If you are a snob, so be it. Don't pretend that you are not.

It looks like there's still NO news about Ai Weiwei. So while I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he'll be okay, let's talk more about about Hong Kong's art world. 

I must confess that being a journalist, I do get some privileged treatments a lot of the times. That's why I prefer staying low key sometimes and check things out as an ordinary person just to see what the reality is. 

This happened last Friday night (April 1, 2011) when I went to two art openings - Edouard Malingue Gallery and Gagosian Gallery. 

Previously in the South China Morning Post, I wrote about the heat of the art market in Hong Kong has drawn international galleries to open their first Asian branches in the city (Stage set for flurry of art sales and shows, October 4, 2010). It is certainly great news for art lovers in the city since not that many of us can afford to travel around to see great art works, having these international galleries means that we, ordinary people, will have a chance to see the works by the great masters. And in my story, I talked to the owners/ management of these galleries including Malingue and Gagosian. 

While I understand that coming to Hong Kong is all business to these galleries, some strive to project a friendly image, saying that it is not just about business, but they also hope to contribute to the community blah blah, which is fine. But how much of it is true? 

So on that Friday night, I kinda dressed down, and hit these two galleries' openings on my own.

Malingue's was a proper art opening, with the space filled with not just works by masters from Picasso to Magritte but also a full house of people happily chatting with each other with a glass of bubbly on one hand. It was a lively atmosphere. I ran into people whom I know and we had a great chat while checking out the art works. It was a very comfortable environment, as I felt that I was fully integrated into the scene. I previously visited the gallery during its normal operating hours and the gallery staff was friendly, though knowing that I obviously wasn't really in the market to buy anything, they still enthusiastically trying to explain to me about the gallery and the show, while taking down my details to include in their mailing list. 

But at Gagosian, it was a completely different story. Perhaps I was there a little late and I was on my own, the spacious gallery space felt even more spacious. But that didn't matter, as I only wanted to check out what were in the store following their inaugural Damien Hirst show. 

However, as soon as I got out of the elevator on the 7th floor of Pedder Building, I felt there was something wrong. An army of security guards were in place at the front door and roaming around in the gallery. A huge reception desk where three gallery staffers were sitting at the desk in front of their computer screens. Their faces were stern. No smile. No hello. No welcome. As if they didn't see you walking through the entrance. It was extremely uncomfortable. 

I carried on browsing around, and inside the gallery - which was an excellent space with high ceiling - I felt that I always had at least two pairs of eyes on my back making sure that I wasn't stealing any art pieces. Jesus Christ! How could I possibly walk out of the gallery carrying a Willem de Kooning painting right under these security guards' noses? I kept on browsing, and regardless of the quality of the works on display, I seriously wanted to run, but I battled against my anxiety and carried on. 

I returned to the reception desk to browse the catalogue and pamphlets resting there, but I couldn't feel more invisible. The receptionists/ staffers treated me as if I was someone wearing the invisibility cloak, but when there were people who were dressed nicely approaching the desk, the staffers immediately put on a warm smile as if it was the first time they saw a human being. It was one of the most snobbish experience I have encountered in Hong Kong. 

It was a complete turn off. Fine! There was nothing in the gallery that I could afford, but I wonder if that's the kind of treatment that normal people would get from THAT particular gallery. If they only wanted to get potential buyers so as to make the deals, why didn't they even send me an email about the opening and let "unqualified" people in? If they only wanted to entertain those who are rich only, they might as well just shut the gallery from the public and adopt the policy of "by appointments only"!

Perhaps this is the style of Gagosian and they just don't care, which is fine! But if you really are a snob, please don't pretend that you are not, and make all those grand statements about contributing to the Hong Kong society whatever. 

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