What I learnt at Art Basel Hong Kong…

Gilbert & george

The alluring appeal of Gilbert & George…


I arrived in Hong Kong in the midst of the Art Basel weekend, and ART was the hottest topic in town. From a city that was once nicknamed ‘cultural desert’, Hong Kong has come a long way to become the new art hub of Asia. But what does art or the fair really mean to Hong Kongers? Has it made any positive impact on the local art scene and artists?

Despite my jet lag and distaste for mega art fairs, I decided to check out Art Basel Hong Kong before it ended. Three years ago, I visited the fair’s predecessor Hong Kong International Art Fair (read my entry here); since then, the fair has grown considerably with more than 233 galleries from 37 countries participating this year. With a new Malaysian fair director on board, the fair was divided into six sections including Insights, a section dedicated to 34 Asian art galleries.


myeongbeom kimXu Longsen's Beholding the mountain with aweAntony GormleyJohn Baldessari 'Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #133'art baselart basel Tobias RehbergerGrayson Perry

Top row: Myeongbeom Kim’s ‘Deer’; 2nd row left: Xu Longsen’s ‘Beholding the mountain with awe’ 2nd row middle: Antony Gormley’s sculptures; 3rd row right: John Baldessari ‘Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear) Opus #133’ 4th row left: Leung Mee Ping’s ‘Memorize the future’; 4th row right: Tobias Rehberger; Bottom row: Grayson Perry’s tapestry: ‘you could lay it out for a national picnic’


After spending hours of my afternoon at the fair, I want to summarise my observations and afterthoughts, and so I have created a list on what I learned there and then:

1. The event reaffirmed my distaste for mega art fairs. The issue is not to do with the quality of the art work, but rather the crammed setting/ commercial ambience/ environment.

2. Even though I knew this is the case, but the event confirmed this fact: Mega art fairs are not about art, they are about sales, marketing and making noise.

3. Big art fairs are the worst places to appreciate/enjoy art, because you are mostly like to feel physically and mentally exhausted after seeing all of them in one go. Being overdosed on art does not make one feel inspired.


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2nd row middle: Djordje Ozbolt’s ‘Les objects mystique plastique’; 2nd row right: Tanada Koji; Bottom right: Ahmed Mater’s ‘Pre-illumination’


4. Subtleties do not work well at art fairs; showcase the most outrageous and prodigious pieces, then the galleries are most likely to receive the maximum footfall.

5. On the day of my visit, a majority of the visitors (mostly Mainland Chinese) were more interested in photo opportunities/ selfies than the art itself. And after being shoved around by them, I decided to photograph the behaviour of these art-lovers. It turned out to be the most entertaining part of the event.


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The efforts required to take the perfect photos at Art Basel


6. Speaking to my local friend after the fair, she also expressed her (and her friends’) disappointments of the event. Their verdict was that the newer and smaller Art Central was more enjoyable than Art Basel. Lesson learnt for all of us.

7. Big names and record-breaking sales transactions at the art fair don’t necessary mean that the general public care more art. If the footfall to art museums and galleries is consistent all year round, then it veritably demonstrates the real impact of the fair.


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Bottom left: Wim Delvoye’s ‘Twisted Dump Truck’; Bottom right: Yoshitomo Nara’s ‘Puff Marshie


8. Without a world class art museum (M+ is due to open in 2018), art is still fairly inaccessible to the general public in Hong Kong. Most of the art galleries in Hong Kong are targeted at art buyers or investors, hence it explains the popularity of the annual art fair.

9. Due to lack of support from the Government, Hong Kong artists perpetually struggle to make ends meet or gain recognition beyond the city or Asia. This is partly to do with the art education system and misconceptions towards art and other creative industries. Art only became ‘important’ in recent years because of the money involved. Without these transactions, art is merely regarded as a frivolous profession in Hong Kong.

