Ho Kin U says the locally based art fair Art Mo is much different than when it started, four years ago. In an interview with mART, the director of operations of Art Mo, Ho Kin U, says they have three goals: to help diversify the economy, to create the creative industries’ commerce in Macau and to promote local culture. To pursue such goals, they now have changed from a model of an art fair based on an exhibition hall to a tour, using different buses, spread around the city, counting on several partners and different venues.
By Luciana Leitão
What is the concept behind Art Mo?
Art Mo is very different now from when we started. It has evolved quite a bit.
In the beginning, we looked at the art community in Macau and we saw two things in Macau related to art: one was more academic government funded exhibitions, which were very high quality, with most of the artworks borrowed from overseas museums, collectors and artists. Macao Museum of Art does not have much of its own collection, so it always has to borrow artwork from overseas. These exhibitions are very academic and usually very historical, from artists from the past.
The other type of art [we had in Macau] is more like a hobby — we don’t have many full-time artists and they usually create art on the sidelines of their full-time job. When they have an exhibition, once every two or three years, to show some new work, usually the people who attend are their friends or people they know. We didn’t have anything that was professional or commercial.
Art Mo was created to promote a more professional approach to art?
We thought: why don’t we create an art fair in Macau? We could invite many overseas professional galleries and collectors to come to Macau and create a platform here. We could promote art business trading and more real collectors could come to Macau and see the artworks made by artists.
We started with an art fair in Macau and we were one of the first. We invited, in the first couple of years, 100 galleries from different parts of China [Mainland] and Asia — some of them were really first class galleries and some of them were more like young contemporary art galleries.
In the third year, we started looking at what we had been doing — this Art Mo is just the first concept we had and we had to revise. Art fair probably is not the best thing for Macau, because the art fair community is very busy. There are over 50 art fairs in Asia. Every first or second tier city will have an art fair — at least, one. Hong Kong has eight. Beijing and Shanghai have six to eight art fairs a year. When you have that many art fairs in a year, the collectors and the galleries will be more picky about which ones they will attend; usually, collectors will go to a couple and the more serious collectors will see collecting art as their full-time job. They may go to four a year; still, very limited. Also, for the galleries — even the very big galleries don’t go to more than four or five art fairs a year.
Also, it has to do with the city of Macau. For a successful art fair, there are some components. First of all, it needs to have a certain amount of population. Macau is very small. Then, we don’t have many commercial galleries in Macau, so we have to rely on drawing the galleries, the collectors and the media from overseas, which is not easy.
Two years after creating Art Mo, this platform in Macau, we started realising new things — maybe we should try a new direction for doing what we wanted to do before, which is to create an international art platform in Macau. An international art platform does not only serve the art community, it also promotes the art, it’s like a public education kind of thing for the general public to see more art. It also helps promoting the diversification of the business. Macau uses so much the casino and tourism centered business model and we always talk about how to make it more diverse. We also want to do that through Art Mo.
Your first goal was to set up an art fair. Did that change?
This [the art fair] was a way of reaching another goal, which is creating an international art platform. Actually, if we have to break down the goals into something more specific, we have three goals, the first one being to create something, another reason for the tourists to come to Macau.
Usually, tourists come to Macau because we have the most beautiful hotels in the world, the biggest casinos and we speak Chinese, so many Chinese would come. We know a couple of years ago, if we said that is not enough as people would get tired of this, nobody would listen, since the economy was doing good. But now the people know the casino business is going down, so now they will take this more seriously.
So, now is a good time to develop the art market in Macau?
I don’t think now is a better time than before, but now it would be easier for people to understand why they need Art Mo — to draw tourism to Macau. This is one goal: diversify the Macau tourism environment. The second goal is to create the creative industries’ commerce in Macau. The third thing is to promote the local culture. When people come to Macau, they usually go to Cotai — but that is not local, that is like a theme park.
