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Courting the Controversial

Shasha Titmann
Shasha Titmann

Commenting on everything from religion and sex to patriotism and race with their graphic, photo-based artworks, “living sculpture” artists Gilbert & George’s newest body of work, The Beard Pictures, sees the duo don symbolic beards made from beer foam, flowers and barbed wire, which are interspersed with imagery of street signs and graffiti. Currently exhibited at Lehmann Maupin, visitors can expect potent imagery that seeks to reflect the times we are living in, says gallery Director Shasha Titmann.

The Beard Pictures opened on 10 Jan. What can audiences expect?
I’m very excited to present The Beard Pictures for the first time to Hong Kong. While Gilbert & George are well known in Asia, audiences in Hong Kong haven’t had the opportunity to see this body of work before. The imagery is particularly powerful and resonates with our current social climate.

You will also show The Beard Pictures in your Seoul gallery. How will that work, with the shows running concurrently?
The dual presentation allows us to present a larger body of work across our two galleries in Asia. We want to offer our audiences the opportunity to experience the impressive depth of Gilbert & George, and utilising both galleries enables us to do so fully. For an important exhibition like The Beard Pictures, the dual exhibition is a statement in itself. We made a similar decision in 2017 when we first showed the series in New York and divided the show across our two New York galleries. It proved to be a huge success, and we’re excited to be able to do the same – this time spanning countries!

The British author Michael Bracewell has described The Beard Pictures as “violent, eerie, grotesque, lurid and crazed”. How would you characterise the works?
The Beard Pictures reflect the good and the bad of our current times, and the many contradictions and complexities. Gilbert & George have been working together for more than 50 years and have been witness to massive global transformation and political upheaval. In this exhibition, they skillfully respond to all of this chaos and harness it in each work, almost like a time capsule.

Which of the works in the exhibition do you think will resonate with Hong Kong audiences and why?
F*** off Hipsters for sure – it’s a global movement! The nautical references present in Beardmoor and Beardorage and the references to the British monarchy in Beard Honor also relate closely to Hong Kong’s history.

The Beard Pictures has already been exhibited at your New York gallery. How was it received there?
The show was very successful for us in New York and honoured the artists’ democratic motto of “Art for All”. It was a show that people wanted to see and experience in person and returned to again and again.

What are the advantages of having a gallery in Hong Kong and how does the market here compare to New York and Seoul, where you also have galleries?
Early on, Lehmann Maupin recognised the importance of the Hong Kong market and opened a gallery here in 2013, being among the very first Western galleries to do so. In terms of location, we are in the perfect position in a centrally located gallery in the Pedder Building in Central. In contrast to New York, the financial, retail and arts districts of Hong Kong overlap. What this means for our Hong Kong gallery is that we see constant traffic from a diverse pool of visitors and not a limited gallery-goer profile. Hong Kong is still Asia’s world city. Prominent collectors, curators and press from all over the globe pass through Hong Kong regularly in transit or for business. Our audience is especially international, which is an aspect I love most about the city, and also explains why Lehmann Maupin’s diverse artist programme resonates so strongly in Hong Kong.

What were some of the highlights of 2018 for Lehmann Maupin in Hong Kong?
Lehmann Maupin has developed a reputation for introducing many Asian artists in their first shows in New York, and doing the same for Western artists in Asia. In Hong Kong, we debuted several solo exhibitions for established Western artists who were showing in Hong Kong or Asia for the very first time, including Catherine Opie, Kader Attia, Marilyn Minter and OSGEMEOS.

Has the Hong Kong audience’s taste for art changed in the past year or so?
Definitely! We’re seeing a huge appetite from collectors in Asia, especially for new artists. What’s interesting is that Asian markets, including Hong Kong, are in some ways more receptive to new forms of art than their Western counterparts. It inspires us to offer more programming to educate collectors and the public.

What’s in store for 2019 at the gallery?
First-time Asia shows with never-before-seen work and important historical surveys; a dynamic Art Basel Hong Kong presentation for Lee Bul, who will be featured in the curated Kabinett and Encounters sections; plus more artist talks, screenings and events.

Art in Focus
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) hosts several art- and design- related exhibitions; in 2019 the HKTDC Hong Kong International Jewellery Show runs from 28 Feb to 4 Mar while DesignInspire and CENTRESTAGE will run late in the year.

The Beard Pictures shows at Lehmann Maupin’s galleries in Hong Kong and Seoul from now until 16 March

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