10. Hong Konger are more artistic and creative than people realise… but these artistic activities take place on the streets rather than indoor. The artists are the street vendors, small shop owners, scaffolding construction workers, cupboard collectors and wet market stall sellers etc.

What Hong Kongers fail to understand is that art is around them all the time, and best of all, it is free of charge.


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The mysterious man in white shirt who was constantly blocking my view, so I used him as my subject at the fair. I was THAT bored.



Spring in London!

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Technically speaking, spring has yet to arrive when I took these photos before my annual trip to Asia. Yet flowers in London have started to blossom despite the persistent cold weather.

If you take a stroll in the park, you will notice colours like yellow, purple and pink starting to emerge. Daffodils and Camellia can be seen now, and soon we will see more cherry blossom as the weather warms up.


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I love springtime in London. It is a shame that I will miss most of London’s spring this year, but on the other hand, I am looking forward to visiting Japan during the upcoming sakura season!



London’s art & design exhibitions (Winter/Spring 15)

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Top & bottom left: Richard Tuttle’s ‘I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language’ at Tate Modern. Bottom right: Phillip King’s sculptures at Tate Britain


As usual, there is a diverse array of art, design and photography exhibitions being shown across London at major museums and smaller galleries. Here is a recap of some that I have visited during the past few months:

Major shows and retrospectives

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden at Tate Modern (until 10 May) – Undisputedly, South African artist Marlene Dumas is one of the most successful (and expensive) living female artist working today. Her paintings have regularly been sold for millions (each) at auctions in the past decade. This is highly significant in the male-dominated art world and yet bizarrely, she is still relatively unknown outside of the art world.

One of the most interesting aspect about her work is that they are all photo-based. Her subject matter usually revolves around social issues like injustices, racism, iniquities, as well as human emotions and desires. This is an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition, which I think is eloquent and apt in our ever-divided world today.

Late Turner: Painting Set Free at Tate Britain (ended) – British artists J.M.W. Turner was the talk of the town in 2014, thanks to Mike Leigh‘s film and this retrospective. I have never fully appreciated works by Turner and I only visited the show out of curiosity after seeing the film. However, despite the crowds and being slightly unwell on the day, I was glad that I went. I have previously seen the artist’s famous large oil paintings on landscape and sea, yet I have seldom seen his more spontaneous holiday sketches and drawings. I can’t say that I was swept away by all his work, but I felt that I understood the artist and the relevance of his work more after the show.

Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude at The Courtauld gallery (ended) As with most art students, life drawing was a crucial part of my portfolio at school and university. It was then that I discovered Schiele‘s work and was completely blown away by it. Schiele‘s nude drawings are confrontational, grim, disturbing, and unflinchingly graphic. Yet one can’t help being fixated on his work, because its provoking and mesmerising quality. After the show, I couldn’t help but wonder what the artist could have achieved if his life was not cut short at the young age of 28.


Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen by Iliya and Emilia Kabakov Post Pop: East Meets WestAlexander Kosolapov's Hero, Leader, God 'Dollar and Hammer' by Leonid SokovPost Pop: East Meets WestMei Dean-E's 'Confucius's Confusion'Sergey Shutov's Abacus Colour vases by Ai WeiweiPost Pop: East Meets Westpost pop: east meets west Gu Wenda's 'United Nations: Man and Space' 'tennis player' by Oleg Kulik'Deep into Russia' by Oleg Kulik'Deep into Russia' by Oleg Kulik

Top row left: ‘Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen’ by Iliya and Emilia Kabakov; 2nd row: ‘Hero, Leader, God’ by Alexander Kosolapov; 3rd left: ‘Dollar and Hammer’ by Leonid Sokov; 3rd right: ‘Confucius’s Confusion’ by Mei Dean-E; 4th left: ‘Abacus’ by Sergey Shutov; 4th right: ‘Colour vases’ by Ai Weiwei; 6th row right: ‘United Nations: Man and Space’ by Gu Wenda; Bottom left: ‘Tennis player’ by Oleg Kulik; Middle & right: ‘Deep into Russia’ by Oleg Kulik


Post pop: East meets West at Saatchi Gallery (ended) Even though I am not a huge fan of pop art, I was interested to see its influence on contemporary artists from the East and the West. Probably not for the faint hearted, the exhibition featured 250 works by 110 artists from China, the Former Soviet Union, Taiwan, the UK and the USA spanning three decades. It was full on with plenty of trashy, provocative, cynical, humourous and commercial works on display.