How do we achieve these three goals? We think of the concept and we created some new programmes. Last year, we set the Art Mo Tour. Before, when we had the Art Mo art fair, we would do a big exhibition at Venetian Macao and the exhibition would last four days. That’s the typical exhibition format. Now, we broke down the exhibitions into many different small exhibitions and have them at different parts of Macau — some of the venues are organised by some non-profit art related associations and some of the venues are operated by the Macao Museum of Art and some are private spaces, at hotels, galleries. There are many different locations. Then, we created the Art Mo Tour map, distributed at over 1,000 locations in Macau and in Hong Kong, so the tourists could come to Macau, pick up the map and go see exhibitions at different parts of Macau. Those exhibitions are not too far from each other — we have six to eight buses going around this tour, so people could sign up on the Internet to something called Friends of Art. People could pick up this card and become Friends of Art. We have some partnerships.
Is the Art Mo Tour set in partnership with Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO)?
The MGTO is our supporting department. We also have some local business partners, so the tourists can receive discount and usually those business partners are local cafes, restaurants and small shops near our exhibitions, so the tourists can see these exhibitions and walk around and have coffee in our partners. It’s a nice way of seeing the real Macau, it becomes more dynamic. It’s more fun. By doing this, we can achieve other things. For instance, rent in Macau is very high and the art business or the cultural creative industries do not sell jewellery or watches, they cannot afford one million patacas a month. So, they usually are hidden on industrial buildings or secondary streets and tourists don’t see them.
By having this programme, we could channel the tourists off their main road, make a couple of turns and they are there, bring the tourists to the front door of these galleries, spaces and local businesses.
If the art industry cannot be part [of the tourism industry] it can never grow to be anything bigger. We want to bring Macau culture and arts into tourism. This is what we want to achieve and it is a good way to help the local business, art business, creative industries to integrate with the Macau tourism industry.
Does the Art Mo Tour result in any sales?
It does, but we don’t take part of the transaction. We set this programme as a non-profit programme, so we don’t take percentage from the transaction. We don’t want to create this commercial relationship with the venue. If there is a transaction, it is great. This is the baby stage of something. Let’s just focus on creating this programme first. We are also partner with Air Macau, on this Friends of Art programme — they fly to 30 different cities in Asia, they have local offices, our maps are distributed through them in their offices and overseas counters, so the tourists would know about this when they come to Macau.
For that to result, Macau needs to be considered as an art destination city. Is it happening already?
How do we promote this? Through our partnership with MGTO, we will have promotional material at all their shops, at the ferry terminals, at the borders, we will also promote this through Air Macau. Everybody who flies to Macau through Air Macau will know about our programme. Last year, we invited over 50 media representatives to come to Macau, to be part of this programme. This will reach a larger audience in China and in Asia. Some of them are professional art media, they can reach some real collectors in China.
Also, we have our own collectors’ resources, we will invite some VIP collectors to come to Macau and be part of this programme, and we have other things for them. They could take this Art Mo Tour and see this real life art, not just commercial gallery art or art fair art. Something that is not expensive and some are really interesting. Besides, we have the Art Mo Forum, for them to attend. There is the programme Art Mo Night, a VIP party and dinner for VIP collectors. An art fair could get very tiring. An art fair is getting a bit too commercial for some collectors.
You mentioned you want to make Macau a platform for the arts. Considering Hong Kong already is and it is our neighbouring region, is there a place for Macau to perform this role?
It is different. Art Basel is a commercial event organised by a commercial company. We are a non-profit event, organised by a non-profit organisation. The positioning is different. Art Basel is a swiss company and they have their resources mostly in Europe and in America, including the attending galleries and it is a very elite type of art event. We are not.
We take care of our local artists, we do some very academic exhibitions with the artists from overseas, we can do some fun stuff, outdoor public exhibitions or installations, so it’s a bit more dynamic than Art Basel. Also, the city of Macau is very different from Hong Kong, Macau is very small, so we could do what we could do, which is to connect everybody together. Hong Kong is a little bit more difficult.
