artnet Asks: Amanda Hon of Ben Brown Fine Arts Hong Kong

What is bringing the recent influx of international galleries to Hong Kong?

Ben Brown Fine Arts' recently appointed managing director, Amanda Hon. Image courtesy of Amanda Hon.

Ben Brown Fine Arts Hong Kong recently appointed Amanda Hon as its new managing director. Bringing her years of previous experience fromworking at Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York, Hon will now be in charge of business development and expanding the curatorial and programming alongside the gallery teams.

Established in London by Sotheby’s veteran Ben Brown in 2004, Ben Brown Fine Arts expanded its second gallery on Brook’s Mews in 2008. The following year, another space opened in the Pedder Building in Hong Kong, marking the first step of its international expansion. As the first London gallery in the historic commercial building, Ben Brown started a trend: in just two years, Gagosian Gallery and Hanart TZ Gallery opened outposts of their own in the Pedder Building, followed closely by Simon Lee Gallery in 2012 and London’s White Cube setting up shop nearby. Meanwhile, David Zwirner is currently looking to establish a permanent presence in Hong Kong.

While it’s clear that the Chinese metropolis has been attracting the top-tier galleries from around the world, the questions remains, what would these galleries do to change the local art scene? We talked to Amanda Hon to find out more.

What will you bring to the Ben Brown Fine Arts Hong Kong, and how has this new space changed since its opening in 2009?
Ben’s initial impetus for opening a gallery in Hong Kong was to bring blue-chip, western artists to the Hong Kong public, believing in the city’s cultural growth and feeling it was the right time to expand in Asia. I hope to keep Ben’s original mission and build on it by exhibiting more contemporary Asian and Western artists—creating a dialogue not only between the two cultures, but also between the historical and the contemporary. In addition, I hope to also grow Ben Brown’s presence in the United States with a second American fair.

Ben is very supportive of individual vision, collaborative and collegial and tending to give his staff a lot of leeway in shaping the program, and the program in Hong Kong reflects this spirit of collaboration.

What prompted you to move to Hong Kong and Ben Brown after three years in Mitchell-Innes & Nash? What do you see specifically in Ben Brown, its space in Hong Kong, or the Hong Kong art industry in general?
It is indeed a big move—literally halfway across the world! But for me, Hong Kong is my second home (with London my third). From a very young age, I’ve been back and forth from Hong Kong at least once a year. Witnessing this city change in the past 30 odd years—I hope this doesn’t reveal my age too much!—has really been spectacular. The city has grown so much, changing from a primarily financial hub into a global city full of culture and dynamism.

I have always been a big fan of Ben’s gallery and program of artists. In a way, it is very much like Mitchell-Innes & Nash in its drive to create a dialogue between the historic and contemporary. One aspect that differs is Ben’s dedication to Asia and the contemporary Chinese market. Ben’s open attitude fosters creativity and experimentation in his Hong Kong space, and the underlying goal remains the same: to bring great art to the Hong Kong public while making viewers question and debate the connections and symmetry between artistic cultures.

Candida Höfer, Catherine Palace Pushkin St. Petersburg III (2014). Courtesy of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Candida Höfer, Catherine Palace Pushkin St. Petersburg III (2014). Courtesy of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

What are your responsibilities at your new post? How will you continue or depart from the work of your predecessor?
My title is the managing director of Ben’s gallery in Hong Kong, with responsibilities ranging from exhibition and art fair planning in both Hong Kong and the Americas, to signing and fostering new artists, as well as expanding the presence and brand of the gallery—the list goes on. Andreas has done a fantastic job, and Tamsin before him, in building Ben’s gallery to what it is today. They paved a very strong and stable foundation for me to develop and grow the gallery, both locally and internationally. I hope to take the hard work they have put in and use it to accelerate Ben’s gallery even further.

What do you see the Hong Kong gallery industry is experiencing? What is Ben Brown’s niche and strategy in HK?
Ben has always remained true and loyal to his hometown, which was a big part in his decision to be one of the pioneer Western galleries in this city. We’re definitely looking into signing more local artists and strengthening our contemporary program with them. The strategy is simple, keep bringing great art to Hong Kong!

Can you talk about the upcoming shows in 2016? What are you bring to Basel HK this year? What’s your working schedule looks like from now?

The first show of the new year is a Hiroshi Sugimoto and Nobuyoshi Araki show. It will present two of the greatest Japanese photographers of our times, and offer a sort of conversation between the type of Japanese society that is presented to the public and one that is kept behind closed doors. The two photographers differ significantly in subject matter, yet a closer look reveals an abundance of similarities. The rawness of Araki’s sexualized subjects uncovers  the subculture of the Japanese art of kinbaku bondage,​ while Sugimoto’s calm imagery echoes the Shinto and Buddhist religions of Japanese society. The shared goal of technical perfection in their two artistic practices brings these artists together, while the differences in their depictions of Japanese culture creates a fantastic tension.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Proctors Theatre, New York (1996). Courtesy of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Proctors Theatre, New York (1996). Courtesy of Ben Brown Fine Arts.

I am also very excited about what we will be showing during Art Basel Hong Kong! The gallery will exhibit works from Candida Hofer’s St. Petersburg series, which was also on view at her solo show at the Hermitage last year—the photographs are absolutely stunning! At our Art Basel Booth #3E18, we will present a range of works by Gavin Turk, Frank Auerbach, Claude Lalanne, Giorgio Morandi and Marino Marini. We have a beautiful Vik Muniz work depicting the Golden Gate Bridge that is truly breathtaking. Additionally, we are participating in the exhibition event “Be Inspired in Central 2016,” where we will have a work by Tseng Kwong Chi in the Landmark building. This should be quite an exciting installation, as it will be shown alongside works from various galleries around Central Hong Kong and within what I have gathered is going to be a large, tunnel-like structure.

My schedule is a bit hectic. While I will be primarily based in Hong Kong, I will be traveling quite a bit. For the next few months, it will be a juggle between New York, Hong Kong, and London, with trips to Atlanta and Shanghai on the side. No rest for the art world!


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