While I was at the exhibition, there was a school outing with some young primary kids and they were utterly disgusted by Gu Wenda‘s ‘United Nations: Man and Space’ when they learned that it was made of human hair. I found their reactions quite hilarious. Over all, it was the works by Chinese and Russian artists that stood out for me. The exhibition did not change my perspective on pop art, but it was certainly the most entertaining exhibition I have visited recently.


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Inflated Star and Wooden Star by Frank Stella at the Royal Academy of Arts


Disappointing shows

Rubens ad his legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne at The Royal Academy of Arts (until 10th April) I felt slightly disappointed and misled by this highly-anticipated show because I was expecting to see more of Rubens‘ work. Yet the old master’s paintings are few and far between, instead we are presented with work by artists who were influenced by him.

The most disappointing room is the one ‘inspired’ by The Fall of the Damned. I walked around the room and examined all the paintings and labels meticulously, and I couldn’t find the actual painting. I was about to ask the security guard when it suddenly dawned on me that the painting is NOT in the room! There is not even a photo of the original work for comparison, this seems to me as rather absurd.

Yes, there are many remarkable Rubenesque work by other famous and influential artists at the show, but it doesn’t compensate for the fact that non of Ruben‘s masterpieces are being exhibited. For the ticket price of £16.50, one would expect at least one at the show… If you want to see Ruben‘s masterpiece, then perhaps it’s best to head to Banqueting house, where entrance fee is only £6.10. See my previous entry here on Ruben‘s magnificent painted ceiling.

The Institute of Sexology at Wellcome Collection (until 20th Sept) Given the subject matter, the exhibition is bound to draw attention and crowds. Yet I didn’t expect it to be so packed on a weekday afternoon, and constantly trying to squeeze my way in and get closer towards the display window. It was exhausting.

Having previously enjoyed many exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection, there is something lacking for me at this show. Sure there are many fascinating stories and objects on display, but the show merely scratches the surface of a complex and challenging subject without sufficient insight nor context. And the lack of contemporary issues is one of its biggest flaws. I didn’t feel provoked, shocked nor ‘aroused’, instead I left feeling rather apathetic. I couldn’t help but wonder what the exhibition would have been like if it was curated by the French or Italians… Oops.


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Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missiles at Hayward Gallery’s ‘History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain’


History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain‘ at Hayward Gallery (until 26th April) I am not sure whether it is the curation or content (or both), but I found this exhibition inconsistent, confusing and banal. The show invited seven British to curate a section each, with the aim of reflecting on post-war British history through their choice of artworks and objects. Personally, I found Richard Wentworth‘s section upstairs the strongest of the lot, and it even features a surviving Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missiles deployed by the RAF during the Cold War out on the terrace. Otherwise, it is a missed opportunity and one of the weakest exhibitions I have seen recently.

Christian Marclay at White Cube Bermondsey (until 12th April) I suggested a viewing of the solo exhibition of London-based Swiss/American artist Christian Marclay to my friend after reading many positive reviews. But we left wondering if we had gone to the wrong exhibition! Having previously seen part of his highly acclaimed 24-hour video montage ‘The Clock’, I was genuinely disappointed with this show.

We felt underwhelmed by his pop art style onomatopoeic paintings (and there is an entire room of them), and felt nauseatic after spending five minutes watching the immersive video installation ‘Surround Sounds’.

His new video installation ‘Pub crawl’ that records impromptu street sounds of East London is the most memorable piece for me. And since we missed the sound performances, our visit to the gallery ended quicker than we anticipated.


