Exhausted from my long day previously, I got a late start. I prefer modern to contemporary art (anything before 1970) but I’m still interested in the latter, so I went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It was terrible. I’m not a philistine, I can look at photos, prints, even sculptures and appreciate how they depict reality or use space. But something I can’t stand is ceramics. Put a painting of mythical animals on a tureen – and the museum had lots – and it puts me sleep.
I think the museum knew this, because it attempted a multi-roomed ‘political economy of ceramics’ exhibit, which invited visitors to pretend they were ceramics traders, and stamp cards to figure out what kind of emotion they brought to ceramics trading… fuck, I can’t do it, I’m even boring myself with this description. Did you know Europeans stopped importing Chinese ceramics after they figured out how to copy it? Do you even care?
Yes, it was that dull – Alice In Wonderland, the far superior 1966 psychedelic version
While I’m at it, also dull are landscape watercolours and inks, and calligraphy is spectacularly sleep-inducing. There were lots of those too. The contemporary art wasn’t much better. Someone cut up Ozu movies and made high-school-quality alternative posters for them in pencil. Everything was fragmented. Really? That’s all you’ve got to say about the world? My problem with most contemporary art is it’s so firmly inward-focused, as if the inner lives of artists can reveal great insights about the world. I don’t think they can, because most of them are art-school graduates who express their distance from wage-labour by making interminable pieces about their feelings. I have feelings already, I don’t need yours. Show me something that reflects, in some form, the realities of most people’s lives.
In fairness, some artists did this. I liked the photographs of street vendor shops and minutiae of peoples lives… but I take these on my iPhone and never got into a gallery, eliminating the always-irritating ‘but have you done that?’ argument. In fact, there were two pieces in the entire gallery I appreciated: fake roosters on trolleys, and a rabbit and human organs pieced together by bits of cardboard, the latter opened to show tiny doors, as a statement on lives lived in small flats. Relevant, innovative. The rest sucked out valuable time I could’ve spent enjoying the Spectacle.
After that, it was back onto the subway, which wasn’t quite as grandiose as Seoul’s, but had some lovely reminders of my spiritual home – not just the British-accented subway announcer but the stickers too:
The only thing left to mention is the Hong Kong Duty Free, which has an amazing, inexpensive (compared to Korea) selection of decent whiskeys. Sipping my sherry cask-aged Laphroaig at home made the return to stultifying wage-labour that much easier. I really liked Hong Kong: it was British enough to satisfy my cravings for good chocolate and alcohol, and Buddhist enough to have good vegetarian food. I had forgotten how much I enjoy being in a city where people speak my language. My opinion might have changed if I’d actually gotten the job I travelled there for (I didn’t) and been forced to live through summer humidity. But as a short-term visitor, I highly recommend it.