“The worst is yet to come” is perhaps the last thing anyone wants to think about right now, as we try to wrap our heads around what has been going on this year. Yet it’s one of the most recent posts on the Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà’s social media platforms, with tens of thousands of likes, proving just how we all seem to relate the thought.
The six thought-provoking words were also hand-written on the wall of “My Life Is Pointless by Joan Cornellà,” the artist’s third Hong Kong exhibition in five years, and the largest one by far. From now until January 29, 2021, at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, the exhibition showcases 48 works by Cornellà, including life-sized panels, bronze sculptures, among a selection of limited print works, all pointing to his iconic dark humor. The exhibition is by appointment only. All the time slots were booked up within six hours after they were made available, but interested viewers can make a waitlist request through the online booking system.
FWEN bronze sculptures
Bootyboop | bronze
Selfie Gun | bronze (front)
The Barcelona-born artist, known for his uses of eyebrow-raising satire to comment on the bleak side of human nature as well as a range of social and political themes, has close to eight million followers on social media.
The exhibition also marks Cornellà’s collaboration with creative partner AllRightsReserved, led by SK Lam, founder and the creative brain behind a number of local sensations such as the larger-than-life Kaws sculptures, and the giant rubber duck that docked in Victoria Harbour a few years back.
Our team sat down with SK Lam and Joan Cornellà, to shed light on the exhibition and how the art scene coped with the challenges brought by the pandemics this year.
What brings you back to Hong Kong?
Cornellà: If I could say that I'm based anywhere, it’s Hong Kong, especially in the past few years that I’ve spent lots of time in the city. Hong Kong, or Asia, in general, is where my strongest fan base is. Hong Kong is also where I began to be known. It’s been three years since my last visit, obviously this time with COVID-19, it’s a little different.
Lam: We always joke about this: he was in the States when COVID-19 just started to hit the country. He then went to Spain, and soon the pandemics reached Europe too. Now that he returned to Hong Kong, we are met with the fourth wave of COVID-19. The pandemics seem to be following Joan wherever he goes! One of the posts on his social media is “The worst is yet to come.” and I think that couldn’t have said it more precisely!
Joan Cornellà leaving a hand-written message for his fans in Hong Kong
Joan Cornellà, Spanish cartoonist known for his dark humor presented in contrastingly bright colors
What brought you two together for the collaboration?
Lam: I remember it was about two to three years ago, when I heard about his very first exhibition in Hong Kong. But it was so overwhelmingly popular that I couldn’t even make it to the event. Yet it made me wonder what the fuss was all about. I later found Joan to be such a unique artist who completely sets himself apart from, say, other contemporary artists we know. His contents are always so genuine. I think that’s the reason why people love his works so much - it’s the way his art ties to what’s happening around the world. It’s not just the vivid colorways of his comic strips, nor how cute the characters are because he’s not a self-centric artist.
Cornellà: It’s the yin and yang. One positive man and one negative man; it’s all about the balance. You’ll have to guess who’s who though.
KAGELOON | acrylic on wood panel
preetch | acrylic on paper
SK Lam, founder of AllRightsReserved
What made you want to work with Sotheby’s this time?
Lam: These couple of years, we noticed there have been some serious collectors showing interest in adding Joan’s works into their collections. Among the nearly eight million followers that Joan has, some of the keen collectors would really love to get their hands on a piece of his works but just don’t know where to go, since Joan isn’t represented by any major art gallery. At the same time, he doesn’t want to just sell his arts to whoever sends in their inquiries. With Sotheby’s very sophisticated audience profiles and clienteles, we hope to reach the serious collectors in this selling exhibition.
Yogawerk | acrylic on wood panel
Selfie Gun | Bronze (front) and Après Hawk | acrylic on wood panel (back) (blue circular pic)
This year, the pandemics have already affected numerous art events, as Art Basel went online, and so many other exhibitions got pushed back. What do you think about the shift?
Lam: The impacts are inevitable. The pandemics limit human contacts and that obviously makes it quite challenging for us. It’s increasingly popular for artists to get involved with live broadcasting and walk-throughs, also with spectators turning to virtual galleries, we’re as well branching out to find ways to enhance the exposure, knowing that there are, unfortunately, some people would have to sit out the exhibition. To comply with the rules to prevent group gathering, we’re limiting the number of attendees per session so we can adhere to the social distancing rule. Of course it’s not going to be the same, but it’s the “new normal” that will certainly take some getting used to.
Selfie Gun | bronze
Your Life Sucks | acrylic on wood panel
The title of the exhibition this time is “My Life Is Pointless,” does that in any way reflect how you feel about this year?
Cornellà: Anyone could probably relate the themes of my works to what’s happening right now, but my works have always been this kind of dark. Some of the works presented in the exhibition this time can be tied to the existentialists, say in the 1950s or so. We’ve all been there - sometimes it feels like our lives just don’t make sense, that things are beyond our control. But at the same time, there are people who also say that your life can make sense in a lot of ways, it’s all subjective and you can decide on what to do. So in a way, it’s kind of positive. It’s kind of contradictory, but I’m always fond of this kind of contradiction.
Behind the stiff smiles of the characters in your comic strips, how should we read into the stories buried underneath?
Cornellà: I always prefer my viewers to form their own interpretations. I mean I don’t want to argue with anyone, and it’s a great feeling when people tell me their interpretations, which are sometimes drastically different from what I had in mind. I find that fun!
Contemporary Showcase: My Life Is Pointless by Joan Cornellà
Dates: December 15, 2020 - January 29, 2021
(Closed from December 24, 2020 to January 3, 2021, Sundays and Public Holidays)
Venue: Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery | 5/F, One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong