Illustration by Kitty N. Wong

May signals the arrival of a very creative month. Not only does the cultured Le French May series of events happen throughout the city, but Art Basel Hong Kong and the Asia Contemporary Art Show are also in town to present some of the greatest and latest artworks available on the market. Gallerists, art journalists, collectors and aficionados all come to town to celebrate the wonderful world of art and it's growing presence in Asia, but in this month's Great Debate topic, we ask a few knowledgable socialites whether or not they think art can still shock.

Douglas Young

Founder and Creative Force of G.O.D.

To me, shock can be kind of a nasty surprise; it can be offensive, infamous or even disappointing. For instance, when it comes to attending art shows, the bigger the difference between expectation and experience, the bigger the shock. Other times I have been shocked because of offensive circumstances. These days, it is almost easy to offend when it comes to religion, sex, race and politics.

The infamous reputation of modern art means that visitors now attend a show predisposed with insouciance. Armed with a defensive mindset, we may consider ourselves immune to shock, but in reality, we may not be conscious of the most effective and intellectual kind. The ultimate function of art is to lift the viewer to a higher plane of consciousness and as long as art is an intellectual endeavour, it will always retain the capacity to shock.

Daphne King-Yao

Director of Alisan Fine Arts

As long as there is innovation and creativity there will be art that shocks.  Art is about creating something new and different. It is initially shocking when first created and then becomes accepted as time passes.

If we look back in history, in the 1860s and 1870s, impressionism was new and different. In the 1910's, Picasso and Braque's cubism was initially also scandalous. Andy Warhol’s pop art in the 1960's was again revolutionary as he used everyday objects like Campbell soup cans as his subject matter.

Closer to home, Chinese artists Yu You Han and Xue Song’s political pop art of Mao heads in the 1990's was radical at the time. In present day, Ai Wei Wei's works are also shocking and unconventional, while Wang Tiande and his wrapping paper with Chinese ink art on objects such as a dining tables, Yang Jiechang using layers of rice paper soaked in ink and more were seen as eye opening.

Catherine Kwai

Founder of Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery

Last November during a trip to Japan, I went to see an artist friend of mine who is a professor at the University of Hiroshima. As I entered his studio, his latest art piece immediately jumped out at me. It was one of a naked woman in her sleep. My heart stopped as I noticed the intricate detailing that he included in his work, from the smoothness of the skin to the lush black hair and even the blood vessels. The painting, he told me, took him two years to complete and his idea was to capture a woman asleep in raw form.

The painting is actually very complex in that there is very little difference between a motionless body that is asleep and one that is dead. However, the artist explained that it is during sleep that a person’s most true expressions are displayed. To me this proved that art can still shock and stun in many ways.