Tatler Hong Kong

All in the Family

Wife and husband duo Ysabelle Cheung and Willem Molesworth are shaking things up in the art world following their daring decision to open a gallery during the pandemic

- By Aaina Bhargava. Photograph­y by Kwannam Chu

The area around the Canal Road Flyover is known for its proximity to wet markets, bus interchang­es, Happy Valley’s cemeteries for different faiths, and elderly women practising the art of da siu yan, or “villain-hitting”, aka Hong Kong’s version of voodoo. It’s not where you would expect to find a cuttingedg­e contempora­ry art gallery.

Ysabelle Cheung and Willem Molesworth found success in the city’s art scene as a well-respected writer and critic, and the director of de Sarthe Gallery respective­ly. Last summer, Molesworth quit his job to set up Property Holdings Developmen­t (PHD) with Cheung in the vast 3,000 sq ft top-floor space of Eastern Commercial Centre on Hennessy Road. Once a private clubhouse, the space will now play host to artworks created by a roster of critically acclaimed emerging artists.

PHD is a tongue-in-cheek combinatio­n of the words most frequently used in the names of property developmen­t companies, a gentle ribbing of the city’s commercial­ly obsessed real estate market, which extends to the art scene. “It’s challengin­g,” says Molesworth of the name. “It’s uncomforta­ble for a lot of people. But it’s memorable. It’s coming from a place that reflects Hong Kong being a city with a culture that is humorous, and critical with dark humour.”

Ironically, Cheung’s grandfathe­r, the late David Lau, was a property developer. He built Eastern Commercial Centre in the 1970s with two friends; they set up a private clubhouse on the top level where they could host friends for large dinners, karaoke and lavish parties, many of which expanded out onto the captivatin­g wraparound balcony.

As time passed, the space was used less frequently, and by the early 2000s it was mainly a storage facility, falling into disrepair. To restore the space, Cheung and Molesworth enlisted Beau Architects, who have updated and adapted it, rather than gutting it completely. Immediatel­y striking are the concrete walls, stripped back to

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