Angela Li on why hunger for Hong Kong art has never been stronger


Ahead of Art Central 2022, get to know Angela Li, founder of Contemporary By Angela Li, who puts a spotlight on homegrown artistic talent from right here in Hong Kong.

Angela Li’s path into the art world was anything but conventional.

Though she enjoyed painting while she was young, she would go on to study mathematics and economics at university, eventually working in banking after graduation. Banking has its perks, however: the career afforded her an opportunity to start building her art collection and, in turn, drew her eye back to the art world at large.

“I was getting slightly bored with my job and the art world looked very alluring, with the champagne receptions of exhibition openings and frequent travelling,” says Li. “Fooled by the glamorous illusion and not quite knowing all the hard work involved, I ventured into the art world by becoming an art dealer and consultant first, and later decided to open a gallery on Hollywood Road.”

That gallery, opened in 2008, would become the first iteration of Contemporary by Angela Li. Starting out was a bit of a baptism by fire for Li — without prior experience as her guide, she learned the ins and outs of what it really takes to run a gallery of her own in real time, day by day.

But hard work, persistence and an eye for talented young artists paid off, and in 2013, Li relocated to a beautiful new location at 248 Hollywood Road, where the gallery still stands today. Inside, you’ll discover an eclectic curation of “contemporary and avant-garde artists from China, Hong Kong and worldwide.”

Contemporary by Angela Li, 248 Hollywood Road

This month, you’ll be able to check out Contemporary by Angela Li at Art Central from 26-29 May. The gallery will be following up last year’s extremely memorable (and Instagrammable) “The Lonesome Changing Room” from Chan Wai Lap with a new solo project from Hong Kong artist, Wong Sze Wai.

“She is a very talented young Hong Kong artist who studied BA and MFA at CUHK, and also went onto doing residencies in Shangri-la and Bulgaria after graduation. Her works are already in high profile collections, and she is definitely a name to watch,” says Li.

Like Chan Wai Lap and Wong Sze Wai, it’s the homegrown local talent, Hong Kong artists, that Li notes have seen a tremendous boost in recent years.

Wong Sze Wai, “The Missing Operator” (2021)

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, for a couple of weeks, the gallery had been extremely quiet. But to the locals, the decline in international travel, coupled with the decline in cultural stimulations such as cancellations of big shows and frequent closing of museums, and galleries being relatively safe spaces — masks are on at all times and there are no touching of things — within a few weeks, we actually see even more visitors to our gallery than normal times,” says Li.

Yes, while museums (like bars, gyms and cinemas) were typically among the first forced into closure through Hong Kong’s first, second, third, fourth and fifth waves, smaller, privately owned galleries have been allowed to stay open, offering Hongkongers well, something, anything to do, and galleries like Contemporary by Angela Li the chance to get more eyes on some tremendously talented artists from right here in their own backyard.

“The hunger for local art has never been stronger,” says Li. “Local collectors have put much more of their attention on local artists, which wasn’t necessarily the case before, and have shown their support in local businesses like mine. We have had quite a few sellout shows for Hong Kong artists, and the response has been amazing.”

Cheung Tsz Hin’s “spinelessly planting”, showing in the gallery this May

While in past years, Li would have had more opportunities to travel and discover more rising artists around the globe, living and working in Hong Kong has provided plenty of opportunities for her and her artists to shine amid the challenges.

“My gallery has stayed open throughout the pandemic and our programme has been full, with a new show every two months on top of local art fair participations, including Art Central, Spotlight by Art Basel, Unscheduled and Fine Art Asia,” she says.

If she has any regrets, it’s having to let go of some of the tremendous works that have come and gone from the walls of Contemporary by Angela Li.

“There were so many pieces that I wanted to keep for myself but I tend to let my collectors choose first, otherwise I will have nothing to sell!” says Li. “For the better development of my artists’ careers, I feel that the priority is for their works to go into good collectors’ collections, which will help their ongoing development, rather than staying in my hands. I do regret it every now and then but I would have done the same, given the opportunity again.”

Chan Wai Lap, “the lonesome changing room” at Art Central 2021

As the appreciation of, and demand for, Hong Kong artists continues to grow, she also notes the culture around young people pursuing an art career here is changing, and for the better. Li, who followed a more traditional path before taking her turn into the art world, challenges the notion that one must defy their parents to pursue a creative dream.

“The artists I work with almost all have very supportive parents and families,” she says. “Their families might not be able to provide for them much financially — meaning they would still have to get other full- or part-time jobs in order to cover their own living expenses — but most parents of this generation understand that the most important thing is for the artist to have a career that he or she enjoys, and that creativity is irreplaceable by the computer.”

And as for any would-be founders that hope to one day follow in her footsteps and open a gallery of their own, Li offers a word of wisdom:

“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help.”

Contemporary by Angela Li, 248 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 3571 8200

Contemporary by Angela Li at Art Central 2022:

  • Gallery Sector – Booth #1A
    • Artists: Kurt Chan, Chan Wai Lap, Cheung Tsz Hin, Fatina Kong, Kwong Man Chun, Lv Shanchuan, Ng Chung, Jacky Tsai, Wu Didi, Wu Guanzhong, Angela Yuen
  • Solo Project – Booth #B14 | Wong Sze Wai – The Missing Operator

Tickets for Art Central Hong Kong 2022 are on sale now through HKTicketing — keep updated by following Art Central’s websiteFacebook and Instagram.

Art Central runs from Thursday 26 May to Sunday 29 May (Preview 25 May) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong


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