Ora-Ora Live — Episode 5: Interview with Catherine Kwai from Kwai Fung Hin Gallery

Image: Catherine Kwai, owner of Kwai Fung Hin Gallery (Image courtesy of Kwai Fung Hin Gallery)

This week, we are pleased to have Catherine Kwai, owner of Kwai Fung Hin Gallery, join our discussion on her career gallery business and opinions about the online business model under the current situation in Hong Kong.

Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung as Henri

Catherine Kwai as Catherine

Henri: Kwai Fung Hin Gallery will be celebrating their 30th anniversary next year. I cannot even imagine the scenario when my own gallery will be celebrating our 30th anniversary! I have done some research and I found out that you were in the financial industry before opening your gallery. Why were you willing to leave your high-paying job and change careers?

Catherine: I grew up in a highly cultured family. Starting from when I was six years old, I began to take Chinese calligraphy lessons every day. My father was a businessman but he was passionate about Chinese traditional culture and hoped his children would always remember their ancestral roots and culture. My father also loved collecting calligraphy art and my mother loved going to Mosque Street to buy antiques. Being brought up in this environment, I have always been fascinated with Chinese history and culture, and the idea of collecting.

I remember telling my parents I would like to undertake arts studies, like philosophy and history, and they asked me, “Do you want to be a teacher in the future?” I did not believe I would be a good teacher as I don’t have the temperament and patience to work in the same environment every day. I was not a good student when I was young. I only did well in subjects that I was passionate about. I am a bit rebellious in nature. At the time, I had a lot of siblings in my household. Most other families would not allow their daughters to attend university. I was lucky enough that my parents are progressive. They believed that women don’t necessarily have to be a housewife and should be independent. Therefore, I had the chance to study overseas. I was not sure what I wanted to do or study. I had to be realistic and to pick a degree that would guarantee a stable career and steady income. I chose to study accounting and finance in the end as I believed it would be easier for me to find a job after graduation.

Henri: These disciplines have an advantage.

Catherine: Yes. Just like most other Hong Kong parents, my parents advised me to find a stable job first before chasing my dreams. I truly treasured my father’s advice. He always told me, “You are different from your mother. You have to give yourself a choice. If you are talented, you have the option to go right or left. If you are not a good student, your options are much more limited and your fate will be in the hands of others.” These words encouraged me to work hard at school.

Henri: Why did you change your career?

Catherine: After ten years of being in the finance industry, I saved enough money and bought a house. Therefore, I had financial freedom. I also believed I was not suitable for a finance career and wanted to chase my dreams. But even when I left the bank, I was not sure whether I would open a gallery. This is because I never worked at a gallery, and did not take any related courses. I was not sure whether I was suited to work in the arts industry. However, I read a Buddhist idiom one day and it inspired me. It said, “how would you start afresh if you are so burdened?” I understood that if I continued to work in a bank, I would not have time and energy to find my own direction. So, I took a year off after I quit my job in the bank and began to deliberate on my career path. I read a lot of books and traveled a lot during that year.

Henri: How did you start your own gallery then? At that time in Hong Kong, there were only a few contemporary art galleries. It was not a growing or flourishing business. And yet, you were one of the few people who started this business in Hong Kong. Why would you choose this path?

Catherine: Honestly, I did not think too much about this, I simply wanted to pursue my ideals. I was also never in charge of a business. Even in my previous banking job, I was just a small cog in the machine. Regarding starting a business, I was just crossing the river by feeling the stones, as Deng Xiaoping would say. I had no idea, I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. During my time working at the bank, I would always take time to visit galleries and art museums after work, where I got to know many gallery owners. I appreciated the working environment of a gallery: you have a lot of space, and only a handful of employees, and you have the freedom to do what you want.

I did not think too much about profits or the longevity of my business. From a purely business standpoint, I would make a poor businesswoman. I was impulsive and stubborn. I took all the savings I had, and with the support from my husband, started my gallery business. To tell you a secret, I was unable to make a profit in the first three years.

