Images by Lai Chun Hei
Standing for 27 years on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road is a gallery owned by a family for over two generations: Chu’s Gallery. It is an art dealer that contributed to the cultural development of Central district’s emergence as an art hub distinct from Central’s financial and professional emphases. Chu’s Gallery was responsible for helping bring an awareness of Buddhist art and Asian antiques to the area. Like many other galleries that made their home on Hollywood Road, transformed the locality into a locus of appreciating, buying, and learning about art.
Sally Chu is an art consultant, although she wears other hats as a healer and owner of Chu’s Gallery. She has practiced Vajrayana for many years, and many of our conversations revolve around masters she admires, like Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and ideas like Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “crazy wisdom.” For nearly thirty years, she has stewarded the gallery and procured a range of Himalayan sculptures, paintings, and other items. In unexpected ways, due to its prime office location, it has also served as a place where strangers and seekers – be they partygoers or professionals – to briefly leave the world of the and be part of Sally’s healing workshops and meditation sittings, or just encounter a different side of art.
“It is because of my time and experience in the art world that I have come to understand the ways in which traditional art is valuable,” she told me. “So much happening in the art market is gimmicky. I hope to build something of lasting value that also embraces the most recent trends in the art market.”
Despite the vibrant art scene in Hong Kong, a city through which art is acquired, stored, or transferred to diverse owners around the world, it was never easy to pay the high rents here. The social instability of 2019, coupled with the crippling pandemic which led to cancelled artists’ shows and empty galleries, forced art dealerships and landlords alike to make tough decisions. In the midst of the pandemic, Chu’s Gallery’s landlord, Chinachem, presented Ms. Chu with one such choice. She reflects: “I understand what they want. But I have hosted here many healing sessions with professionals working here, and occasionally even the random partygoer that stumbled their way into this shop. This is Central. Believe me, even a clubbing, dining, and drinking hotspot like Hollywood Road, this chic Mecca for art enthusiasts – will always be better with a dealer in traditional spiritual art.”
The present moment is a time of excitement and nostalgia as the transition to Oneness moves forward. Ms. Chu’s hope is that the items at Chu’s Gallery can find loving homes that respect their heritage and religious use, be it temporary custodianship or a permanent place in a house. One example that she is particularly passionate about is a prayer wheel that has an intricately crafted roof and an elegant dragon on the wheel. Many of her items, sourced directly from Tibetan craftsmen, have been lovingly cared for at Chu’s Gallery and are now looking for new owners. They can also be deployed for charitable purposes, as per Sally’s spirit of flexibility. When Hong Kong was a hub through which Vajrayana masters flew in and out (including Lama Kelzang and other luminaries), connecting them with other places in Asia, they would often come by Chu’s Gallery to discuss and view the artwork.
Ms. Chu’s primary goal remains focusing on working with global talents in art, creating art shows that promote a vision of positive living and wellbeing, and exploring the art of happiness and spiritual ambience. This has meant a transition to a new business model in a new company called Oneness. “Oneness will be a platform for young artists, and also exploring NFTs as a new frontier of spiritual art.” NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a form of cryptocurrency, consisting of virtual images whose ownership can be purchased. In Thailand, religious-themed NFTs (such as those sold by CryptoAmulets) are often seen as talismans in digital form, which can be blessed by monks just like their physical counterparts. NFTs are a frequently sought-after commodity in the art world, with some fetching millions at large auction houses.
It is true that the ultimatum that gave Ms. Chu the spur to think seriously about a new approach to art in Hong Kong and Greater China through Oneness. “Gone are the days when art dealers simply sourced their products and renovated a physical space to wait for clients,” she said. “Even with a website, social media, and online sales, physical art should not be my only focus.” NFTs represent a wholly digital reality, within which entire universes are generated for the users, usually with revenue-generating potential.
“I will continue to learn. I wish to continue helping artists, especially young artists. It has been a really tough time for them, having been unable to host shows, or rent space to produce their art or sell their works. Oneness will connect with artists and their galleries and provide them a platform to make art tailored for an online world.”
Sally has said that Chu’s Gallery is a business of modest scale. Yet there is plenty of room for being more ambitious and identifying where the Buddhist idea of “portable sanctity” can be realized in today’s contemporary art. Oneness reflects this in aesthetics, concept, and relationships with artists. “I will keep it simple. Much like how Hong Kong is going through a kind of rebirth now, Oneness is a kind of rebirth for Chu’s Gallery, a new identity while also having institutional memory of the latter’s time in Central.”
The story of 27 years continues in a broader context with the globalization of spirituality. From Asia to LA to Bhutan, Sally hopes that her professional calling can tap into the globalized nature of today’s religious-artistic and intellectual currents. From diversity comes unity and harmony – after all, that is what Oneness means.
Should you be interested in visiting and finding out more about Sally’s work, please contact her at +852-98136518 or [email protected]
Oneness Art Platform (YouTube)
Oneness Art Platform X Chu’s fine arts & Tibetan antiques (YouTube)