Pearl of Wis­dom

Glam­orous gal­le­rina Pearl Lam opens the doors of her sec­ond Hong Kong gallery this month. She tells Madeleine Ross about the mer­its of fri­vol­ity and her mission to rid the world of ho­mo­gene­ity

Hong Kong Tatler - - Faces -

ul­ture is get­ting so bor­ing,” de­clares Pearl Lam in her husky Bri­tish ac­cent. Re­clin­ing on a couch at Sevva, Lam’s pseudo-of­fice while she’s in Hong Kong, the ma­genta-haired maven sips tea and muses ex­u­ber­antly on the finer points of Con­fu­cian­ism, colo­nial­ism and cre­ativ­ity.

Ec­cen­tric, eru­dite and can­did, she’s the sort of per­son you can imag­ine would have rel­ished a ca­reer as a per­pet­ual stu­dent, had pro­fes­sional suc­cess not got in the way. “Glob­al­i­sa­tion,” she con­tin­ues, “is pro­mot­ing a ho­moge­nous cul­ture, and this ba­nal ho­mo­gene­ity is so bloody bor­ing.”

Bor­ing has no place in Lam’s world­view. A poster girl for in­di­vid­u­al­ity in life and art, she has forged a ca­reer out of re­ject­ing con­ven­tion. The daugh­ter of Lai Sun Group founder Lim Por-yen, Lam spurned the prospect of work­ing for her fa­ther’s prop­erty em­pire and flung her­self, against his will, into the art world. Through­out the 1990s and the early mil­len­nium, her fa­ther treated her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with art and de­sign as a flip­pant idio­syn­crasy. When the West­ern con­tem­po­rary art mar­ket ex­ploded in 2004, and China’s a cou­ple of years later, her pe­cu­liar ob­ses­sion was re­branded as fore­sight and she was recog­nised as an author­ity on Asian con­tem­po­rary art.

Fast-for­ward to 2015 and Pearl Lam Gal­leries are now land­marks in Shang­hai, Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong. This month Lam ex­pands her foot­print from her ex­ist­ing space in the Ped­der Build­ing to a sec­ond Hong Kong gallery at Soho 189 on Queen’s Road West, which will fo­cus on emerg­ing artists. Her booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong is also sure to be a high­light, with works from artists in­clud­ing Zhu Jin­shi and Barthélémy Toguo. Her gal­leries, which ex­hibit con­tem­po­rary West­ern and Asian art, aim to stim­u­late cross­cul­tural dia­logue be­tween the East and West.

Lam’s mission, as she sees it, is to pro­mote a sort of cul­tural rel­a­tivism in art ap­pre­ci­a­tion. “When we talk about con­tem­po­rary art in the West, we talk about art which is de­rived from mod­ernism. Our ap­pre­ci­a­tion, our view, how we see things, all stem from West­ern art the­ory. But Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art does not nec­es­sar­ily de­rive from mod­ernism,” she says. When Lam talks about glob­al­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing ho­mo­gene­ity, she’s talk­ing about this blan­ket ap­proach, one she feels is fun­da­men­tally flawed. “Our roots are so vastly dif­fer­ent from those of the West, so we can­not use West­ern con­tem­po­rary art the­ory to judge the East.”

Lam refers to her­self as a bridge be­tween East and West, but this wasn’t al­ways so. Ed­u­cated in Bri­tain, she thrived in the cos­mopoli­tan sur­rounds of Lon­don and ap­peased her fa­ther by earn­ing a de­gree in ac­count­ing and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, fol­lowed by a mas­ter’s in law. She did what she had to do to stay in the UK. “I didn’t want to come back to Hong Kong to start my pro­fes­sion as my fa­ther’s daugh­ter. I just wanted to lie low, get out of their sight, be as far away as pos­si­ble, lead my own life and be my­self. It was re­ally hard to be my­self [in Hong Kong] be­cause I’m dif­fer­ent. I didn’t want to be the norm—the nice girl.”

Lam was lured into the world of art and de­sign when she re­dec­o­rated her Lon­don flat. As her spend­ing grew, her fa­ther saw it as “friv­o­lous” and in­sisted she re­turn to Hong Kong. She saw a so­lu­tion: if her fa­ther wanted her back, she’d oblige—but armed with a ca­reer that would guar­an­tee co­pi­ous over­seas travel. “I thought if I started a gallery, then I’d get to deal with in­ter­na­tional artists, so it would give me an ex­cuse to leave Hong Kong

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