A boothless 'non-art fair' for night owls? Interview with Supper Club on its debut in March in Hong Kong

Dubbed "Art Month," March is when Hong Kong's art lovers and visitors keep their eyes peeled for major art events and big names gathering at Asia's art hub, namely Art Basel, Art Central, and teamLab. But beyond those familiar names, this year, a new force is set to shake up conventional art fair norms and bring freshness to the local art scene – Supper Club.

Initiated by three Hong Kong gallerists – Willem Molesworth and Ysabelle Cheung of PHD Group and Alex Chan of THE SHOPHOUSE – Supper Club highlights emerging and experimental presentations curated by Anqi Li. It features over 20 international and regional galleries, with live performances and panel talks to light up the show. 

Unusually, the event opens until the late hours of 1 am from 25 to 30 March in the historic Fringe Club in Central, its co-organizer, which was a former cold storage warehouse. And visitors are said to be more than welcome to wander in and linger around the Grade 1 heritage building to connect with others while admiring artworks. 

So, how exactly is the Supper Club disrupting the local art scene and how do they set themselves apart? How does the event come about? What are their goals in the future? What are the highlights of the exhibition? Ahead of its opening, The Value interviewed its team to learn more about the novel event. 

Exhibition highlight | Zheng Mahler (in collaboration with Reijiro Aoyama) | Nostalgia Machines (2019)

Ysabelle Cheung and Alex Chan, co-founders of Supper Club

PHD Group and The Shophouse seem to be very different galleries. What were the opportunities or circumstances under which the founders decided to cooperate to establish the art fair? What challenges did you encounter during the preparation process?

Ysabelle Cheung: Willem and myself have always been interested in collaborative practice. When we began imagining what a different type of art event would look like in Hong Kong, we wanted to work with a gallery and individual who could offer a different type of energy and different strengths to what we can offer. This is what we feel true collaboration builds off of: the idea that each individual can offer a new perspective.

As for the challenges, there were, of course, many, as with any new venture. You’re struggling to bring a vision to life, and along the way there are many roadblocks to that vision. The true challenge is not in the number of obstacles, but in persevering nonetheless.

Alex Chan: I was very much inspired by the art event Our Week, which happened during Frieze Seoul last year. Having seen the PHD Group’s participation in such an event I felt an equivalent happening was needed in Hong Kong, and thus Supper Club was born.

I envision its position as one which co-exists with Art Basel and Art Central, and which creates synergy within this existing art ecosystem while also giving room for fresh dialogue. This also blends in with THE SHOPHOUSE’s philosophy, which is that it is a culmination of artistic expressions by cross-field artists, makers and creative insiders.

Installation view of "you, trickling", PHD Group, Hong Kong, 2023

Installation view of "Xi Jiu: Forging the Swords" at PHD Group, 2024

Hong Kong is an arts hub in Asia and has many annual exhibitions and fairs that target audiences of different price points and buyer makeup, such as Art Basel, Art Central, Affordable Art Fair, etc. Where is the positioning of Supper Club? How do you hope to break out or set yourself apart?

Willem Molesworth: We are not an art fair and do not want to be compared to one. We hope to attract curious art lovers, as well as seasoned art collectors. If someone is interested in collecting something, they should come visit, say hi, and ask questions.

Anqi Li: As the curator of the inaugural Supper Club, I am excited to bring my expertise in curating exhibitions and public programs to the forefront. My vision for Supper Club revolves around presenting it as a group show, where artworks from twenty-two galleries are thoughtfully curated to provide our audience with an immersive experience that centers around the artworks within a meticulously designed exhibition environment.

We are collaborating with BEAU Architects, a Hong Kong-based design studio, to repurpose existing structures and construction materials within our project venue, Fringe Club. Our aim is to breathe new life into its heritage interiors through creative displacement of over sixty pieces of artwork throughout the space. This rejuvenation process will result in a dynamic fusion of art and architecture for Supper Club.

Willem Molesworth, co-founder of Supper Club, and Anqi Li, curator

Who is Supper Club’s target customer group or audience base? What criteria were used to invite participating galleries?