Henri: My next question is, Hong Kong was a cultural desert then and the art scene was not as vibrant as it is now. You were so well traveled and there were so many art forms you could choose to specialize in. Why you were interested in Chinese contemporary art and artists? How did you start your gallery business?

Catherine: In the first five years since opening my gallery, I specialised in French and German art. At that time, there were less than ten art galleries in Hong Kong. Most of them specialised in ink painting or 20th century modern art. I was therefore reluctant to do Chinese art as I thought the other galleries were already doing very well in that regard. I was very green and inexperienced, so I decided to forge a niche path and specialise in art that nobody else was doing to avoid competition. After five years, I realised it was not easy to sell Western oil paintings. Customers were not familiar with oil paintings. Chinese collectors were more interested in and knowledgeable about porcelain and Chinese ink paintings. They were less aware about the context or history of French paintings. The turning point was during the Venice Biennale in 1996. I went to the Biennale every year and saw works presented by Chinese artists like Fang Lijun, Yang Shaobin, Yue Minjun, all of whom I was not familiar with at that time. I got to know them through this exhibition.

Even though I was born in Hong Kong, I studied overseas and was not very knowledgeable about Chinese culture. However, I was interested in why Chinese artwork was displayed in the international art scene. I became curious, and I went to Beijing and got connected with Fang Lijun who introduced me to different artists. Times were quite carefree back then and artists always gathered together, drinking cheap wine and eating cheap food. But I enjoyed listening in on their conversations as they talked about Chinese history. A lot of their inspiration came from the Cultural Revolution and the June Fourth incident. Their discussions inspired me and taught me a lot. I was fascinated by how cultured and well-read they were in subjects like philosophy and history. I was impressed by some of the artists who graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Henri: You gave these artists a lot of opportunities. You bought their art and exhibited their work. But how did you sell these artworks to collectors? Ultimately, Chinese contemporary art is still very different from ink paintings or porcelain.

Catherine: In life, you just cannot take everything so seriously. I bought a lot of their artworks because through observing their living situation, I saw that they were in need. I found out only diplomats who were stationed in Beijing would buy their artwork. The diplomats were all Westerners, whereas the Chinese were not able to appreciate their art. I was touched by these groups of idealistic and hard-working artists. I was driven by a materialistic instinct to support and educate and therefore bought their artwork in hopes of giving them financial freedom and allowing them to continue with their work. My gallery mainly collects artwork — most of the art I bought I was not able to sell. So, I would place them in storage and appreciate them myself. Only Western customers were interested in these works, the locals less so. The way I work is that I would buy art if I had the money. I felt what these artists needed was not just to be exhibited, but that they needed two things: firstly, they needed someone to promote their work; secondly, they needed financial support. Whenever these artists encountered problems during an exhibition, for example logistical difficulties, I would try my best to help them.

Image: Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung and Catherine Kwai (Image courtesy of Kwai Fung Hin Gallery and Ora-Ora)

Henri: In conclusion, what you did was pour your heart out and make friends with struggling artists and try your best to promote them.

Hong Kong is struggling financially at an unprecedented level at the moment due to the pandemic. In my career, including in banking and the art industry, this is the first time I have experienced such a severe downturn in Hong Kong. The current financial crisis is even worse than that of the SARS epidemic in 2003. You must have encountered many difficulties and challenges in your 29 years at Kwai Fung Hin. When was the first time you encountered a big obstacle? Was it the financial crisis?

Catherine: Should be 1997. Prior to the handover, housing prices had kept rising. Other than the first three years when I was not earning much, the business was going well prior to 1997. In Hong Kong, when the stock market and property market was booming, buying and collecting art was a recreational hobby.

When people have spare money, they would want to buy art to elevate themselves. Prior to 1997, it was easy for us to make money. Then, housing prices began to drop, which was rare for the Hong Kong economy. From 1997 till 2003, housing prices dropped steadily. Those who owned property suffered a lot. It was the first time there was negative equity.

After the handover, production costs got higher. A lot of my clients at the time were working for production companies and they had to move their factories to the mainland, meaning they would spend less time here in Hong Kong. Business was the most difficult in 1999, when I wasn’t able to make any profits.

