Forever A Star – KWAN Sheung Chi

by Sipar Jiu
PS: Visual Arts and Cultural Magazine, No. 20, Para/Site Art Space, 2003. 
Hong Kong artist KWAN Sheung Chi’s works are contentious. It is no wonder that praise and criticism come half and half. Yet we can be sure that his exhibitions allow his audience a glimpse into the ‘absurd’ side of the Art world phenomenon in Hong Kong.
Art as Brand
Kwan explores the concept of ‘Artist’ by using his own artist identity as the focus (medium) of his work. It is a combination that has arisen from a reluctance to view his works as finished material objects to be admired. His signature and logo; seal stamps on Chinese paintings and signatures on Western paintings are applied extensively on his works. In this context, the materiality of the work is no longer important but the ‘hard-selling’ aspects, of the artist as brand name, is what takes priority. In this society, as long as art is by a ‘famous’ artist or a celebrity, society is bound to reward these works with commercial value and exposure accordingly. Kwan (‘Master’), who understands the ‘fun’ in aggressive marketing, deliberately taps into these operating modes and mechanisms of the functions of the Art market.
“Fame and Wealth”
Many of Kwan’s works about “fame” comments and reflects on the idea of fame by association. For example, by having one’s photo taken with Freeman Lau; having one’s works recommended by Victor LUI Chun Kwong; and compiling a ‘Top Hit List’ of ‘Hot’ artists, are all tactics employed in today’s cultural society to introduce ‘new faces’. Besides exposing this superficial world of networking, KWAN also pokes fun at the stereotypical image of the Hong Kong artist by his depictions of artists with cropped hair and thick-rimmed spectacles. In the Hong Kong art field, artworks can be categorized into three types: (1) high art; (2) handicraft; (3) or works of no market value. Kwan’s persistent persuasion for people to buy his art (‘product’) is therefore an effective strategy that urges them to reflect on the relationship between the art market and the artists. He also agrees that artists need a mercantile mind, and puts this into practice by expanding his own brand, by keeping a fixed price for all his works, giving discounts and even developing a VIP membership; an overkill of marketing that reflects on the commercialism prevalent in Hong Kong society today.
The paradox of Kwan and his art is that he is not yet established. Should one day he become famous, I am sure all his works will be regarded as masterpieces. Presently stuck between anonymity and fame, however, is a difficult place from which to ‘make a name’ for himself. And what about criticism that claim Kwan hard-sells ‘truthfulness’ or practise ‘fake’ art? On whether he is a ‘Master’ or not, we can only reflect on the last sentence in his press release, “I want to be famous, even for fifteen minutes.” (Andy Warhol) KWAN Sheung-chi; “Artists should make people feel that they have never lived before.” – Flaubert (extracted from L’Art Du Roman by Milan Kundera).
Note: “A Retrospective of KWAN Sheung Chi”, 5-25 November 2002 at the Experimental Gallery, Hong Kong Arts Centre