Exploring Soho 189’s three new galleries – Pearl Lam, Leo Gallery and Galerie Huit

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Amanda Sheppard scopes out Leo Gallery, Galerie Huit and Pearl Lam Galleries in the newly opened Soho 189 complex

Dried kelp and seahorses, fruit stalls and mourning incense currently fill the stretch of Queen’s Road West that divides up Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. Not exactly an artsy hub, but three contemporary galleries are seeking to change that. The ground floor of a former residential and commercial mixed-use building has been refurbished to within an inch of its life, leaving in its place three striking, high-ceilinged spaces that have already attracted art lovers and the old grannies in Sai Ying Pun alike. Aptly named Soho 189 after its place on the street, the building houses Galerie Huit (moved from its former space in Wan Chai), Leo Gallery and the second space by collector and gallerist Pearl Lam, Pearl Lam Galleries Soho. They all opened on the same night during art week in early March. Vincent Chan, co-owner of Leo Gallery, tells us: “We all had the same idea of marking this area as a new art hub. It’s good for culture, good for society and good for uplifting the Hong Kong people.”

This is Leo Gallery’s first space in Hong Kong, after a successful five years in Shanghai. Chan explains that Shanghai has been particularly responsive to Hong Kong artists, and it is for this reason that they sought to bring something different to Hong Kong. “There are so many galleries already doing that [showing local artists], so we feel there’s no reason for us to,” he says. Rather than showing Hong Kong artists in their home city, Leo Gallery features artists from China and Europe. One such artist, Zhang Jianjun, was Leo Gallery’s sole artist at Art Basel in Hong Kong recently. The Shanghai-based ink artist showed a selection of works that blend an appreciation for traditional techniques with modern visuals.


Interior of Leo gallery

Working together to create this new enclave has involved immense collaboration between the three galleries. This is not an uncommon sight in Hong Kong, indicative of growing hubs in Central, Wong Chuk Hang and Chai Wan. The Hong Kong Art Gallery Association alone has over 50 members and continues to build upon its networks with regular events, talks, workshops and gatherings. Chan tells us that there are approximately 100 galleries in Hong Kong, meaning that over half the galleries in the city are involved in an active community organisation. “All galleries should work together to promote art,” says Chan. This thought also resonates with Jane Chao-lee of Galerie Huit. “The three of us, we can create some kind of synergy; we help each other, we share resources,” she remarks. This sense of community no doubt stems from the already-established relationships between the gallerists. “In a way, Pearl is like my mentor and my teacher. She told me about her idea to open a space here and asked if I would be interested in joining her,” says Chao-lee. This is Lam’s second space in Hong Kong, and one which focuses on creating a platform for emerging artists no matter their age, experience or background. The gallery opens with an exhibition by Beijing-based artist Ren Ri and his distinct beeswax sculptures.


Ren Ri installation at Pearl Lam Galleries

Walking through the new gallery spaces, you are met with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and bright, airy rooms – fairly unusual for Hong Kong. Chao-Lee tells us the 18-foot-high ceilings in her two-storey gallery allow her a freedom most gallery owners in the city are unaccustomed to. Her previous space, in Wan Chai, was ‘smaller than a Hong Kong apartment’ and consequently put some hefty restrictions on what Chao-Lee could exhibit. “No big paintings, no sculptures, and no video art. I can do anything here.” With a successful launch and a drive to work together, the proprietors at Soho 189’s galleries are sure to settle comfortably into their new home.

Soho 189 189 Queen’s Road W, Sheung Wan.

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