Macau needs this more than Hong Kong. People also underestimate the potential from Macau. We have 30 million tourists, very low tax rate, which are very strong elements for creating an international event. We have very high capacity to receive tourists. We have many hotel rooms and they are all together. We can take advantage of the policy of the Central Government, as a special administrative region, to set up a better standard in certain areas for the rest of the country. For Art Mo, we can do something different for the art world.
We want Art Mo to integrate with local tourism industry, because it’s the main industry of Macau. Secondly, Macau is small enough for us to link everything together and Macau does not have a very strong local art market, so we have to use this 30 million tourist market to be part of the market. The new direction we’re heading to is a better way to achieve what we want to do.
The 30 million tourists usually do not come to Macau for art purposes. Do you need another approach to reach another type of tourists?
That is a misconception. Collectors don’t wear a name tag. Most of collectors come to Macau once a year, they come for shopping, for the food, for the casino, they come, they are just not used to buying art in Macau. That does not mean they are not collectors. Also, the real collecting community in any country is always a minority. In China, there is no more than 2,000 to 5,000 serious collectors — the ones who have more paintings they could hang on the wall than they have walls, including kitchens and bathrooms, they have warehouses to put their artworks. I would say 0.005 percent of the population of Macau are collectors. And I would say the same ratio would apply to tourists.
So, you want to find those 0.005 percent?
I want to let those collectors know that when they come to Macau we don’t only have the best hotel or casino in the world, we also have a very interesting art event. Through our programme, once they get to know about something, they will come back.
One of the obstacles you’re dealing with is the lack of an art market in Macau. Over the past four years, have you seen any improvement?
We are the first art fair in Macau. After we did it, at least four or five art fairs appeared in Macau. We don’t have to do everything ourselves, we welcome other auction houses coming to Macau, we need this momentum, we’re just the ones who initiated this. We see more people getting interested in coming to Macau to sell art, show art and buy art, which is a good thing. It’s nothing close to a well-established art friendly city yet, but it is already better than four years ago. It takes time.
MGTO, Macau Cultural Affairs, Macao Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau, Air Macau and Macao Foundation are good supporters, but their support is rather selective, which we understand, because we just started. The government started to realise that what we have been doing is something that would achieve what everybody has been talking about, which is creating different programmes for the tourists and help promote local art and culture industry. We did exactly that and it’s more effective than anything done before.
Since you started, there are many art fairs happening in the city. Are these competitors?
We are a non-profit event, there is nothing to compete about. What’s the point? The reason why we do this is to achieve those three goals I mentioned earlier. We will never achieve what we want to achieve, on our own.
Even though Art Mo is a non-profit event, in the long run, aren’t you aiming at having profit?
We don’t make money selling art. We are culture and art related development company, we create other entities that are related to arts and culture, that’s our main business, we don’t make money by drawing tourists to Macau, and we don’t make money by introducing galleries and collectors. We don’t do auctions. What we do on the business side, is we think the creative industry has many potentials — there are many professional services around art, like art insurance company, art evaluation company, art storage company, art investment fund. It can also get into other services, like hotel business, shopping malls. What we do is not selling art — we want to create other new industries through art and culture.
Eventually, you want to do that in Macau?
In China [Mainland], because here it is a very small market for this. There is no such thing as competition, not even a little bit. There is a great chance for us to work with other companies and associations that have the same goal as we do, which is to promote art and culture and help diversify Macau tourism market, including all those local galleries.
Will Art Mo be much different this year from previous editions?
We want to bring more international artists to Macau. The important collectors may not come for the local Macau artists, who they have never heard before, but there’s a high chance they would come for a big name they know well. We want to bring first class international artists.
Who are you bringing?
I cannot tell you yet. We want to work with more international artists and also non-profit international associations from overseas.
Are you doing all these programmes, just because you are a philanthropist aiming at helping the Macau art, without any purpose of profit?
I just think it is a fun thing to do, it is something Macau needs.