A Tea in Three Cities

ArtOne | M/F, Convention Plaza, 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Galerie Huit is delighted to present the group exhibition ‘A Tea in Three Cities’ at ArtOne. A playful pun on Dickens novel set in 18th Century France and England, ‘A Tea and Three Cities’ explores a caffeinated view of art and the world through the eyes and imaginations of five artists – Konstantin Bessmertny, Bertozzi & Casoni, Ivan Seal, and Wang Yabin, respectively hailing from Russia, Italy, UK and China.

  • Curator: Monica Chung
  • Exhibition Period: 12 – 25 May 2014

Tea, our inspiration, first used for medicinal purposes during the Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BC-206AD) eventually grew to become the national drink during the Tang Dynasty reign (618-906AD). 17th Century England found coffee houses being used as democratic meeting places where people engaged in lively debate and discussions on wide ranging topics from the banal to the important issues of the day. Such creative environments nurtured the Age of Enlightenment, the cultural movement that promoted intellectual and philosophical thinking and individuality in a nascent culture of equality.  In 1664, at the request of Catherine Braganza, Tea was first imported to the United Kingdom – the Portuguese born princess and wife of Charles II thus sealed its historical and cultural position, its export and trade between China and the United Kingdom, and additionally led to the decline of coffee houses in England. Today, this ritual from a bygone era of English history, the tradition of taking Afternoon Tea has been adopted worldwide, offering to all, some civilised time to reflect on life’s ups and downs.


‘A Tea in Three Cities’ consists of new contemporary paintings, collages and sculptures – their juxtaposition creating conversations between the pieces and setting up different views into the practices of each artist.


The Italian duo, Bertozzi & Casoni, and their hyper-realistic life-sized ceramic sculptures depict toppled coffee cups and degraded snacks that sit precariously on stacks of books about intellectual subjects and their own monographs. The artists’ ironic and satirical humour bursts through the meticulously hand-painted and glazed surface on each sculpture as if to question anyone who would assume that the objects portrayed are real. A parody on the familiar apparatus often depicted in 17th Century classical European painting such as skulls, compasses and books, Bertozzi & Casoni’s ‘still life’ pieces play with the traditional metaphors of such objects that are no longer relevant to a new generation where books are being replaced with e-readers. At the same token, and to counteract the irony of those pieces, the sculpture that depicts a vase of wild orange flowers sits triumphantly in the centre of the gallery, its brilliantly violet coloured beetles rest on the leaves, and celebrate beauty and the natural world.


Konstantin Bessmertny’s prints of appropriated images, slogans and sound bites represent the chaos in everyday life, which are reflected in consumer press and culture. The scattered assemblage of cut-out words, paparazzi shots and glossy magazine covers, depict a world that is driven by celebrity and glamour. The artist’s portrayal of Queen Victoria is placed away from the prints as if to extricate the great icon from today’s popular idols.


Wang Yabin’s depictions of pine trees and mountains offer a stroll away from the work of Bessmertny and Bertozzi & Casoni, and a look to the past. During the period of the Han and Tang dynasties, Chinese Ink Masters often portrayed Chinese mountainous landscapes. Wang’s earthy palette evokes the patina surfaces on found ancient Han relics and vessels that often contained tea. ‘Painting The Mountain’ pays homage to previous Masters whilst serving as a metaphor for the eternal artistic endeavour.


British painter, Ivan Seal’s cornucopia of tea carriers and objects speak a light-hearted language. Seal’s ornamental objects are positioned on plinths within the framework of the image. His witty representations pertain to the classical presentation of the art object and perhaps infer that art should not be taken too seriously. To highlight this further, Seal’s titles comprise words of his own invention, their meaning not easily apprehended. Made in response to his other paintings in the exhibition, ‘El Ternin’ the hybrid image of an18th Century candleholder and jug marries the past and present.


The charismatic pieces by Bessmertny, Bertozzi & Casoni, Seal and Wang contribute to the lively discussion about art and popular culture, communicating their message through irony, humour, and the ornamental.