K11 founder Adrian Cheng on cultural-commerce and Jeffrey Deitch collaboration

City Guide | Hong Kong

K11 founder Adrian Cheng on the role of cultural-commerce

The Hong Kong-based collector tells us about K11's new acquisitions and his collaboration with Jeffrey Deitch


The K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong

The K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong flanked by Elmgreen & Dragset's Van Gogh’s Ear (2016).

The Hong Kong-based entrepreneur and art collector Adrian Cheng founded the K11 art mall group in 2008 with a vision to democratize the museum experience by combining luxury retail with contemporary art, a concept he calls “museum retail.” The permanent collection, on view at K11’s locations across mainland China, combines blue-chip works with examples from younger artists, part of Cheng’s broader efforts to support emerging Chinese talent that includes residency programs and exhibitions in China and abroad. As Cheng begins his first term as the head of the Hong Kong government’s new Mega Arts and Cultural Events Committee, The Baer Faxt caught up with the developer to ask him about his thoughts on the city’s past and future.

What have been some of the most exciting acquisitions since the founding of K11? What are some recent acquisitions? And what areas of the collection is K11 hoping to expand in the future?

The collection reflects our mission and it’s evolved over time. A big focus has always been supporting Chinese artists and we’ve put a huge amount of effort into researching current discourse around contemporary art in China, especially around new technologies and how they influence the younger generation. Some of our early acquisitions included adding works by Cao Fei, Guan Xiao, Ye Funa, Cheng Ran, Zhang Engli and Song Dong to the collection.

The pandemic got us thinking about an increased emphasis on our public art program as part of using large-scale public sculptures to create shared value through art, so recent acquisitions align with this. Works such as Elmgreen & Dragset’s Van Gogh’s Ear (2016), Erwin Wurm’s Hot Dog Bus (2018), Yayoi Kusama’s iconic The Moment of Regeneration (2004) and Chiharu Shiota’s installation I Hope… (2021).

Installation view, Chiharu Shiota, I Hope... (2021)

What are a few highlights of some of the upcoming programs at K11 and your other projects in Hong Kong that new visitors should look out for?

A must-see is City As Studio, the most extensive exhibition on the history of street art ever presented in China. It opens during Art Basel Hong Kong and has been curated by the inimitable Jeffrey Deitch, with significant works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, CRASH, Fab 5 Freddy, OSGEMEOS, Keith Haring, Lady Pink and Lee Quiñones. I was saddened to hear of the death of Phyllida Barlow, as we’ll also be hosting the Asia premiere of her playful Untitled: Folly; Baubles (2016-17) at K11 MUSEA.

What did you learn from the pandemic lockdown? How did it change your vision for K11?

The pandemic highlighted the importance of digital technology in the artworld. We’ve always been looking at ways in which technology is shaping the world around us – our .com/.cn partnership with MoMA PS1 in 2013 is just one example, so it’s nothing new, but the pandemic brought that to the fore.

If we want to reach the next generation of artists and creatives we need to understand them, speak their language, and go where they are. It’s early days but it’s spurred us to develop collaborations with creatives across all fields with the aim of carving out a unique space in Web3 to bring our culture of creativity and community-based experiences to life globally.

Where do you see the most room for growth in Hong Kong’s art scene?

Hong Kong has established itself as a hub for contemporary art in Asia both on the commercial and institutional front but there’s still room for the art scene here to grow and thrive. Part of K11’s mission is to support emerging artists and nurture local talent. We do that through ongoing artist residency programs and partnerships with international organizations like the Royal Academy of Arts.

Installation view, Phyllida Barlow, Untitled Folly; Baubles (2016-17)

K11 continues to expand its reach in mainland China and bring art into local communities. How does the institution’s expansion bring art into local communities?

Through exhibitions, art education, artist residencies, public art projects, and the list goes on. The aim for every city we operate in is to integrate art into everyday life. It’s something we’ve been doing almost since our inception. In 2011, we established K11 Art Village in Wuhan, an artist residency with seven studios and a large exhibition space, which also encourages resident artists to engage with the local community. Later this month, we’re launching a new residency program in collaboration with ArtReview, presented as part of K11’s annual Art Karnival. The partnership seeks to build a meaningful cultural exchange between artists from China and abroad.

What inspired your mission to bring contemporary art to wider audiences in China?

Being able to foster cross-cultural exchange and dialogue is one of my key motivations. Growing up, I was deeply influenced by my family’s passion for art and culture. I was constantly exposed to new ideas and creative inspiration, which helped to instill a lifelong passion for art. I’m grateful for the opportunities my upbringing afforded me, so I was looking at creating something that would enable me to give back and share my passion for art. People want to be part of a community and we’ve pioneered a cultural-commerce model that breaks down some of the barriers to engaging with art the ‘traditional’ way.

From your perspective, what impact has K11 had on Hong Kong’s art market?

Since I founded K11 in 2010 Hong Kong has seen a big increase in market-driven activity with more art fairs, commercial galleries and auction house activity. As a result, I believe that non-profit organizations like K11 that give the wider public more opportunities to engage with art, and local artists the opportunities to showcase their work and develop their careers, have become increasingly important.