Fred Scholle reflects on how Hong Kong's art scene has changed since he first opened the doors of Galerie du Monde 45 years ago
Hong Kong’s art scene has changed almost beyond recognition since 1974. Back then, the Hong Kong Museum of Art had only recently opened, the Hong Kong Arts Centre was under construction and there was only a handful of commercial galleries open in the city—one of them being Galerie du Monde.
Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, Galerie du Monde is now the oldest gallery in the city. "I think we're stronger than ever," says Fred Scholle, Galerie du Monde's founder, who carved out a niche for the business by specialising in contemporary ink art from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. Here, Scholle recounts stories of the first solo exhibition he ever hosted in Hong Kong and reveals how the gallery is branching into new areas, working with conceptual artists such as Michael Müller.
What was the first work of art that moved you?
My interest in art probably went back to the 1960s, just before I moved to Hong Kong. David Hockney was one of the artists I was interested in at the time, but I was more interested in his drawings than his paintings. His drawings really moved me and I thought he was just a fantastic draughtsman. The drawings that interested me the most were his portraits — portraits of friends or lovers or family members.
I was also very impressed with the artists Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, who first sparked my interest in contemporary ink painting in Hong Kong and Mainland China. They were influenced by Chinese ink painting, and I believe their work has gone on to influence contemporary Chinese artists.
What was the first exhibition you ever hosted at Galerie du Monde?
The first solo show we hosted was in 1977 and was work by David Hockney. When we first opened in 1974, we were showing works by American and European artists but didn't do a solo show because what we were doing was very new to Hong Kong at the time—there weren't galleries showing Western art. So I spent that time learning about our collectors' interests.
We chose Hockney because I met Hockney in Los Angeles at an atelier owned by a friend of mine. Hockney was working with the atelier on a new series of etchings, so we worked something out and hosted a solo show in Hong Kong.
Hockney had already had major exhibitions and had a considerable following, but I was still nervous. But the exhibition went very well and we sold all the works.
See also: What Sold At Art Basel Hong Kong 2019
What's the most challenging exhibition you've ever hosted at Galerie du Monde?
I would say the exhibition that’s been most challenging is the one that we hosted last March of the German artist Michael Müller. Michael is brilliant. I started collecting his work a few years before we started working with him, and we were very pleased when he agreed to do a solo exhibition with us.
Part of the exhibition was comprised of installation pieces and sculptures, and all of those pieces were coated with a special black paste material, which was made to a formula Michael discovered somewhere in Africa. It's made from various materials, including urine, blood and semen. It gives off a very strange smell—not offensive, but strange. Anyone who came into the gallery during that time would walk in and say, “what’s that smell?”
Michael's work is also very erotic, and we were a little bit worried some people might take offence. You never know in Hong Kong. We heard a few murmurings, but no one ever made an official complaint. And the exhibition was a great success—there's now a solid base of collectors of his work in Asia and we continue to sell his work.
Next month, our managing director, Kelvin Yang, and I are going to New York because the most important museum there is acquiring one of Michael's works.
Is there an artist you don’t currently work with who you’d love to represent?
I’d have to say David Hockney. Simply because he’s an incredible artist who uses such a diverse array of media. Over the years he’s done so many different things and everything he touches turns out to be brilliant, whether it’s stage set design or polaroid photos or paintings. But of course this is only a dream.
What's the best thing about the art scene in Hong Kong?
The diversity of art that you can see here. In Hong Kong, we’re very fortunate to have such a diverse collection of galleries that are carrying great Western art, thanks to the big international galleries that have set up in Hong Kong. And we have local galleries that are promoting Chinese art, Asian art, we have galleries that are showing Latin American art. We have just about everything in Hong Kong that you can see in an area that's so small you can walk around most of it.
We are also lucky that Art Basel, the world's best art fair, decided to make Hong Kong its Asian home. And we also have all of the major auction houses here. I can't think of another city like it.
What's the worst?
Rent! And even before you come to paying rent, it's very difficult to find a space in Hong Kong with high enough ceilings and enough floor space for a gallery.
Who's the most recent artist to join Galerie du Monde?
Michael Müller, who I mentioned earlier. We hosted his solo exhibition last March and we'll probably do another major solo exhibition with him next year.
What exhibition are you hosting next?
We’re hosting an exhibition by the artist C. N. Liew, he’s a Malaysian-Chinese artist. This will be his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. His contemporary artworks are full of Zen philosophy. He works mainly on metal, painting acrylic on aluminium or bronze or steel plates.
He calls his work "surrealigraphy"—a fusion of Surrealism and calligraphy. His work is the only Chinese calligraphy work that has been collected by the Malaysian royal family.
Which exhibitions will you be visiting around the world in the coming year?
Kelvin and I are travelling to New York in June. While we're there, we definitely want to see the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Guggenheim.
After New York, we're travelling to Basel for Art Basel, then we're going to the Venice Biennale and after that we're heading to Berlin, where we’ll visit several galleries we know very well, like KW and Thomas Schulte.
Who in the art world most inspires you and why?
Michael Sullivan, who is recognised around the world as a leading scholar of Chinese art in the twentieth century. He spent a great deal of his life living in China and for most of his life was an art historian and collector of Chinese art. He owned more than 400 works of art, many by Chinese masters, which he bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
As I've lived most of my life in Hong Kong, I'm inspired by what Sullivan has done in documenting Chinese modern art and sharing it with the Western world. I also really admire the relationships he built—he was considered a friend by many of China's most important modern artists.
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