WOAW Gallery’s Kevin Poon Reshapes Asia’s Boundaries of Art
Hong Kong/ Vibe/ Celebs & Influencers

WOAW Gallery’s Kevin Poon on Redefining Boundaries of Art in Asia & Beyond

WOAW Gallerys Kevin Poon on Redefining Boundaries of Art in Asia Beyond

Chart a map of Kevin Poon’s domain in the creative sphere, and you’ll find a vast interconnected arrangement of projects across art, fashion, music, hospitality, interior design, and architecture. Having launched Forty-Five at Landmark this year, which lies only a short stroll away from his WOAW Gallery space on 9 Queen’s Road Central, his successes proudly show off a sense of fearlessness in merging different practices that many would consider too far apart to wrangle together, or from different worlds entirely.

Speaking to The Beat Asia, Kevin retraces his steps in learning to thrive as a man of many passions. Letting us in on his vision for WOAW Gallery, he shares his means of shaking up the global art stage by connecting the dots between various art forms and breaking down the categorial boundaries that separate them.

Instagram/@kpee

“Growing up I never really had a specific skill set, I would just be surrounded by so many talented people, whether they're singers or actors or architects, or complex businesspeople. I didn’t start out knowing what my skills were, but as I continued connecting with all these people, I began to think - connecting with people [itself] can also be a superpower.”

“A lot of people are very talented, but they don't really know how to communicate with certain people. I was always the guy putting the dots together and then it kind of worked out for me.”

No stranger to the international jet-setting that befell art enthusiasts and collectors, and never shy to spark conversation with any champagne-toting visitor at a gallery function, Kevin has always been a familiar and much-welcomed face amongst the art crowd in Hong Kong and beyond.

The mind behind multidisciplinary WOAW Gallery, he launched its first branch in Wan Chai in 2019. It seemed an almost natural evolution to come after witnessing the cultural footprints Kevin had left so far.

Only a year later, a long pause hit, halting his travels outside of Hong Kong for a while. With the real estate market taking a blow, the city was ripe with new opportunities for creative risks, allowing Kevin to bring his Central gallery to life in a space that used to be cordoned off only to serve luxury brands.

“They were like ‘Hey, do you want to maybe put your gallery in there for a year or two and see how it goes?’ And I didn't really have the confidence at the time because I was just coming at it from, really, a consumer point of view. Still, we started doing a few shows and it was well received and had a lot of engagement online. A lot of conversation sparked from it.”

“What started off just an innocent ‘Let's give it a try’ has become something very close to my heart. WOAW Gallery has become a valuable place for me to show things that I like, and [things] from the team as well.”

Instagram/@woawgallery

The instant magnetism of WOAW Gallery’s debut in the neighbourhood was the perfect foundation for Kevin to expand the horizons of his network. Like at the openings he attended during pre-pandemic times, he was still able to open himself to deepening his relationships with Hong Kong’s art appreciators, on top of being able to build new ties with underground local talent and up-and-coming visionaries.

“There were a lot of really great supporters from early on, and I started building up my confidence. At first, we were showing artists like Kochi Sato, Cristina BanBan, Charlie Roberts, artists that I really liked.”

“But the point is that we started to make conversation with artists and people and started to host these amazing openings where people can come see the art and learn about it and have a community. Throughout the three, four years that we've been doing the gallery, we've built a great community of curators, collectors, young artists, local artists, international artists, writers, and people that are in the arts and interested in the arts.”

Instagram/@woawgallery

At a glance, Hong Kong is a setting that seems primed for the art market to flourish. A laissez-faire port with no tax, making it easy for precious works to flit and out of bounds, peripherals like first-class art fairs and beautiful locations dedicated to big-name auction houses, on top of geographical convenience that places it in the centre of everything. Centralized in this tiny dot of a world city is a system that’s primed and ready with resources to support the business of art.

