Stairway to heaven

Argentine short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges once said: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” But for 17-year-old Bai Yu, her imaginary heaven is a museum.

Bai, who starting painting at age two, said she would visit museums and galleries while traveling, with each experience helping her to understand the relationship between a museum and its city.

“Most museums in foreign countries are historic buildings or scenic spots, such as the Louvre in Paris,” she said. “People visit museums not only to see artworks but also to appreciate the buildings.”

In her nearly 70-centimeter-high acrylic painting, Museum and the City, she constructed five planes, in which she depicted urban architecture, including that of New York, Hong Kong, London and Beijing.

Some of the artworks that correspond to these cities are housed in the museums in her painting – such as contemporary works at the Metropolitan Museum, Greek mythical sculptures at the Louvre, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at the National Gallery, as well as ceramics and ink paintings at the Palace Museum.

The urban landscapes and museums are painted on the upper and lower sides of each plane, linked by stairs, which Bai said connects art across all times and cultures.

The young artist’s painting won the merit prize of The Wharf Hong Kong Secondary School Art Competition 2019-20. It also took the Museum and the City Special Award, a new category added to the competition this year to celebrate the reopening of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Bai said that, given Hong Kong’s multicultural history, it is possible for Hong Kong to create a world-famous museum symbolizing both its history and culture. But she added that the city is too focused on economic development and people are too anxious about work.

At the bottom of her painting is a person standing in a grayish abandoned city in marked contrast to the cities above. She explained that if a city does not have a museum, people will not be able to find their souls through works of art.

“Visiting a museum is a liberation of the mind,” said Bai. “Everyone can go to a museum to relax.”

The secondary five student from Tsuen Wan Government Secondary School, who plans to study visual arts at university next year, took more than two weeks to finish the painting.

Fellow competitor Chan Yi-lik enjoys painting landscapes, but the 15-year-old secondary three student from Cheung Sha Wan Catholic Secondary School spent a lot of time portraying figures in his painting for the competition. He also won the special award and Outstanding Entries.

Believing that museums isolate art from people’s touch and feel, Chan’s painting places artworks on the street. The artworks he depicts in his painting, are inspired by Historical Pictures, a book on the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

The works of Bai and Chan express the same idea in different ways.

Chan said: “Although I rarely painted Hong Kong in my previous work, I wanted to express my understanding of my home town.”

The artworks he selected to show in his work – such as ceramics, ink paintings and a Buddha sculpture – are representative of this culture.

Among more than 1,200 competitors this year, winning artworks including 54 paintings and seven sculptures selected by a panel of adjudicators made up of seven renowned local art professionals.

All the works will be displayed at the competition’s roving exhibition, from July 7 to 12 at Times Square in Causeway Bay and from July 20 to 28 at Plaza Hollywood in Diamond Hill.

(This article was published at The Standard on June 12, 2020: Weekend Glitz: Stairway to heaven )

200703 Stairway to heaven

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