Ysabelle Cheung: We are hoping that people of all demographics will find something to enjoy at Supper Club. International collectors and visitors will be able to discover emerging and mid-career artists from the region in a more relaxed setting, and local audiences can enjoy our performances and talks programs, as well as the reinvention of the Fringe Club for this event.

Our late hours of 4 pm to 1 am will also provide a sense of exploration and invite a different type of engagement. Since Supper Club is quite different from a traditional art fair or exhibition, we wanted to invite galleries who are up for the challenge of doing things in an alternative way.

Many of the galleries are very young, but at the same time, we have established galleries who also show at Art Basel Hong Kong that have maintained an independent spirit. It was also important to us that these galleries are either based in Asia or represent Asian artists.

Exhibition highlight | Victor Lim Seaward | Vitrine (Radiolaria After Haeckel) (2023)

The English name Supper Club is quite interesting. What is the meaning behind it?

Alex Chan: For me, Supper Club touches on two main concepts. “Supper” refers to a light meal in the evening and reflects our opening hours of 4pm-1am, but it also holds the idea of congregation and coming together. “Club” suggests a closely-knit group of people with common interests, perhaps even within a designated space. When you bring these two words together the result is a light-hearted, informal gathering space. We hope to capture this essence during our event.

The press release mentioned that Supper Club aims to “disrupt the conventional art fair paradigm and reinvent the art selling and socialising experience", please reveal more specific details.

Ysabelle Cheung: Art fairs can be stuffy corridors of product, shuffling visitors along in a militant, linear fashion as gallerists stand or sit for eight hours a day in a windowless room, sometimes with only a bathroom break for privacy. The best art fairs attempt to punctuate this monotony with special presentations; the worst type of art fairs make the booth channels narrower, the hours longer, and the participation fees higher.

At Supper Club, there are no booths and no gallerists standing at attention. Visitors are free to walk around at their own pace and meander through the various spaces of the Fringe Club, up and down the stairs, and outside the building.

There will be drinks and food. Docents are available nearby for questions, and there will be QR codes and printed materials for sales inquiries. For the galleries, we have priced the participation fee much, much lower than it would normally cost to join an art fair.

Exhibition highlight | Minhee Kim | JIHYE (2024)

"The daily opening hours are from 4 pm to 1 am the next day." Why have such unique opening hours been arranged?

Anqi Li: At Supper Club, we strive to offer engaging and public-facing events every night that contribute to the discourse of contemporary art and collecting.

These events encompass a wide range of activities, including artist performances by Hong Kong-based artist duo Virtue Village (presented by PHD Group) and emerging Chinese artist Li Duo (presented by Canton Gallery). Additionally, we host artist talks featuring Wu Jiaru, Dony Cheng, and Stanley Chen, with moderation by art and cultural journalist Aaina Bhargava.

Our program also includes panel discussions on collecting, featuring esteemed collector Shane Akeroyd and Dan Qiao. Furthermore, we organize talks on architecture and exhibition design, featuring BEAU Architects and professor Su Chang from the University of Hong Kong.

Our aim with these events is to attract art lovers and, more importantly, to provide a platform for the general public to engage with and learn from influential figures within the art and creative industry. We believe that these events will foster meaningful connections and create unique opportunities for dialogue and exploration.

Exhibition highlight | Stanley Chen | Self Portrait with Firework (2024)

Exhibition highlight | Enrico Minguzzi | Transforma (2024)

The Press Release stated: “For a decade now Art Basel has catalysed the scene each Spring and brought the highest quality art to the city from across the globe. Missing from the equation, however, has been a showcase of the region’s up and coming artists that embraces the generative, interconnected dialogues shaping the larger creative ecosystem. Supper Club is here to fill that void.”

Hong Kong's large-scale art fairs or institutions all have promoted and focused on the activities of local artists. Where does Supper Club think they fall short? How should one fill this void or gap? Also, does "the region" specifically refer to Hong Kong?

Willem Molesworth: The region I refer to is not Hong Kong specifically, but the larger Asian region. And I’m not speaking about promoting the activities of local artists either. Supper Club itself, in its alternative format, strives to be, create, and encourage the dialogues that exist within contemporary Asia.

