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In Conversation with Alan Lo

The restaurateur and patron of the arts takes five to tell Tamsin Bradshaw about art at Duddell’s, Design Trust and the creative talent he’s got his eye on.

In Conversation with Alan Lo

Alan Lo is so busy, I’m told, that he only really stops when he gets on the plane. Lo himself confirms it: “I don’t want inflight wi-fi,” he says, shaking his head. It’s no wonder – among other things, he’s juggling Press Room Group and Blake’s, membership of the Duddell’s Art Committee and Art Basel’s Global Patrons Council, and a role as Chairman of Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design, which drives cultural grant-making initiative Design Trust.

He’s a fierce supporter of Hong Kong’s creative and cultural scene, something that is further cemented by the latest Duddell’s exhibition. Here, he talks about Duddell’s x DMA: Concentrations HK: Margaret Lee, a collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). The exhibition presents a site-specific series by American-Korean artist Margaret Lee, whose works consider the boundaries between art and decoration, and object and sculpture.

Margaret Lee x DMA at Duddell's Hong Kong, Brancusi revisited
Sculpture, photography, art and design come together in this piece by Margaret Lee for Concentrations HK

How did the collaboration with the DMA come about?

We’ve been working with institutions since 2014. It was becoming a bit of a tradition for Duddell’s to do something – at least one major international exhibition every year. We’ve done China, we’ve done Europe, and, after meeting Gabriel Ritter [Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA until April, when he will step down to take on a role as Curator of Contemporary Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art] at Art Basel year ago, I thought it would be interesting to work with an American institution. The DMA is one of the few museums that has historically shown interest in Asia, and they have a great collection by Asian artists.

Originally we were thinking along the lines of a group show, which is what we’ve done in the past. But we like to give the curator as much freedom as possible, so we don’t really get into the artist selection at all. Then the DMA came up with the relatively radical idea of doing a solo show with Margaret, who is a conceptual artist.

I felt [the idea of a solo show by a conceptual artist] was challenging. I was excited, but I wasn’t sure how the audience would react to it – I still don’t know!

Margaret Lee x DMA at Duddell's Hong Kong
A series of Margaret Lee’s images in the library on the fourth floor at Duddell’s

Where do you think the crossover between art, design and object lies?

I guess with design, there’s a functionality attached to it. That’s basically what sets design apart from art. To speak of design in the context of art, and to speak of art in the context of design, is not easy, so I give Margaret a lot of credit for pushing the envelope here. Inevitably it’s becoming a bit of a trend, this multidisciplinary approach. It starts to become difficult to define an artist’s identity – artists are working on film projects, and filmmakers are doing photography. It’s the nowness of things.

Margaret Lee x DMA at Duddell's Hong Kong
Margaret Lee references Constantin Brancusi in this multimedia work at Concentrations HK

What is Design Trust up to in 2016?

Our design research fellowship with M+ is really exciting. The profile and the quality of all the applications was so good that actually this past year we decided to double up. We awarded two fellows, and we doubled the budget for them. This year we’re looking at hopefully expanding with more tie-ups with institutions abroad. We’ve laid really good foundations for the organisation, and now we’re looking for someone extremely high profile and high calibre to be the director.

Who does Design Trust support now?

One of the grantees is Elaine Ng, who’s a textile designer [whose installation, Sundew, is showing at Art Central for Swarovski]. We helped her go to a really low-income village in Guizhou, to work with women and to reinterpret their textiles – they only make these beautiful, complex fabrics for weddings and funerals.

Elaine Ng working on Sundew for Swarovski
Elaine Ng working on Sundew, which is on show at Art Central

Elaine also created a documentary film on her project. It was amazing to see that this is the tip of the iceberg of things that still exist, but that will disappear when these people die.

She’s a great example of someone who uses her design background to go to these places and reinterpret traditional craft in a contemporary way. We want to support 100 Elaines!

Who are you most excited by, design-wise?

I love Sou Fujimoto. In terms of the younger generation of designers in Asia, he’s the one who really stands out for me. I’ve visited his studio and met him personally; seeing how he works and seeing the projects he’s done before – he’s probably on the way already, but there’s no doubt he’s going to be big.

Joyce Wang is also doing amazing things. She’s doing something for Yenn [Wong, the restaurateur behind 208 Duecento Otto, Duddell’s, 22 Ships and more, and who also happens to be Lo’s wife], with Nathan Green, who’s the Executive Chef of 22 Ships. It’s a new project in Sai Wan, opening in May.

Yenn’s also working on another project [in Western District] with Potatohead from Bali, Jakarta, Singapore. It’s not a building, but it’s going to be Sou Fujimoto’s first project in Hong Kong.

What else are you working on?

We’re working on a project with Thomas Heatherwick, it’s a sort of hotel in Kowloon. It’s a new build, so that will take some time.

And we’re actively looking at projects abroad. There’s definitely still room to grow in Hong Kong, but we want to challenge ourselves by going into another context.

Duddell’s x DMA: Concentrations HK: Margaret Lee is on until 21 June 2016 in the Salon and Library at Duddell’s, Level 3 Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street, Central.


Dallas Museum of Art

Design Trust

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