Henri: How did you get out of this problem?

Catherine: I have to thank my friends John Chan and Steve Leung. While I was in the art gallery business, I had no idea how to conduct art projects or consulting work. I met Steven and John when they were browsing my gallery. John is a famous hotel designer and was tasked to renovate the Sheraton Hotel at the time. The hotel wished to find a good art consultant to advise them on sourcing good artwork to improve the hotel’s image. I am thankful for John who helped me get the art consulting job. Art consultancy is different from being a salesperson who only knows about art history and artists’ background, it is more about understanding the relationships between art and space, lighting and design.

Henri: I heard you once said that you struggled with the installation of a high-rise exhibition because you were not as experienced as you are now.

Catherine: All my friends know that I am not an expert in engineering or measurements. If you asked me how long is 10 metres, I would not be able to give you an answer. It was hard for me to study all the 3D sketches and to talk about proportions. At that time, I was unwilling to take the job because there was so much that I was not familiar with. I had to learn from scratch reading sketches and being hands-on at the scene. I was quite scared as there were so many aspects I had no knowledge about. But my motto is that you have to be brave and get out of your comfort zone even when you are scared. Although it’s difficult in the beginning, every time you take a step forward, you would learn something and gain something.

Henri: I have done some research on your past work and found out that you have done art consulting work in many places. Not just in Tsim Sha Tsui, but also in the Soviet Union twenty years ago. You had less people working for you and had to work alone most of the time. How did you overcome your fears?

Catherine: I think it is related to my personality. I like getting hands-on. I don’t care too much about the end result, but more about the process. It may be because of my faith and my personality. I get excited and stimulated by new challenges. Therefore, whenever I encounter difficulties, I will only focus on finding ways to solve them. I was so excited by the opportunities offered to me by Ritz Carlton in Moscow and by hotels in Dusseldorf, Germany. I was surprised how these hotels could be attracted to my portfolio even though I have a small business. I was selected from international designers and had the chance to work with them. We worked for a number of five and six star hotel clients around the world. I love to take the chance to learn while working. In Moscow and Germany, I was paid to travel around and explore museums. So besides just working on the projects, I also learnt about German expressionism and met a lot of international art-lovers and experts.

Henri: When your career reached a stable period, Hong Kong experienced SARS in 2003. You were able to get out of the 1997 financial crisis by taking on exciting projects around the world. How did you cope with troubles brought on by SARS?

Catherine: I think that SARS was more serious than the coronavirus. The mortality rate was high. People were very scared. There were eight to nine months where we had zero visitors and customers. I was also reluctant to contact people from outside of Hong Kong, as they were afraid of us as well. Hong Kong was like an epidemic city. We were losing money every month.

I kept thinking that I would have to close down my business if the SARS epidemic was to continue. I thought to myself this would be the end to my small business. But I told myself to persist and continue to try. Fortunately, SARS seemed to be suddenly contained by June 2003. Once we went back to work after the quarantine, we began to brainstorm breakthrough ideas. We brought in new artists and introduced printworks to our collection. I agree with your statement that “whenever there are difficulties, there will be opportunities.” I was able to start my art consulting and advisory jobs for hotels and banks because of the 1997 financial crisis. I was able to establish the Kwai Po collection and start selling printworks because of SARS. Because of our good relationship with Chinese contemporary artists, they allowed us to sell their limited edition printworks.

Image: Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung and Catherine Kwai. (image courtesy of Kwai Fung Hin Gallery and Ora-Ora.)

Henri: You continued to organise exhibitions, and have curated more than 100 exhibitions to date. Your talent and expertise in managing and curating exhibitions is beyond doubt. In 2010, I was visiting my friend’s home and I saw a beautiful book sitting on his coffee table. My friend said the book was given to him by HSBC and asked me to flip through it. I saw that the Zao Wou-Ki monograph was published by Kwai Fung Art Publishing House. The book launch was held here in your gallery on 19th March 2010. The content and information provided in the monograph was so much more substantive compared to the catalogues provided by other galleries. There were a lot of literature reviews and research within the book. How did you become interested in book publishing?

