as a forward-thinking platform, one that is uniquely in tune with the art markets on global and local scale.

The result is a progressive approach to art showcasing for both artists and collectors, where local artists gain significant exposure through Opera Gallery’s extensive network, and collectors of every level are privy to a plethora of art genres and styles.

Opera Gallery Group was founded by Gilles Dyan in 1994 and now established in 13 prime locations. It has a rich history in Asia, with Hong Kong being the first international gallery to open 15 years ago. What is your approach to art dealing and what makes the Opera Gallery in Hong Kong distinct?

The Opera Gallery model has always prided itself on providing the very highest in customer care and service. We find our clientele impressed by our diverse inventory we are able to present on the go.

With Hong Kong being fast-paced and ever-changing, it is paramount that we at Opera constantly modify and adapt to stay relevant in the art realm. We might have been one of the earliest galleries to recognise this city for all its opportunities, but we also know there is no value resting on our laurels.

Together with my young, diverse energetic team in Hong Kong, we are determined to take on challenges to present admirable and exotic artworks never seen before in the city. 

What would you say are key tenets or beliefs for the Opera Gallery brand, when working with artists, and with collectors?

The role of the gallery is to bridge the gap between artists and collectors. I find that collectors gain the most satisfaction once they have the utmost understanding of the artist’s concept behind every piece.

We aim to create a variety of curated program of exhibitions to connect with potential and existing collectors. While Opera Gallery is a supporter of the primary art sector, we also secure and protect the heritage of established Modern and Contemporary artists through collaborations with museums and art centres.

See also: Hong Kong Art Collectors: 12 Names You Should Know

How do you think Opera Gallery Hong Kong has contributed to the progress of Asian modern and contemporary art within the Asia region and internationally?

Last year, we presented the Arts of Asia group show, where I curated and explored the theme of what defines Asia, showcasing artists from Japan to Iran. To be able to work with multicultural teams across our galleries worldwide, our team is able to create cohesive shows with strong traditions and values defined in the works.

Bringing relevant exhibitions to our Hong Kong audience is an important factor when curating shows to enhance curiosity and excitement. I like to raise conversations and explore topics which are accepted or being discussed openly in other parts of the world. 

This year for Art Month we featured a solo exhibition by British transgender artist David Kim Whittaker. Her works explore questions of identity and gender dysphoria. Questions which we are bringing modern-day answers to.

With 15 years in Hong Kong, what are some interesting ways Opera Gallery has sought progression?

Since arriving at Opera in 2017, I built a multicultural and multilingual team with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Together, we added several programs I feel are needed to progress our foothold in the region.

Today, acceptance to going digital has changed the way we promote our inventory traditionally. Regular updates on social media is comparatively the same as the use of all other mediums.

Our young team of digital experts based here in Hong Kong create bilingual content, not just catering to our home-grown audience but to those living abroad.

Every single day we make new connections with people who have located artists we represent through our social media platforms, extending our reach and clientele quickly.

See also: Virtual Visionary: How ShanyanKoder Is Taking The Art World Digital

Is art a man’s world? And as a woman working in this world, what are some positive changes you would like to see in the art scene?

Yes, unfortunately, it still is male-dominant at senior management levels. However, I am proud to be a woman in this time and a witness to the evolution of the roles of genders. I am proud to lead a team of diverse individuals who have been selected for their abilities and strength above all.

As the youngest director in Opera Gallery’s history, I feel it is my duty to inspire and empower women in every way possible. Opera Hong Kong has had a long history of women at the helm and I am honoured to carry the torch for my generation.

With more women being involved in the art scene, I foresee more positions being awarded to individuals for their specific merits rather than their gender.

What are some of the challenges you have personally faced as a woman in this field?

The art industry is an extremely competitive environment which requires hard work, passion, and dedication to succeed. You need to work smart and I believe a strong sense of work ethic, business acumen and constant diligence will get you far.

In the arts as well as most industries, networking is important. However, reputation is everything and impossible to revive once lost, so it is crucial to not only be approachable and knowledgeable but also trustworthy.

See also: 5 Women Artists From Hong Kong You Should Know

As a gallery director, what are your thoughts on art as an investment?

I am fortunate to have many friends who are artists and I take great pleasure in supporting the work they do and enjoy the personal connection to the pieces. I find it important to invest into the artist themselves and to see their increase in value gives me more satisfaction than my potential returns.

When it comes to art as an investment asset, yes, of course, there is potential to make great gains through the sale and purchase of pieces; though like all markets you must be knowledgeable about what you are interested in acquiring and that usually requires some input and experience to achieve the greatest profit.

Much like real estate or cars, art is quickly becoming its own asset class. What are the latest trends or developments in this approach to purchasing art?

Art is becoming incorporated into our lifestyles through technology. Social media has revolutionized the way people locate new talent while giving artists a new platform to communicate with their audience. This tool has democratized access to art and has opened the industry to cater to any budget.

There have been some true success stories in recent years, whose names have become synonymous with current cultural icons. These connections to lifestyles of key influencers blur that line of the assets and have brought some artist up to values only previously seen by works by recognised masters.

For those wanting to start their own art collection, what are a few key questions to ask yourself when looking for that first piece?

You have to ask yourself, “what is the purpose of the collection? How will it change your life? Are you looking to incorporate it into a living space or will this work add to the existing collection stored elsewhere?”

These are some questions anyone should think of prior to purchasing, as everyone has different requirements and interests in art but the most important of all, there is no right or wrong in art.

Many factors go into considering the purchase of a work of art—what advice or guidance would you give to new art collectors?

Start small and buy what you like. Galleries exist to guide you and should sell you on the merits of the piece. In the end, there is no standardised checklist to follow so it is important to trust your gut!

Buying pieces you like over time and building on that can create a beautiful collection personal to you. With patience, it allows you to create a bond with the artworks and help you decide on how you want to expand the collection.

See also: Opinion: 8 Ways To Improve Hong Kong's Art Scene