We last spoke to Women of Power honouree Yuki Terase when Art Intelligence Global’s Hong Kong headquarters was nothing but blueprint, concrete slabs and a whole lot of blue-sky dreaming. On its completion, Joey Wong pays a visit and discovers how hard it is to build a space that might be home to a Picasso one week and something entirely contemporary the next
Here in Hong Kong, you’re almost certainly contract-bound to be paying several arms and legs — throw in a couple roommates’ limbs, too — worth of money to live in a minuscule shoebox of a flat, where a fridge might meet washing machine and, a fair few inches away, the side of your hastily assembled Ikea bed frame. But the walls, they’re probably pristine (no nail-hung Society6 prints; you want your security deposit back, after all), probably fresh-coated upon signage — and probably white.
Because white is background. White is everyman. White infers a space devoid of choices someone else has previously made and, rather, gestures at an emptiness ripe with potential — for the minutiae of life itself, if we’re still conversing about an overpriced rental. But also, to set the scene for displaying canvases striped with oil, with colour, with something akin to a display of soul.
It’s the same common thread of existence primed and painted on the walls of practically any gallery space, anywhere in the world, where its tenants (i.e, its art) are temporary, looking for a kind family to foster then adopt.
That is, to say, Art Intelligence Global (AIG)’s Hong Kong headquarters is, at the time of writing, all white walls. Oh, and with one that moves.
A joint venture between ex-Sotheby’s heavyweights Yuki Terase, Amy Cappellazzo and Adam Chinn, Art Intelligence Global is a new-to-market art advisory with defining footholds in both New York City and Hong Kong. (Cappallazzo and Chinn head up AIG’s Western HQ.)
“Our aim is to bring top-tier Western art and exhibitions to Asia and vice versa, with the ultimate goal of ushering the market in Asia to its full potential,” says Terase, in a statement about the venture. But don’t call AIG’s Hong Kong headquarters an Asian offshoot of its Manhattan counterpart.
Beyond the stark white, past the bank of also-white desks perched parallel to a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and immediately before the glass-walled office Terase calls her own, are two unassuming analogue clocks set on a column — neither one placed higher than the other — showing the exact same time.
“That set of clocks is supposed to have both New York and Hong Kong titles below them,” explains Terase; the office is still receiving its finishing touches. “The clocks are the exact same set we have in our New York office.”
Aside from the fair few months when daylight saving pushes New York City 60 minutes off from its 12-hour pace with Hong Kong time, the clocks at AIG will be carbon copies of each other, a point Terase was keen to cement.
“The spirit of [AIG] is this: we’re not a Western company with a big outpost in Asia. We’re an Asian company, and we’re a Western company. That was a design detail I really wanted to make sure we were all aligned on.”
Clocks aside, there’s very little connecting either AIG HQs design-wise. The art advisory’s Hong Kong branch sets the scene, first, with impressive double-, possibly triple-height, ceilings that pave the way to a museum-grade space spliced at the centre with a moveable wall. Then, an open-plan office — entirely invisible from the gallery space — is nestled at the far end where the windows open up to views of Wong Chuk Hang. AIG’s New York complement is truer to a pure office space, without a white-cube stop-gap.
“The set-up in the New York office is very different from what we’re doing here in Hong Kong, because the New York market is at a very different place and stage; it’s much more mature,” explains Terase. “There’s a lot more gallery space there, so you don’t really need to have a space like this [gestures] in New York.”
“I didn’t really talk to anyone else,” says Terase, of her decision to working with Ng who, like all important meet-cutes, was a friend of a friend. “I think Betty really represents what’s happening in the region: young, female, a professional who trained in a very international, prestigious firm and then returned home to give back to where she came from.”
It was also COLLECTIVE Studio’s predominantly woman-led leadership that felt kindred to what Terase is trying to build with Art Intelligence Global — two-thirds of the advisory’s founders, after all, are female.
Ng was equally complimentary when speaking of Terase.
“I think good projects also come from good clients. What’s really nice is that we share similar attention to detail,” says Ng. “Sometimes, as a designer, you’re really anal about details. But Yuki really appreciates that.”
“I’m very anal too!” Terase says, laughing. “But you have to be to make it look simple and easy. It’s a lot of effort.”
And stepping into Art Intelligence Global, you can’t help but feel immersed in the white-walled effortlessness. But cant your head a few degrees upwards and it’s all exposed concrete; a nod towards the “industrial” and another nod towards the space as it used to stand — and all the others similarly built in Wong Chuk Hang.
“The industrial feel doesn’t come easily, I learned,” says Terase. “There’s a lot of heavy lifting work behind the scenes to make it look industrial.”
“There’s a very interesting tension, this industrial space versus the white cube,” adds Ng. “This place is so highly calibrated. Generally, people don’t really understand how difficult it is to create such a refined space in an industrial environment.”
Such are the obstacles that come from imagining a space that must be able to not just hold, but also nourish priceless works of art and artefacts and present them each as they’re meant to be seen. And for an advisory like Art Intelligence Global that isn’t tethered to, say, Old Masters or contemporary-only canvases, it’s a hell of an ask.
As Ng describes the details that make the gallery-office, the project’s painstaking attention-to-detail comes to light; in fact, it demands to be seen, despite the brief’s insistence on details that cannot, actually, be seen. You won’t see a single duct of air conditioning at AIG; they’re all tucked behind circular “mousetrap” enclosures that look more like in-laid speakers. Air return is nestled underneath each wall and, again, imperceptible to the eye unless you know exactly where to look. Also tucked away are the office’s printers, the pantry with its Ikea (yes, Ikea) components, the meeting room where so much of AIG’s across-the-world Zoom meetings take place and, of course, the headquarters’ extra-secure art storage.
“Even the locations of the sprinklers are highly calibrated,” continues the founder of COLLECTIVE Studio. “And these are things you normally don’t notice, but it results in a very clean, almost invisible infrastructure.”
And if you’re a little bit more eagle-eyed, you’ll notice some pencil marks, some doodles and some indiscriminate scribbles littered throughout the concretised portions of the headquarters.
“They’re intentional,” confirms Ng, “to add to the industrial feel.” (They did say anal.)
But the centrepiece of the entire office must be the wall, currently locked in the centre of the room but, at will, can be moved along a track to either side of the space.
“Not everything we sell is contemporary,” Terase adds. “Depending on what kind of show we want to put on, we can park the wall on one side, which would make this huge white-cube space that can hold a sculpture in the middle. Or we could tilt it and make a completely different space. It’s all about flexibility; flexibility to have some natural light coming in or to completely close up the space, dim the lights and have the spotlight on the paintings in a complete museum-quality atmosphere.”
As our resident photographer finagles with his lighting equipment for a perfect parting shot, Terase and Ng drift back together — like magnets, charged towards the same orbital field — and pore over a set of printouts the architect has meticulously mood-boarded for the still-incomplete study. They’re on the lookout for the perfect couch.
“So more this direction, yeah? Softer,” says Ng, as she crosses through Terase’s easy ‘Nos’, creasing her A4 sheets to leave visible only the OKs — the final touches that would complete the office.
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