Art In The City

Private galleries still struggle to be sustainable and less dependent upon government support in Macau, while facing difficulties finding gallery spaces, buyers and affordable rents, local members of the art scene told Business Daily.
Meanwhile, mentalities and wallets continue to be closed in the territory to less commercial art forms, while gaming operators hesitate to invest in local art.
Money and location
With money and location being two of the main issues for local art galleries many curators turn to government funding to help them operate and find space.
According to data provided to Business Daily, during the 2015 (as of August 15 2016) Macao Foundation had disbursed a total of MOP14.8 million in subsidies and support for art exhibitions in Macau, with 51 venues having been provided free of charge for exhibitions.
The Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) also provides venue support for art exhibitions organised by private and public organisations, with government data stating the department had a proposed budget for 2016 of MOP538 million.
In response to Business Daily enquiries, the IC responded that in 2016 it had disbursed some MOP7.3 million, as of September 8, in financial support for exhibition projects of local associations and individuals Public art
One of the art centres benefiting from government support is the Centre for Creative Industries in the Macau Special Administrative Region, known more commonly as Creative Macau, a project created in 2002 by the Institute of European Studies of Macau.
According to Creative Macau the entity receives an annual budget of around MOP1.2 million from the Institute of European Studies of Macau, which is financed by the Macao Foundation.
Initially only focused on art promotion, Creative Macau later changed to a commission-based gallery, with its co-ordinator Lúcia Lemos telling Business Daily the project is “completely different from any private gallery because we don’t have the same criteria they have, since we don’t need to study the consumers and know what products sell more.”
Creative Macau provides paid workshops and promotes local artists, enabling artists to decide the pricing of their pieces, while asking for a 15 per cent commission.
Lemos tells Business Daily that private galleries have to work hard to find collectors and financing in order to be a sustainable business and holds little belief that art galleries are economically sustainable in the city.
The Creative Macau co-ordinator believes the high number of casinos and hotels should provide plenty of opportunities for local artists to expose works; however, gaming operators tend to favour international artists.
“[Casinos and hotels] always play it safe and buy everything cheaply by the tonne, and if the casinos organise art exhibitions it’s always for famous international artists they can afford. Casinos can contribute by giving opportunities to local artists, and MGM before has had local artists’ exhibitions, but just that is not enough. We need more involvement and social responsibility,” Lemos told Business Daily.
Art for money
Pedro Ip, President of the Macao Chamber of Arts Commerce (MCAC) – and founder and director of Blanc Art Co. Ltd. (Blanc Art) – has worked hard to be sustainable since the gallery opened in 2013, trying to balance his budget while promoting innovative local artists.
“I see the potential of the Macau market; however, it is still not there yet. The art market is still developing, so the scale is not big. It’s not easy to find collectors in Macau, or people that appreciate art enough to buy a work,” Pedro Ip told Business Daily.
Blanc Art generates revenue by finding artists to present their pieces in its gallery spaces, and by joining art fairs and exhibitions to find collectors interested in purchasing the art pieces.
Each artist gets a different contract, with the commission values depending on how much recognition the artist has, and the artist’s proficiency, said Ip. The gallery collaborates not just with Macanese artists but also with those from Hong Kong, Mainland China, and France.
“First, I need to know the artists, their work, experience, and history, and then contact them directly and propose if they would like to be part of our business. Sometimes, we buy the art directly from the artists, other times we collaborate with them. Sometimes, the collector asks us for a specific artist and we connect them. I think there are quite a few good artists in Macau but most of them are not full-time artists. It’s not an easy job. Right now all of the artists in our gallery are full-time, and do it as a career,” he told Business Daily.
The Blanc Art curator believes the government is already doing a lot for local art galleries but that support sometimes shouldn’t just be limited to subsidies, since although Macau is plentiful in museums and exhibition areas, it is hard for private galleries to find exhibition spaces.
According to the IC, proposals for exhibition spaces have to include details such as the exhibition name, theme, contents, form of exhibition and images of the works to be provided to its Division of Visual Art of the Department of Exhibitions and Museums. Approval time averages approximately one month. The curator describes the process of applying for an exhibition space to the IC as too long for a private enterprise, with a long waiting list and with non-profit art galleries favoured in the selection process.
“It’s hard for us to find a space for exhibitions since most of the places owned by the government give priority to non-governmental organisations (NGO’s). When the government sees we’re private they say we should find a commercial space for an exhibition but there are not a lot of commercial places [in which] we can show the work to the public,” he said.
