Critics’ Picks

View of “Henry Shum: Vortices,” 2020.

View of “Henry Shum: Vortices,” 2020.

Hong Kong

Henry Shum

Empty Gallery
3 Yue Fung Street 18 & 19/F Grand Marine Center
September 26–November 21, 2020

Shadowy figures congregating in groups and in pairs, on boats and in nocturnal groves, inhabit “Vortices,” Henry Shum's first solo exhibition at Empty Gallery. Largely rendered in a palette of blue, brown, and orange alongside hints of green, fourteen paintings slowly and steadily captivate the eye through the artist’s restrained repertoire of gestural drips, stains, and veil-like washes, guiding visitors through the labyrinthine corridors and darkened rooms of the Hong Kong gallery. The black box installation, a hallmark of the space, here lends Shum’s compositions a mysterious aura, their subjects adrift among natural and supernatural settings.

The exhibition further benefits from the construction of arched doorways that frame works incorporating this same architectural detail, among them Annunciation, 2020, Woman and Child, 2019, and Ancient of Days (Descending Elephant Fish), 2020. Likewise, in Before a Mirror, 2020, where a veiled figure gazes into a natural vault formed by the junction of two supple trees, Shum limns the spiritual associations of the arch—a feature of sacred space, both real and painted, manmade and geologic—from the cloisters of Fra Angelico to the Great Arch of Getu.

The artist’s interest in traversal—between two and three dimensions, between the real and the symbolic—is also manifest in the exhibition’s namesake work, in which five transparent figures gather beneath a celestial and diaphanous balloon-like form that seems to open onto another dimension. The question lingers: Does this portal lead to an astral plane, or into the abyss?