Hong Kong's contemporary art scene has become so attractive to Western gallerists, they are now jostling for space in the city centre. The latest arrival is New York's Lehmann Maupin, which now resides in the historic Pedder Building with a new space designed by Rem Koolhaas and his practice OMA.
Hong Kong is fresh territory for Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin, who operate two well-established locations in Manhattan. Yet the concept is not. The gallerists have known Koolhaas since he designed their first raw, plywood-panelled space in Chelsea in 1996, and their inaugural Chinese venue embodies the same unrefined spirit.
Like the New York galleries, Lehmann Maupin's new 105 sq m space feels less like a commercial gallery and more like an artist's studio: neutral in its materials but very specific in the way artists can use it and how visitors can be routed through it.
For Hong Kong, OMA developed a new palette of materials, although plywood still features heavily. A continuous wall of plywood starts outside the fourth-floor entrance of the gallery, against the building's neo-classical interior. The wood appears inside in the form of a sliding wall that can separate the open plan into a larger and smaller exhibition space. A vast glazed corner jutting out between the two spaces gives dimension to the limited space and eases the flow in and out.
'David [Maupin] was quite specific about entering the gallery from the end of the corridor,' says OMA partner David Gianotten, 'so Koolhaas came up with the corner door idea.'
To the left is a small square nook where an artist could show one central piece without it being swallowed by the gallery as a whole. The larger area to the right offers the possibility for exhibiting a sequence around an original pre-war column. 'It's the space that determines what is going to happen where, and the visitors will naturally blend into that,' says Gianotten.
The architects have left much of the space in its natural, bare state. The original window frames and ceiling were retained to keep part of the colonial building intact, and the central structural column has become a statement of the space.
'We wanted to create a working space, something that breathes still, a backdrop for art,' says Gianotten, 'one that would not take over that idea by using very specific materials or having the brand name of the gallery being more exposed than the art itself.'
Lehmann Maupin's inaugural exhibition features Korean artist Lee Bul, who recently finished a major retrospective at Tokyo's Mori Art Museum. In May, a group show of Asian and international artists will coincide with the debut of The Art Basel show in Hong Kong.
As for the overlap with Chinese contemporary gallery Hanart TZ Gallery, Maupin says it was 'good karma'.
'We are honoured to take the former space of such an important gallery in Hong Kong' he says. 'And we'll also still be on the same floor. So that's really nice.'