"Extended Figure: The Art and Inspiration of Lalan" at Asia Society Hong Kong (ASHK) Center brought out the city's art lovers

Key faces from the Hong Kong art world flooded the Asia Society Hong Kong (ASHK) Center on April 26 to preview Extended Figure: The Art and Inspiration of Lalan before it opened to the public. The new exhibition features the work of the pioneering Chinese artist Xie Jing-lan, known as Lalan, and goes on show in a year that marks both 100 years since the artist’s birth and the 30th anniversary of the society. Open until September 19, this first major Hong Kong retrospective of the artist, who died in 1995, is part of the society’s series on 20th-century female Chinese artists.

In the Lippo Amphitheatre, the ASHK’s chairman Ronnie C. Chan gave an upbeat talk about the non-profit organisation’s work over the last year to a room of familiar faces, including his friend Peter Lam, who even received a greeting mid-speech from Chan.

“The Asia Society has actually been busier than ever during the pandemic,” Chan said. “Asia Society is an educational institution for arts and culture that will affect our community for centuries to come. When I was growing up, people used to say that Hong Kong was an ‘art desert’, a place devoid of culture. I’m so happy that we are now an oasis of art in this part of the world.” He then welcomed Catherine Kwai, founder of the Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, to the stage.

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'gallery right' 'gallery right'
Photo 1 of 4 Alexandre Giorgini (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)
Photo 2 of 4 Jonathan Crockett (right) (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)
Photo 3 of 4 "Remember Henri Michaux" (1984) by Lalan (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)
Photo 4 of 4 Vicky Wong, Yip Shing Yiu and Catherine Kwai (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)

Lalan was married to the artist Zao Wou-ki, with whom she moved to Paris in 1948, and her identity is often defined in relation to being his wife. However, she was an esteemed artist in her own right and a trailblazer for other women in the field. A trained singer and composer, a student of modern dance and a painter, Lalan infused her art with a deep understanding of music and movement, and broke boundaries by combining different disciplines.

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'gallery right' 'gallery right'
Photo 1 of 4 Lillian Kiang, Frankie Yeung, Ronnie C. Chan, Winsome Chow and Catherine Kwai (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)
Photo 2 of 4 Camellia Duncan, Daphne King-Yao and Yvette Yao (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)
Photo 3 of 4 Ronnie C. Chan (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)
Photo 4 of 4 Julien-Loïc Garin and Vanessa Wong (Photography: Gary Li for Tatler Hong Kong)

The gallery team spent seven years studying more than 500 paintings spanning Lalan’s 40-year career to create a digital archive of her work. “I’m often asked: ‘Why do you promote Lalan and what makes her work so special?’” said Kwai. “I tell them that I’m impressed by her determination and courage to pursue her dream as an independent artist. I admire the fact that she was recognised merely as an artist’s wife but became an artist in her own right. When you stand in front of her paintings, you can sense her explosive energy from her vigorous brushstrokes.”

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests headed upstairs to the Chantal Miller Gallery to take in 32 pieces, some of which were on public display for the first time. One that stood out was Untitled (1980-85), a mixed-media scroll that impressively covered the length of the gallery’s hallway.

The society’s executive director S. Alice Mong said, “After what has been a turbulent past year both locally and around the world, I hope that the retrospective provides much-needed joy and inspiration.”

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