Catherine: I am a data-based person and I love conducting research. However, I was not trained to do research so I had to work harder than other people. I love reading books. Whenever I encounter problems, I will find answers from books. To truly understand an artist, a movement or an era, you have to first buy a book and learn. Henrietta, you started in the arts industry in 2004. Auction houses were flourishing by then, Christie’s and Sotheby’s were doing very well. Auction sales of Chinese contemporary art were high as well, some even reaching $5 million. We were quite grateful in 2004 and 2005 as art practitioners experienced smooth-sailing business growth. However, once we reached 2006, we encountered another difficulty. Artists would only sell their artwork for $5 million or even $10 million. As you know, we would never be able to make profit if we bought an artwork for $5 million.

Business then was relatively stable for cultural sectors. From 2004 to 2007, I was surprised by the huge surge in prices of artwork. I only knew that Western countries were intrigued by the mystique of Chinese culture and were excited by the artwork produced in China which were highly influenced by Western culture. The Chinese economy was also blooming at that point, resulting in the huge surge. I was in a state of confusion back in 2006. I always had a great working relationship with Chinese artists but the price they requested was too much for me to handle.

Henri: But you still met Master Zao Wou-Ki!

Catherine: Since my roots were in French art, I knew a long time ago there were three Chinese masters who were famous in the Western circles. One is Zao Wou-ki, the others include Zhu Dequn and Sanyu. They are the masters of masters. It was impossible for me to represent any of them when I first started my gallery business. Besides, when I started my business they were already in their late years. I learned about their stories from people talking about them in art circles. They are like heroes to me and I could only appreciate their work from afar.

In 20th Century Art auction sales, the price of Zao Wou-ki’s works never had unreasonable surges. I was confused why the Asian audience was not familiar with or interested in his work. I was curious about the art market and the differences in pricing, plus I felt lost at work at that time, so I took half a year off and went to France to study their work and to understand why they are famous amongst Western circles. Especially Zao Wou-ki, why was he so famous? I was so excited to get to know Zao Wou-ki and realised that he is a friendly and welcoming man. He invited me to visit him and we would often talk and eat together. I asked him, “Do you still have any more goals?” He told me that a retrospective of his recent work was published in 1989. He said that there are more than 200 catalogues about him, but he never had one monograph reviewing his 70 years worth of artistic development and career.

He hoped to publish a Chinese version of such a book. Most of his catalogues are in English, Japanese, Italian or French, only one was in Chinese, which was published in Beijing and consisted of only 60 paintings. After reviewing all of his retrospectives, I understood his motivation to educate a younger Asian audience about his art. I then volunteered to publish this book for him. We usually just produce small catalogues for our exhibitions. I have to thank him, his wife and his literary assistant for their faith in me. We took three years to finish the book.

I visited his home more than twelve times to work on the book which reviewed his 74 years of work. At that time, I did not have a publishing house. For our catalogues, we usually just give them away to collectors and artists for them to sell to their family and friends. Our storage is filled with these catalogues. I did not have a channel to publish the retrospective, but I told myself I’ll only think about it when I am finished with the book. We first started with the French edition of the retrospective, then translated it to English and Chinese. I would only publish the English and Chinese versions. They introduced me to one of the largest French publishing companies, Fenerium, which had worked with Zao before. They told me they had no interest in working with us, as it would take a lot of time to work on editorials.

Henri:I thought they would be interested in collaboration.

Catherine: No, they said art books usually do not make profits and were not supportive of our idea. But I still did it, mainly for myself as I wanted to learn more about Zao, and for Zao himself as a gift. These were my goals. This was during the 2008 financial crisis, we collaborated with the best French designer to work on the book. When we almost finished the book, Zao’s wife later told me, “It will be hard to sell this book during these times. Would you want to cut this book’s contents in half to minimise production and printing costs?” I said, “Impossible.