Fitting WOAW Gallery into the cultural narrative of Hong Kong, Kevin sees the gallery as an ever-shifting creative hub for promoting Hong Kong itself, acting as a voice that attracts people to not only come to see the artists on offer locally, but also to spotlight homegrown individuals abroad, as part of what he describes to be a reciprocal and ongoing ‘exchange curatorial programme.’

“I think what would be interesting now is to see there being more artists residencies that pop up or resources where people can then learn about art.”

Most recently, after also setting up a Mainland China faction of WOAW Gallery at Beijing’s Blanc International Contemporary Art Space, Kevin has gone on to extend WOAW Gallery to Singapore, setting the groundwork for an avenue to venture regionally into the ASEAN domain. This monumental leap is only the first of many stepping stones along his way to strengthening the knots that interlink the WOAW Gallery community worldwide.

“I still think that Asian artists are underrepresented in the global scene. There’s myths around Asian collectors as well in the European-American markets. I want to demystify [that impression] and for WOAW Gallery to be a bridge and a resource for all types of artists, and to be a platform for them to connect and to prosper.”

Instagram/@kpee

Still, a strong theme emerged through the bulk of the artwork that Kevin found himself being drawn to, namely the emotion of happiness. A contrarian to the creed of ‘traditional’ curators, the valuation or ‘clout’ that an art exhibition could accrue was far from what crossed Kevin’s mind in forming his projects. Built into the DNA of WOAW Gallery was the need to provide a dynamic lab where art could morph and shift as any artist pleased, far, far, away from limitations.

“To contextualize a little bit more about what we do, I think sometimes we get classified really easily into: ‘Oh, these guys are just doing pop art.’ Or it's just like one of those things where they try to demoralize you and they just try to put you in a box for people that don't understand. I think that comes from a very ignorant standpoint. We're trying to demystify that and help as much as we can to allow all artists to be part of the scene.

“For you, [the descriptor] ‘street’ might be like a cool thing and it might be a cool thing for me too, but for a lot of ‘intellectuals’ and people [in the scene], they think of ‘street’ as ‘Oh, this is not good enough.’”

“For the past few years, we were kind of like lone rangers in the woods, you know? But now that we've established ourselves, we really need to reign it back in and try to figure out how we can uplift the whole community and not just our own program.”

Instagram/@kpee

These shifts are already showing, with the lines between artistic spheres becoming increasingly blurred. So, what’s the next phase? Mulling over the AI scare that seems to be pervading across all industries right now, Kevin remarks on the new realm he sees humankind entering into.

“How do you challenge yourself? I think the key is to be creative. And how do you do that? It’s to have a perspective that robots cannot have. That’s something that's important about art because it shows what's happening at that time, from a human perspective.”

“Art is becoming something that is more, I would say, in the house. Traditionally my family wouldn't really talk about it at dinners, but I think it's becoming such a ‘thing’. I'm happy to play a part in the ecosystem in Hong Kong. With M+ and the Kusama Show, in Tai Kwun with Tobias’ work – I think everyone plays a part in making art more accessible. I’m just happy WOAW Gallery can share some of the things that we like and be part of this community, and to just keep pushing the envelope.”

Instagram/@kpee

And it never stops. Flitting between his galleries around Hong Kong, to hosting an upcoming group show in Ibiza, and later slated for Miami in the tail end of 2023, WOAW Gallery shows no signs of slowing down over the short stretch ahead, nor beyond - until they get in touch with the hearts and senses of each and every single art lover everywhere.

“I can't even really think of another gallery locally that's doing something similar to what we’re doing, can you? There was such a big question of ‘Why didn't anyone do this before us?’”

“Now more than ever, art has become more important. It can take place in a visual form like a painting or a sculpture, it could also be music, it could be literature, it could be dance – it’s just being creative. I think that's what we're trying to advocate. Conversation and dialogue for people to understand and to connect.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep up with Kevin at @kpee on Instagram.

Follow WOAW Gallery on Instagram and check out their official site here, to find the latest show near you.

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