By: Vestigo Macau / Jonathan Evans
Photography: Amy Wong / Wu Sai Cheong / Shutter Stock
In contrast to its hyper modern neighbour Hong Kong, the contemporary face of Macau is sometimes overlooked in this city of rich tradition and heritage buildings. Casual observers of the territory may believe that the closest it gets to modernity is the neon-lit casinos and plush hotels around the Cotai Strip, or nightclubs such as SKY 21. But despite its diminutive size, Macau has a highly regarded contemporary art scene, with multinational artists and venues ranging from large exhibition spaces to small yet influential independent galleries.
Art in Macau has always come from a wide variety of sources, right back to the 18th century when Italian missionary and artist Giuseppe Castiglione began to transform Chinese portraiture by blending European and Oriental painting styles. In the 19th century, European artists such as George Chinnery and Auguste Borget helped create the “China Trade” style of paintings, while in the 1940s Russian artist George Vitalievitch Smirnoff moved to southern China and portrayed Macau in watercolour. A few decades later, during the final decades of Portuguese rule, an equally pluralistic scene coalesced with the support of the Cultural Institute of Macau (now the Cultural Affairs Bureau).
Photography: Arte Macau
Photography: Macau Museum of Art
Photography: Cultural Institute of Macau
The leading lights of this movement in the 1970s worked in a variety of styles and became figureheads of the local art scene. Carlos Merreiros, a noted architect, joined other young avant-garde artists in the Friends of Culture Circle, which brought exhibitions of Macanese artists to countries around Asia. As a curator, Merreiros became a key figure in safeguarding Macau’s cultural heritage. The Luis de Camoes Museum launched the Annual Macao Artists Collective Exhibition to promote the work of local practitioners, and spawned a new space, the Leal Senado Gallery, in 1985 to continue its mission.
Photography: The Leal Senado Gallery
Among the major artists of the time were Ung Vai Meng, an oil painter who depicted multicultural Macau with a boldly modern approach verging on abstraction; Mio Pang Fei, a Shanghainese painter who challenged traditional Chinese art during the Cultural Revolution and immersed himself in Western contemporary styles after settling in Macau; and the late Kwok Woon, a radical artist from Guangdong, who used mixed materials and mediums to portray the intersection of cultures he discovered in his adopted city.
Today, a wide variety of contemporary exhibition spaces explore the changing artistic perspectives of Macau. Tap Seac Gallery covers multiple disciplines including photography and poster design in an unmissable 1920s baroque mansion, and sponsors the annual Macau Visual Artists Exhibition. Another outstanding space is the pioneering, five-storey Macau Art Garden, the first building in the city devoted to local creation, which boosts the efforts of artists through exhibiting and selling their work. Dare to Dream Art Gallery, a beautiful boutique opened in 2014, aims to broaden the artistic scope of visitors with a more international line-up of emerging artists.
Photography: Tap Seac Gallery
Photography: Via Facebook - Macau Art Garden Cafe ( Left), Dare to Dream Art Gallery
Further south, Taipa Village Art Space moved into a traditional shophouse in 2016 in this increasingly popular district, and carries a comprehensive range of shows covering photography, film and video art aside from paintings. But one of the newest space in town is Navy Yard No. 1, which took over the premises of an old shipyard near A-Ma Temple in 2017, and showcases performance art as well as visual art from local and international creators.
Photography: Taipa Village Art Space
From June to October this year, “Art Macao: International Art Exhibition” will kick off at the main exhibition venue – Macao Museum of Art; while exhibitions will also be held at other important venues such as the Macao Contemporary Art Center - Navy Yard No. 1, Old Court Building, Tap Seac Gallery, Exhibitions Gallery of the Taipa Houses, Former Municipal Cattle Stable (Ox Warehouse), hotels and integrated resorts.
With the theme of “diversity”, the exhibition demonstrates the reality of social culture and artistic creation through crossover cooperation, presenting the richness of styles and forms, connecting different cultures, expanding the artistic vision of the public, building a creative atmosphere, and displaying the inclusivity and generosity of Macao’s cultural connotation.
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