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Langham Place, Hong Kong, China

Posted Monday, May 15, 2006; 20:00 HKT
Hotel art is often commercially expedient (think of identical framed prints hanging in hundreds of identical rooms). It can also be laughably bombastic (like those huge abstracts towering dozens of meters over many an atrium lobby). But Hong Kong's Langham Place Hotel takes a more sophisticated and uplifting approach. It houses one of the world's largest collections of modern Chinese art, giving guests a free grounding in what—judging by international auction prices—is currently the art world's hottest phenomenon. This isn't cut-price art by up-and-comers, either. There are works by established names like painter Yue Minjun (one of the leading lights of the Chinese avant-garde), Pei Jing (famous for his debauched scenes of scantily clad, voluptuous women), and top sculptor Jiang Shuo.

One of Jiang's celebrated Red Guard bronzes, Going Forward! Making Money!, greets you at the hotel's main entrance—an arresting augury for what awaits upstairs. In the Chinese restaurant, you'll see a gorgeous mountain scene by Hong Kong artist Lam Chung—a great exponent of modern brush-and-ink work. A heroic worker from sculptor Wang Guangyi's Materialist series stands in the barbecue garden. In fact, striking sculptures and whimsical paintings seem to leap from every corner of the building.

The quality and breadth of the work on display is a credit to the hotel's owner—cardiologist turned property developer Dr. Lo Ka-shui—and local art consultant Angela Li. Not content with turning his hotel into a museum, Lo also sponsors ambitious events at the adjacent office tower and shopping mall, which he owns too. In the past year, these have included Hong Kong's largest ever art installation, involving 31 artists and spanning 15 floors, as well as Urban Dream Capsule—a performance piece that saw four Australian artists living in a glass pod for three weeks, gawped at by shoppers on all sides. The proximity of the mall is, of course, the Langham Place Hotel's next great plus. When you've taken in all the satirical woodcuts and moody gouaches that your mind can handle, you can start on that other great Chinese cultural phenomenon: shopping.

The Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival
Hong Kong, China
Posted Monday, May 15, 2006; 20:00 HKT
In Hong Kong, as in any big city, the love of money will almost always trump the love of art—particularly an art as nebulous as English letters. But unlike many cities in the region, Hong Kong has found a way of supporting an Anglophone literary festival of real clout. It's an extraordinary development in a postcolonial society where, if pundits and think-piece writers are to be believed, the use and appreciation of English is in terminal decline. And to make the point that Mammon and the Muse can be quite compatible bedfellows when they choose, the festival is supported by the Man Group—the same investment house and futures brokerage that bankrolls the U.K.'s Booker Prize.

Launched in 2001 by a casual group of local writers and publishers, the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival has grown from a modest weekend event for a handful of scribblers with vague Hong Kong connections to Asia's premier English-literature event. This year's festival, which took place in March, was a 10-day literary blowout, hosting 60 authors from around the world, among them Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. The great man charmed a sellout crowd of 700 at a lecture and took in a local poetry reading during his stint in the city. "We've developed a bit of a reputation on the circuit," says Peter Gordon, the festival's director and head of local publisher Chameleon Press. "If you do it right, it gets bigger."

The organizers have had to grow the festival on their own, since the event receives little in the way of funding from the Hong Kong government. But having to pay its own way has helped to keep the festival accessible—attendance at seminars, champagne brunches and gatherings such as an intimate literary lunch with Booker Prize winner John Banville is not dependent on your writerly connections so much as your willingness to buy a ticket. Neither have the festival's Asian roots been forgotten. It's one of the only forums where you can meet rising mainland Chinese authors like Su Tong and Ma Jian; it has also kick-started the new, Hong Kong-based Asian Literary Review and, from next year, will begin handing out the Asian Literary Prize—the first of its kind. Says Gordon: "It's really beginning to catalyze the development of literature in the region."

Source: Time Asia Magazine
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