14 JANUARY – 11 FEBRUARY 2012
Saamlung announces a solo exhibition of new work from the late Hong Kong outsider artist Tsang Tsou Choi, perhaps best known by the epithet from which this exhibition borrows its title: the “King of Kowloon.”
From the golden years of midcentury colonial Hong Kong almost to his death in 2007, Tsang was notorious for the distinctive writing he left across the terrain of the city: believing that his family had once been deeded the rights to the land now constituting the core of urban Kowloon, the artist engaged in a monomaniacal project of righting this ancient injustice by executing calligraphy describing his genealogical and political situation on lamp posts, electric utility boxes, fences, walls, and other publicly accessible surfaces from one end to the other of the former British territory, demanding his righteous returns.
Fortunately recognized for his aesthetic output well before his death, Tsang Tsou Choi is widely known throughout Hong Kong and across greater China as a fixture of collective memory, an integral element of the urban texture of the territory. Until now, however, much of the attention he has received from the cultural world has positioned him in the realm of street art and design, resulting in all manner of product collaborations and visual inspirations on consumer objects.
As the first exhibition of work from Tsang Tsou Choi in the gallery context, this project positions him as the historical precedent for an alternative future; that is to say, we trace back to his position a certain rupture within Hong Kong art history by which we might locate in his stance the first properly contemporary artist in a region still haunted by the ideological specters of modernism. By offering certain possibilities for public intervention alongside a concerted disavowal of social responsibility, Tsang becomes, in retrospect, a key figure for cultural production today.
This exhibition examines his work as painting, as calligraphy, and as sculpture; in approaching the artifacts of his practice as contemporary art, a measure of spatial perspicacity and conceptual rigor emerges.
The core of the exhibition focuses on a series of some half-dozen pieces in ink on board and cloth, large scale paintings that hold their own within even the most recent discussions of the return to analytical expressionism in non-figurative painting today.
Further works on display include a number of pieces in pen on paper and several calligraphic-cum-sculptural interventions carried out on objects like umbrellas, lanterns, and utility boxes. Vintage photographic documentation of Tsang Tsou Choi and his work installed in situ is also available separately for research and perusal.
In parallel with the exhibition, the project involves the launch of a small catalogue documenting the work approached here. Published by the gallery and designed by Beijing artist Ruan Qianrui-chosen because his ink and graphic work shares a certain material sensibility in common with that of Tsang Tsou Choi-the pamphlet contains new research and critical analysis from Abby Chen, curator and deputy director of the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco.
A portion of proceeds from the exhibition and publication project will benefit the creation of a new foundation to oversee further research, exhibition, and collection of the work and legacy of the artist.