A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Opera Gallery’s SHARLANE FOO tells STEPHEN SHORT how she’s bringing buzz into the art space and exhibiting the dark avant-garde through the bad boys of French art
T“THE TASTE OF Opera Gallery is eclectic, maybe even funky sometimes,” says the gallery’s Hong Kong-based director, Sharlane Foo, assessing the art space on 52 Wyndham Street, which maintains 13 galleries globally. “We cater to people who travel, who are on the move. We’re very accessible. You can come in for a chat, have a coffee, talk to our gallery people.
It’s a lifestyle. Some galleries are intimidating, but not ours. We’re more inviting.”
Foo, a Singaporean with a wealth of gallery experience across Asia, joined Opera last year, and has a reputation as an innovative art curator and consultant, with specialist experience in creating vibrant and diverse contemporary programmes. She has held positions at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Loewen in Singapore, Linda Gallery in Singapore and Beijing, and Over the Influence in Hong Kong.
Foo’s missions are several-fold; she will strengthen collaborations with artists while bringing an ever-greater tailored approach to collectors in Hong Kong, thus creating a new chapter for the gallery. She will also target a more experimental, bolder vision for Opera’s programmes. Witness Opera’s March show with German hyperreal artist Mike Vargas. “It was fun; he’s young and it was his first exhibition in Asia, and it went very, very well,” recalls Foo, noting the altitude of Hong Kong’s gallery art world compared to Singapore’s. “I think Singapore has interesting museums that do well, but in the commercial market, not so much. Hong Kong’s the opposite end of the spectrum – very high-profile commercial galleries, but perhaps the museums need to combine to make a more concerted promotional effort.”
The choice of Vargas was also a response to the digitally driven world of art, with its increasing reach and younger audience.
“People came to that show who follow Vargas on Instagram,” says Foo. “We see that a lot when people come into the gallery. They follow someone who has been hashtagging Opera or an artwork, or they know someone at the opening events or parties from following them on Instagram.”
Proof that Opera runs the gamut of artistic provenance from the old masters to post-pop is evident at French Maze, showing until June 30. The exhibition convenes an eclectic group of
French artists who span different styles and movements, from post-war and historic classics such as Marc Chagall, André Lanskoy and Georges Mathieu to contemporary masters such as Pierre Soulages, Chu Teh-Chun and Robert Combas.
“We wanted to show the bad boys of French art, in a way, at a time when everybody was doing their own thing,” notes Foo. None more so than proto-pop artist Bernard Buffet, “discovered” and loved by the late industrialist Pierre Bergé, who lived with him for seven years and then left Buffet to launch, and love, Yves Saint Laurent. Buffet had his first art show as a 20-year-old, was a millionaire by the age of 28, committed suicide in the 1990s and was at one time considered the post-war star of the French art world. “The way he signs his name is so interesting,” says Foo.
“It has arachnid qualities, like a spider, and becomes such a striking component of his canvases.” It’s an art and cultural education just seeing Buffet alone at French Maze, who Andy Warhol described as “the last famous painter”.
Then there’s Jean Dubuffet, best known for his development of art brut (“raw art”), whose pieces, unfettered by cultural influences and restrictions, embrace a more authentic and humanistic expression. And contemporary artist André Brasilier’s work is a blend of abstraction, expressionism and something distinctly his own, typified by a whimsical and breezy lyricism. He mostly paints horses, women and nature, with delicate compositions and harmonies of colour. Notable too, is Chu Teh-Chun, a Chinese abstract painter who moved to Paris in 1955 and quickly became one of the masters of action painting. His works are expressive, evoking spontaneous strokes that mirror the artist’s mental landscapes and are nourished by his synthesis of traditional Chinese technique with the stylistic freedom of Western abstract art. In this respect, he’s regarded as a pioneer of the genre. And the discoveries continue.
Looking to the future, Foo’s forwardthinking mindset will manifest in a series of plans for Opera – and she says collaborations are the way forward. Which these days often means fashion. Foo’s ticking that box, too.
“We like fashion in art,” she says, then elaborates. “I’m a big fan of Thierry Chow, the young feng shui master. She’s working on a furniture line, but she’s also working on a fashion line that incorporates feng shui into clothing. I’m working together with her to host an event, that’s really all about lifestyle. It should happen in autumn.” Foo plans to show Chow’s furniture, artworks and her wearable feng shui art-meets-fashion. “It’s like feng shui for everyday living,” she explains.
And where there’s fashion and collaboration in the art ecosystem, dialogue and workshops follow close behind. Opera Gallery is an unusual space. Stacked on four levels with floor-toceiling glass windows, it features a central lift in the middle of the ground floor gallery that services all floors, each of which has distinct characteristics and decor for different sorts of work. Foo envisages opening up the top floor as a workshop space, or for more digital and experimental pursuits.
“We do want younger people, workshops and talks for artists,” she says. “And at the weekends, that could even mean something like photography. We’ve had a talk with Thierry and feng shui as a sort of test. It was interesting what questions people raised. A lot of people have questions, but no idea who to talk to. In Hong Kong now, it seems the culture of co-working spaces and learning from each other has become the fashion.”
From incubator to artcubator, go immerse thyself in some brave, eclectic and wide-ranging cultural experiences at Opera Gallery.
Clockwise from below: Sharlane Foo, the Hong Kong-based director of Opera Gallery; André Lanskoy, Composition Sur Fond Noir; Chu Teh-Chun,Composition
Above: Sharlane Foo with Marc Chagall’s Fleurs et Corbeille de Fruits, 1949.Left: Bernard Buffet, Nature Morte à la Casserole Rouge, 1982