Bridging New York to Hong Kong, Asia Society Opens its Doors in Admiralty as the City’s Cultural Presence Boldens

After a decades long wait, the Asia Society Hong Kong Complex located within the Former Explosives Magazine Compound in Admiralty finally opened its doors to the general public, and I have to say it was completely impressive.

Usually when you’ve got foreign design architects of merit practice in Asia, developers and funders ask for the “iconic” (cough cough Zaha Hadid/Norman Foster/Cesar Pelli/list goes on) where the architectural performance of a building is reduced merely to how it performs within the urban landscape… no matter how poorly under-performing the building is to its own users (ahem Zaha Hadid again).

That said some of the best architects out there usually do their best when not making iconic bold statements, but generally shine through because of the little moves and the spatial experience through the project. The works of Seijima come to mind… and of course Asia Society HK’s design architects, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien (TWBT) of whose sublime work in New York, the American Folk Art Museum, still shines even sitting adjacent to the whale that is the Museum of Modern Art by Taniguchi, a clumsy odd figure.

The Asia Society in Hong Kong is the sister branch to the institution of the same name in New York City. And I have to say, the facilities in New York are completely excellent, but this one is something they and our city should really be proud of. The project opened to subdued fanfare early in this month, with the usual suspects from the City’s creative community oddly absent. The guests who did turn up however were, I assume, Members of the Society from NYC and those transplanted here, the designers and architects, Society staff and friends, and donors.

Besides the cocktails within the main hall and the beautiful rooftop garden, there were plenty of artists on hand to offer a bit of entertainment; such as noted sand painter Hoi Chiu, the multi-lingual acapella group Metro Vocal, and the renowned Taiwanese erhu player Jessie Hou who entertained guests along the outdoor courtyards.

My two dates for the event were Saamlung’s Natasha K Whiffin and our very own Lifestyle Contributor and gal-about-town Cheryl Rodriguez. We stuffed ourselves with canapes and drinks while we went from building to building (yes there are more than one) just gawking at the subdued simplicity of the architecture which bows down to its historic existing buildings, topography, and the city’s beautiful urban fabric.

I AM anticipating plenty of rooftop parties here for sure on the Joseph Lau Roof Garden.

The main building’s rooftop connects to a skybridge which meanders its way around a dense forrested hillsite with apparently precious trees. The bridge is more than a bridge, it’s a landscaped terrace with seating and some lighting features which resemeble New York’s High Line project in many ways by TWBT’s contemporaries, Diller+Scofidio and Renfro.

A large portion of the complex makes use of the 19th Century structures which sit in and around this special site. Inside most of them are office spaces for the Society, but a few others, like a couple of explosive magazines, have been retrofitted into an intimate 100+ seat multi-purpose theatre and an Exhibition gallery, now currently showing past and present works of and inspired by Buddhist Art.

A room full of screens depicting details of the Buddha’s face via a halo of webcams.

Lucky for us we bumped into an architect friend, Jason Carlow of C:A+D who built a sculptural information center and seating area for the institution. Because of his collaborative work at the Society, he knew all the ins and outs of the project and gave us all a great personal tour of the whole center.

The Miller Theater.

Down the steps we go.

Water Features at the Staircase.

Circulation weaves in and around natural topography.

The Asia Society Bookstore.

Checking out Jason Carlow’s helpful sculpture.

The sculpture within the entrance foyer.

Overall it was a great evening. I really felt like I was in New York again. The building… and the crowd itself… was very very “Manhattan-esque.” That said I expect that this is only the first in a series of museum openings for the city in the next few years. We are still anticipating Wanchai’s Blue House, Police Headquarter’s Contemporary Arts Museum, and the M+.

+ THE CURRENT EXHIBITION

Currently on exhibit is the new inaugural show, Transforming Minds: Buddhism in Art, a show which comprises works both traditional and contemporary and features selections from its own Permanent Collection. The exhibition showcases 13 traditional artworks from the Rockefeller Collection dating back to the late 2nd Century, shown alongside 6 contemporary works by leading Asian and Asian American artists who are commenting on how Buddhist art has been transformed by multiple cultures across time. Visitors will see the works of four contemporary artists, Montien Boonma, Zhang Huang, Michael Joo, and Mariko Mori to be set in a cavernous historic space never before opened to the public. An experience sure to be a first for Hong Kong citizens. The exhibition is co-curated by Dr. Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator of Traditional Asian Art and Dr. Miwako Tezuka, Associate Curator of Contemporary Asian Art, Asia Society Museum, New York and Dr. Melissa Chiu, Director of the Asia Society Museum and the Global Art Programs at the Asia Society.

Spotted Natasha K. Whiffin and HK Magazine Editor, Hana R. Alberts

Cheryl Rodriguez and Jason Carlow

Time to see art. Shop at the Bookstore. and Get Coffee at the Coffeeshop set amongst a lush green environment. It’s a good time to be in Hong Kong. We’ll be back again for sure… sooner rather than later!

Asia Society / 9 Justice Drive (Entrance located next to the British Consulate, opposite to the Conrad Hotel, up the road from the Upper House) / Exhibition from February 10th to May 20, 2012 / Tue-Sun 11am-5pm; Last Thursday of the Month 11am-8pm, Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays / Adult HK $30, Members $15, Seniors $15, Students and Aged 18 or below FREE / +852-21039511 / Asia Society ONLINE & TWITTER

JJ.

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