I already spent so much time working on it. This is like my PhD thesis. I will not consider the costs.” The less you think about rewards, the more you will achieve. Once the book was finished, I contacted Fenerium again and sent them a dummy version of the book. They were so shocked when they received it, they said in disbelief, “We can’t believe you really did it. A lot of people were interested in the idea of publishing such a book, but no one had the persistence to really do it. You are the only one.” In the end, Fenerium published the French edition of our book and was willing to sell the English and French versions in France.

Henri: So Fenerium waited for you to finish a draft before they were willing to publish it.

Catherine: No. I had already finished the whole editorial and it was ready to print. Most of the contents in the book was based on French research. I can promote the Chinese and English versions in Asia by myself, but Zao wanted a French print. So, I asked Femerium again whether they’d be willing to launch a French edition. I had already invested in the editorial and design, so I convinced them they would only need to pay for printing. Once they read my manuscript, they ordered and sold Chinese and French editions. We have already sold around 10 to 20 thousand copies of the retrospective.

Henri: Artists like to make the right career moves by trying different options. Some will jump to another gallery, some travel to other countries to seek opportunities. I realise that you have developed a strong and long-standing relationship with your artists. For some, you started off as friends when you gave them financial support. You are also willing to explore new possibilities and keep learning. The publishing of Zao Wou-ki’s book is one of the many examples of your achievements. How do you have such loyal artists and how did you pick them? I know you represent Li Huayi, a successful artist who also isn’t from Hong Kong. This is another example of working with non-local artists. How did you come to represent him? I believe your tips would be extremely helpful to emerging gallery-owners and workers.

Catherine: I got into this industry because I love drawing and history. I later discovered that behind every artist’s creation, there is a cultural ideology. There are around one million art practitioners in the world, but only 1% of them can sustain their careers as the art industry can be a difficult industry to work in. In Asian countries in particular, the concept of collecting contemporary art is not as popular compared to Western countries. To sustain your artistic career for 10 to 15 years, you have to be passionate about art and be unwilling to change careers. Even when met with financial difficulty, you have to be willing to persevere. You have to love your career. I think artists and people who work in the gallery business are the same type of person. You also have to be creative. Do you agree?

Henri: Agree.

Catherine: No one can tell you what exhibition you can create or which artist you can work with. The choice is all yours. It is a very personalized decision based on your thinking.

Henri: The way you curate is a personalized decision. It is based on the gallery owner’s ideas.

Catherine: Correct. A gallery owner and an artist are the same kind of person. It is only the nature of the work that is a little different. One creates, one promotes. Artists don’t just attach themselves to gallery owners who can buy their work and pay them. They are ultimately seeking for their soulmate and mentor. A great mentor does not simply support them financially. The creation process can be difficult for some artists, as they isolate themselves. They want to find a person who truly understands them, someone who does not only understand the art market, but someone who is able to give them solid advice. They don’t want someone to interfere with their creation, but they want people they can communicate with. Their family may not be able to understand them as they are not immersed in the art world. To appeal to artists, you have to really appreciate them and understand their work. But realistically speaking, artists don’t know the art market. Good artists spend a lot of time and energy in their creation process and less so in marketing.

Henri: This can be observed by their works and their thinking.

Catherine:The market has less space for purely academically-driven artists, they depend on us. I choose artists who are 100% invested in their creation process. They leave the nitty-gritty marketing and promoting strategies to us. I like to believe that I am quite a competent agent. I don’t really care much about rewards or profits. For example, when an art museum wanted to display a 30 year retrospective exhibition for Li Huayi, they went directly to him, and not through me. However, Li had already sold most of his work throughout the years, it is very difficult to acquire the pieces back. Artists can not organize a retrospective exhibition on their own. At these moments, an agent is required to support the artist and handle all logistical matters, from literature review to borrowing artwork. The gallery owner-artist relationship is not purely based on commercial trading. If our relationship is based on such a foundation, the artist will leave us once a larger international art gallery recruits them. Such a relationship is too flimsy.