Nevertheless, Pedro Ip told Business Daily that sometimes the only solution for obtaining exhibition space is to negotiate with commercial spaces like cafes and restaurants.
Iao Hin Gallery
Simon Lam of Iao Hin Gallery Macau agrees that like so many other businesses in the SAR the most challenging element sometimes is not getting a space but being able to afford it.
Founded in 2007, and located on Rua da Tercena, the Iao Hin Gallery has a private showroom of over 1000 square metres but Lam considers the location is still not what they would prefer in terms of “foot traffic”.
“We have to rely a lot on online marketing and face-to-face connections.
Galleries are very specific in the kind of clients we need to come to our gallery, so it’s not cost effective to have a great location in the middle of Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro or a shopping mall.” Lam said.
The Iao Hin Gallery has applied for and received a MOP1 million subsidy from the Cultural Industries Fund (FIC) that was spent on refurbishment.
Still, Lam considers that this kind of funding has a lot of strings attached and can’t “just be used on anything we want”.
The FIC was established in 2013 to support the development of local cultural and creative industries and as of the beginning of 2016 it had granted MOP112 million benefiting some 70 cultural or creative projects, with an annual proposed budget of MOP244.9 million.
The owner of Iao Hin Gallery doesn’t see Macau as “a big centre of art in the world” that attracts many clients from abroad to purchase art but states that his gallery manages to have a lot of local clients.
Even so, he comments that his gallery doesn’t do projects with casinos since “they have their own clients and their own art.”
“The art business is just like any other business; it depends upon good management and upon good application of business fundamentals,” Simon Lam told Business Daily.
Space for art
José Drummond is a Portuguese contemporary artist, curator and former Vice-President of AFA (Art for All Society) – a non-profitable art organisation seeking to promote the development of Macau contemporary art – who believes that the local art scene is still too closed in upon itself, lacking the international dynamic some of its neighbours have achieved.
“From the casino perspective they want to expose internationally renowned artists with a good investment that can be returned, which is understandable since they’re tourist spaces. Also, some artists just don’t think a casino is the right place to exhibit their art,” he added.
“I can’t understand how Shenzhen has a contemporary art museum, while Macau doesn’t. The city could’ve explored the Chinese modern art explosion right at the beginning of the century but it didn’t. Hong Kong took it and art values and exhibitions have always increased,” said Drummond.
The artist considers art as a good bet for the government to invest in order to diversify the cultural offerings of the city, with a multitude of special artists in the territory but with a general lack of interest in culture apart from traditional Chinese art. In his view, however, subsidising and handing out money isn’t the only way to develop the sector.
“There are two or three private galleries, the rest are from cultural associations. There’re a lot of subsidies but we need more private galleries that don’t depend so much upon government funding,” the artist told Business Daily.
Burning Art
Drummond sees initiatives like the Macau Art Garden as a good attempt to make space for galleries and artists suffering from high rents who find it hard to find suitable places.
With support from the Secretariat for Social Affairs and Culture and with the collaboration of AFA, the Macau Art Garden on Avenida Dr.
Rodrigo Rodrigues in the Nape district has been designed as a five-storey space fully dedicated to local artistic creation and exhibition.
“The Macau Art Garden is an attempt to give space to the artists, but although a small studio is helpful for an artist starting his career an experienced artist with 10 or 20 years’ career has a big problem with the storage of his works. Sometimes, artists here even have to destroy some old works because they can’t afford storage prices,” Drummond told Business Daily.
The Portuguese artist states that there are bank loans artists and galleries could use for rent or purchasing spaces but that sometimes repayment is expected within five years, which “is already hard for a restaurant to repay, so even more so for an art gallery”.
The former AFA VP believes that the art market is in “crescendo” but that local society itself needs to be more educated on art, since local art buyers tend to buy more commercial Chinese traditional art for decoration, especially paintings.
“Macau needs a contemporary art museum and society also needs to be educated by the government. Galleries are making a huge effort but a lot of times they are forced to present works that are more commercial, normally more traditional-style art, easy to understand for ornamentation,” said Drummond.
He also said that private galleries in the territory are making a big effort to be sustainable by being forced to present more commercial art works of more traditional Chinese forms for decorative purposes.
“Art can’t be this; this way it becomes a perverse system,” Drummond concluded.