Art fairs struggle to do this owing to their transactional nature, and large museums/institutions strive instead to preserve and educate on these moments after they have already passed. It is through happenings like Supper Club, when the scene can really be engaged, witnessed, and understood.

Alex Chan: To add to Willem’s point, traditional art fairs cannot house all artists and galleries, and art fairs inevitably carry a purely commercial connotation. With some of our participating galleries also showing at booths concurrently at Art Basel, we would like to highlight the possibility of creating coexistence and interwoven dialogues.

Exhibition highlight | Jiū Society | Triumph in Hand (2017)

Exhibition highlight | Zhang Meng | The Book of Fat (2021-2024)

What are Supper Club’s goals in the next five to ten years? Are there any plans to expand to Greater China or even other parts in Asia?

Ysabelle Cheung: We envision Supper Club to be responsive, engaged, and alternative. For that reason, it is hard to think five or ten years ahead. The world changes so rapidly; what is alternative now will no longer be alternative next year.

As an example, Willem and Sophia (and BEAU Architects) worked on another art fair in Hong Kong called Unscheduled a few years ago, which was organised the year that Art Basel Hong Kong was cancelled due to COVID-19. That fair no longer exists.

Alex Chan: Through this project allows us to work with a lot of different cross-category, shared mindset people across different industries: art; auction; f&b, life style, hospitality; designers, architects–very interesting. This is what a “Club” should be, to meet like-minded people. Hopefully this goes beyond our national borders and this concept becomes international – our roster is very international. 

Fringe Club, a Grade 1 heritage building that was a former cold storage warehouse for Dairy Farm


Why did you choose to hold the first exhibition at the Fringe Club? What is going to be unique/special about this interactive interior space specially transformed by BEAU Architects?

Ysabelle Cheung: In a city like Hong Kong, where there exists a culture of constant destruction and construction, we wanted to advocate for adaptation instead. For this, we thought immediately of BEAU Architects, who we worked with on our own gallery, PHD Group.

Together with BEAU, we are hoping to engage in non-extractive architectural philosophies, which prioritises using what already exists and what we already have, instead of endlessly extracting and needlessly create waste.

We will use Fringe Club's furniture to display the artworks and rearrange the exhibition spaces, and also create a hanging system that doesn't involve drilling into the walls. It will be very different compared to other traditional art fairs, where entire spaces or tented areas are built and then thrown away. 

Alex Chan: I’ve touched on my passion for reinvigorating heritage buildings from my experience with THE SHOPHOUSE, but I was also inspired by concepts of 'open houses' both in Hong Kong and overseas. In Europe it's quite common to have 'open house' tours where grand houses and old buildings are open to the public on certain days.

Similarly in Hong Kong, heritage buildings that hold a lot of historical importance such as Haw Par Mansion host docent tours regularly. These are rare occasions where fascinating architecture and unique spaces can be accessible–but perhaps in Hong Kong it’s a lesser known fact. With the Fringe Club being such a striking building right at the heart of Central, we hope to encourage curiosity and a sense of wonder for such buildings. 

Exhibition highlight | Takuro Tamayama | 2 Glasses with Tilted Water (2022)

Exhibition highlight | Erwan Sene | ConAg Jail (2023)

What are the highlights of the art fair?

Anqi Li: I feel proud to bring Chinese and Asian diasporic-founded galleries to Hong Kong, including Make Room, island, YveYang Gallery, and 47 Canal. Furthermore, I am excited about TARQ (Mumbai), which will be showcasing a new large-scale textile piece by Indian artist Boshudhara Mukherjee.

ANOMALY (Tokyo) will present an intriguing liquor sculpture by Japanese artist Takuro Tamayama, while Balice Hertling (Paris) will feature Erwan Sene's latest collection of sculptural models. I am also honored to showcase established and emerging galleries from mainland China, including Vanguard Gallery (Shanghai), Malden Gallery (Shanghai), and Tabula Rasa (Beijing/London).

On a local level, I am thrilled to collaborate with our friends from MOU PROJECTS, PHD Group, and THE SHOPHOUSE. These local connections highlight the vibrant creative community in Hong Kong and allow us to foster meaningful collaborations beyond the city.