Henri: You do not only provide support for the artists during museum collaborations, you even actively seek opportunities for the artists by contacting museums. The organisation structure of museums is very different from that of an art gallery, how are you able to connect the two entities?

Catherine: I have been working in this industry for many years and I have a lot of connections, such as curators from overseas. I know that they are always developing new ideas for projects. If I meet some enthusiastic curators, I would like to bring them to meet artists at their studios and send them catalogues. Every curator has his or her own ideas, and gallery owners should not interfere with them. Academically-driven artists always attract a lot of curators. I will just bring them together and let them develop their chemistry. When the curator becomes interested, he or she will suggest what kind of exhibition they would like to conduct.

This is where the gallery owner comes in. We will devise ways to present the artist’s work in the most comprehensive way from presenting literature reviews to acquiring the artist’s older works. A lot of our artists have worked with art museums. Working with museums pose a challenge to the artists. It is not easy for artists to review their own work. Similar to how I am being interviewed by you today, I feel nervous. Artists can get easily exctied when reviewing their own work and creation process. This is also a kind of reflection, which gives them pressure to work harder, as they realise they have a large audience looking up to them. The bar becomes higher for the artist to achieve success. They need this sense of pressure in order to stay motivated.

Henri: This will give the artists a great sense of motivation and encouragement. It’s similar to helping an artist organising his study. I learnt from you that organizing and helping the artist with literature review is very important.

Catherine: This is a digital era. Let’s talk about something other than publishing. I love to watch documentaries about Western art and artists. If I cannot completely understand a book, I would watch these documentaries which give me comprehensive information about the artists’ life stories, career paths and inspirations. Artists are not able to eloquently tell these stories themselves. They need us, someone they can trust and know them well, to tell their stories.

Henri: Let us talk about the future. As of now, the whole world seems to be at a pause, with restaurants and bars closing down, and the entire art industry being affected by COVID-19. Do you think Hong Kong’s position as an art hub will be affected after COVID-19 subsides? Do we still have any advantages? Are there going to be any changes to the role of an art gallery in the future? Let us all brainstorm and discuss!

Catherine: Having worked in this industry for 29 years, I have the confidence that Hong Kong’s status as an Asian art centre will not be affected. Throughout these years, a lot of people have suggested that Singapore or Beijing or Shanghai can be the next art centre, overtaking Hong Kong. But I strongly believe that Hong Kong has a lot of advantages. We uphold the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, we have an independent legal system and have a functional logistical structure.

Hong Kong is also a financial centre and has good tax rates. None of the other countries have the same conditions as we do. Unless there are major changes in China, if our system stays the same, there are no other cities with the same level of freedom and democracy as we have. Some Chinese artists have commented that they have to be careful in practising freedom of expression. However, when we look at M+ for example, they have acquired a lot of contemporary artworks from China which depict the issues and problems of the Chinese government. There is freedom of expression.

Hong Kong is really a portal to attract talent and audience from the Western society. If we maintain freedom and system, we will be fine. Some art galleries have tried opening their spaces in Beijing and Shanghai, but later decided to set up shop in Hong Kong instead. Auction houses also view Hong Kong as their entryway to the Asian audience. The current pandemic has affected me at an unprecedented level. Hong Kong is not only affected by this pandemic, we are also affected by the social movements. I believe that these social movements would continue even after COVID-19 subsides. This economic recession does not affect Hong Kong, but the whole world. Unemployment rates will increase, and as such, people’s interest in the cultural industry will be lowered. I predict that it will take us 2 years to overcome these difficulties.

Henri: You think we can return to normal by 2022?

Catherine: Yes. I observed that the art industry has become so much more flexible. We have become so much more digitalised. Galleries are promoting virtual exhibitions. People have the wisdom to find new ways to adapt and grow. We have to remain optimistic. We need to control our budgets. We need to become more introspective and think about how we can improve ourselves. For example, I often say that after running the gallery for 29 years, I always think about what I have not done well and find ways to improve that. Just like how I am learning a lot from you through this live chat!

