Archive Fever

Left: K11 Foundation founder Adrian Cheng. Right: Collector Alan Lo, Asia Art Archive cofounder and executive director Claire Hsu, Asia Art Archive chair Jane DeBevoise, and Ronald Arculli. (Photos: Dave Choi/Asia Art Archive)

UNDER A SLIVER OF MOON on a warm November night, a sampan on Aberdeen harbor ferried prominent members of Hong Kong’s art world to the city’s iconic floating restaurant, Jumbo Kingdom, for Asia Art Archive’s fifteenth anniversary fund-raiser.

Opened in the mid-1970s, the gaudy, brightly lit barge resembles a Chinese imperial palace; it’s cherished by locals in the way that many tourist landmarks are—from a distance. “I can’t believe I’ve never been here before,” I heard often as delighted old-money Hong Kongers climbed up the gilded staircase to the entrance.

Claire Hsu and her “dream team” at AAA had dedicated eight months to planning the gala, and it certainly showed. The invitations promised an “action-packed evening” in aid of a good cause, namely, ensuring the archive can continue its important work of documenting Asia’s recent art history.

Left: Artist Antony Gormley with M+ director Lars Nittve. Right: Artists Wu Tsang and Boychild. (Photos: Li Meng de Bakker)

As we sipped fresh lime and vodka cocktails, Antony Gormley, in town for the launch of his public art project Event Horizon, attracted much admiration, as did Adrian Cheng, whose K11 Art Foundation is the lead partner of Gormley’s project in Hong Kong. Doryun Chong talked about the need for continuity at M+ following director Lars Nittve’s impending departure in January. “Four years until the building is not that long,” said the embattled museum’s chief curator. “There’s a lot of work to do.” Artists Wu Tsang and Boychild, in residence at the smart nonprofit Spring Workshop, arrived with curator Christina Li, who wondered if her upcoming performance, involving hot chocolate and a public scrying with artists Milena Bonilla and Luisa Ungar, might be a little out there even for Spring’s usual audience.

Though the evening’s tone was merry, it was imperative, said Hsu in her welcome speech, to acknowledge the tragic events that had happened just hours before in Paris. The room, alive with chatter, fell into a respectful hush. Hsu went on to thank all those who helped the archive become a vital resource for Asian contemporary art. “How did we get here?” she asked. “Well, an idea, lots of hard work, and a galaxy of friends and supporters.”

The venue was packed, with 160 guests seated tightly at round tables that were named after the planets. “The whole community is here,” said Ingrid Chu, the archive’s curator of public programs, beaming as she looked around the room at patrons enjoying a traditional Cantonese dinner of roasted meats, wonton soup, steamed fish, and lucky long-life noodles.

Before the auction, Michael Friedman appeared via video to perform a brilliant song he’d made for the occasion, with lyrics composed of quotes from people pivotal to AAA’s success, whom he interviewed before writing the piece. The song made gentle fun of the archive’s sometimes obscure role (“We all agree it’s important, but no one’s quite sure what they do”) while lauding Hsu as both “a prophet in the desert” and a “Ming vase.” It hit lightly on big questions such as Hong Kong’s political future and the city’s position as a conduit for art in Asia, and invoked AAA’s search for a permanent home in this jungle of notoriously high rents.

Left: Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant. Right: M+ chief curator Doryun Chong with Spring Workshop curator Christina Li. (Photos: Li Meng de Bakker)

Toward that optimistic end, eighty-six works had been donated for the auction, whose silent component, online at Paddle8, ended up rather too silent. Twenty-six of the lots were auctioned live, however, by the talented Francois Curiel, head of Christie’s Asia Pacific. The first was the elegant Fifteen Sheets of White Paper by Song Dong, a past resident at the archive. The creases on each sheet of paper mark 365 days of a calendar year (or 366 per leap year). The bidding was lively, with the piece selling to a determined buyer on the phone. Despite Sir David Tang’s efforts to shush everyone (and Lucy Tang’s efforts to shush her husband), the room continued to buzz amid the bids.

During the auction’s intermission, Ming Wong playfully sashayed to the stage in a blue qipao and beehive hairdo, a mask disguising his face. A man at our table groaned when the artist began lip-synching, gamely but imperfectly, a French version of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis. The sale continued, with Curiel returning dressed in one of the artist-designed Pye sweatshirts we all received as gifts under our seats—surprise!

Sculptures by Liu Wei and Zhang Xiaogang fetched the most, at $115,000 each. In all, the evening raised $1.7 million for the esteemed organization, and once the numbers were in, the Bollinger was brought out, nice and cold.

Left: Collector David Tang with dealer and collector Johnson Chang. Right: Christie's Francois Curiel and artist Ming Wong. (Photos: Dave Choi/Asia Art Archive)

Left: Doryun Chong with artist Paul Pfeiffer. Right: Alp Ercil, Joe Bae, Spring Workshop founder Mimi Brown, Marisa Yiu, and Eric Schuldenfrei. (Photos: Dave Choi/Asia Art Archive)

Left: Asia Art Archive's Chantal Wong and artist Kingsley Ng. Right: Christie's Francois Curiel. (Photos: Li Meng de Bakker)

Left: Nydia Zhang and art advisor and Collectionist founder Jehan Chu. Right: Artist Ming Wong makes an entrance. (Photos: Li Meng de Bakker)