Henri: I just wanted to let our audience learn some tips from your experience. With geographical constraints, we at Ora-Ora are trying to build our own online platforms. A young audience would like to ask you, now that many art activities are moving online, whether you think the current trend of online viewing rooms, shops and auctions would replace existing art galleries?

Catherine: I don’t think so. In recent years, art fairs and galleries have become increasingly popular. Our younger generations enjoy travelling and gaining knowledge through their phones. I think that shops and art galleries require such sort of modernization. In the past, shops relied on beautiful decoration to attract customers. However, during this epidemic, we have adapted to use online shopping and other forms of technology to communicate. Our industry requires changing.

Henri: People may become overly reliant on technology after the pandemic.

Catherine: Yes, but I don’t think technology can completely overtake the experience of visiting art fairs, as a lot of people still enjoy the experience of being close to the artwork. Art galleries can make some changes, for example, they don’t need to over-decorate, they don’t need to pay so much rent. However, if you have a client who is really interested in purchasing a work and wants to have a look on the real work. In fact, you still need to have a physical space for clients to view the work in a more authentic way. So, I don’t think physical store will be completely replaced. We need to consider our investment on the physical space and the online space. I believe there will be changes.

Henri: We would have to explore more options about our capabilities. One of the reasons why I came to visit you today is because after asking the opinions of friends and colleagues, I realized that a lot of young people are interested in talking to you. It has been a wonderful discussion and we have covered many aspects, however we want to cover one more question. Even under the current conditions, they are many young people who are passionate in the arts and are interested in pursuing a career in arts administration, management or curation. What do you have to say to them?

Catherine: I have a lot of clients whose children are studying art history or fine arts. These clients always ask me to give some advice to their children. I am happy to see that a lot of people are this interested and passionate about art, and it is becoming more common. For example, there is always a member of the family who studies in these disciplines. I don’t think Hong Kong’s position as an art hub will be threatened as these children are the pillars of the future. We also have outstanding infrastructure, like the M+ and renovated Museum of Art. I believe the ecosystem of the industry will improve. We only have to grit our teeth through these few months and years. But my advice for the younger generation is to ask yourself what you really want to do, to interact with more experienced people, and understand our existing ecosystem.

You have to think about whether you want to work in a museum, or in an art gallery, as they are entirely different lines of work, or even working in art foundation. You have to understand the infrastructure of the organisation. If you like doing research or curation, then you would have to visit more exhibitions. You have to choose which artistic movement you would like to specialize in. For example, Henrietta, you chose to specialize in contemporary ink painting because you thought Chinese contemporary art was too expensive. You have to have a clear goal and sense of direction. I can say “all roads lead to Rome”, of course, some roads are smoother and others roads are winding. I think it is very important for a young person to recognize a direction and a goal. I don’t advise you to become a jack-of-all-trades; patience, time, determination and experience are what you need to build a successful career. Don’t jump from one career into another too much, give yourselves only around three to four years to explore your path. You have to ask yourself what really motivates you.

If you really like something, you will invest in it, no matter the obstacles and difficulties. If I was only motivated by financial rewards, I don’t think I would be able to sustain my career. Since I am really passionate about my career and since I love every day of my job, I love reading, I love interacting with artists and clients. My career brings me joy. The current environment may be different from the past, but the fact that you choose to study arts and culture, you have to ask yourself what you really want to achieve.

About Ora-Ora Live

Each week, Ora-Ora’s founder Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung will speak with various members of the art community — including artists, curators, academics and other professionals working in the cultural sector — to address topics of interest related but not limited to Hong Kong’s art and cultural scene. The series aims to be an outlet for creativity and a means to connect with peers who share similar interests. The episodes will also available live on Ora-Ora’s Instagram (@galerieoraora), Facebook (Galerie Ora-Ora) and later on Ora-Ora’s YouTube channel.




Each week, Galeria Ora-Ora’s founder Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung will speak with various members of the art community. Instagram: @galerieoraora

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Each week, Galeria Ora-Ora’s founder Dr. Henrietta Tsui-Leung will speak with various members of the art community. Instagram: @galerieoraora

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