Russian avant-garde

Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract art and society 1915-2015 at Whitechapel Gallery (6th April) Taking Suprematist movement pioneer Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Black square’ (1915) as the starting point, this ambitious and intriguing exhibition traces the course of geometric abstraction across the last century, featuring over 100 artists from around the world. This show is not to be missed if you are a fan of Russian avant-garde and abstract art. It is also timely after the major retrospective of Kazimir Malevich at Tate Modern last year. What could a simple black square inspire? There is in store for you to find out. And as soon you step out of the gallery, it would hard not to notice all the geometric forms and patterns around you!


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Russian Avant-garde Theatre at the V & A museum


Russian Avant-garde Theatre at the V & A museum (ended) – This was one of my favourites of the season, partly because I am a fan of Constructivism. Curated in collaboration with the A.A.Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, the show exhibited more than 150 radical theatrical set and costume designs conceived between 1913 and 1933 by 45 leading Russian artists and designers including Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexandra Exter, El Lissitsky, Liubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova.

Again, Kazimir Malevich was the starting point of this exhibition. The display began with Malevich‘s sketches and lithographs of set and costume designs for ‘Victory Over the Sun’, a Futurist opera which premiered in 1913 in St Petersburg. Interestingly, the exhibition rooms were painted in red, and arranged in a maze-like irregular format which complemented the vibrant, dramatic and experimental work on display.

Although it was a turbulent period in the Russia, the creativity and ideas that emerged turned out to be the most exciting and optimistic in Russian art. And almost a century later, the works still look radical, futuristic and startling. Amazing!


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BOLT at Gallery for Russian Arts and Design


BOLT at Gallery for Russian Arts and Design (ended) This small exhibition was a good supplement to the V & A exhibition. Curated in collaboration with the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music, rarely seen original designs, photographs and costumes from Dmitri Shostakovich‘s 1931 ballet ‘The Bolt’ were on display together for the first time in this vivid exhibition.

Choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov to a score by Shostakovich, with designs by Tatiana Bruni, the satirical piece was banned after just one performance by the Soviet authorities. I love Bruni‘s playful and larger than life costumes, and again the designs and photographs reveal the height of creativity during a tumultuous period in Russia.


Julie Verhoeven Julie VerhoevenWalead BeshtyWalead BeshtyMapping the City Mapping the City

Top row: British illustrator and designer Julie Verhoeven‘s immersive installation on feminism at the ICA; 2nd & 3rd row: Walead Beshty’s 2,000 cyanotype prints at Barbican’s the Curve gallery; Bottom row: Mapping the city at Somerset house


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Top 2 rows: Glenn Ligon’s ‘Call and response’; Bottom 2 rows: Ruth Ewan’s ‘Back to the fields’ at Camden arts centre


Ruth Ewan: Back to the Fields & João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva – Papagaio at Camden arts centre (until 29th March) The London-based artist Ruth Ewan has transformed the gallery at Camden Arts Centre into a mini indoor garden! Inspired by the French Republican Calendar (used from 1793 to 1805 in the aftermath of the French Revolution), the wonderful installation reflect the restructuring of the months and seasons in accordance with nature and agriculture and not religion.

In the adjacent rooms, there are video installations by Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. There are some rather meditative and enigmatic short films on animals, bicycle wheels and food being shown simultaneously. Bizarre but immensely captivating.


Asian art and architecture


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Out of the ordinary exhibition at The Cass Bank Gallery


Out of the ordinary: Award Winning Works by Young Korean Architects at The Cass Bank Gallery (ended) I visited Seoul for the first time about 5 years ago, and was very surprised by the prominent and futuristic contemporary architecture scattering all over the city. This exhibition at the London Metropolitan University campus showcased award winning work by young Korean Architects curated by Hyungmin Pai.

The exhibition featured a diverse range of work, from private homes, public housing and schools, to museums, commercial developments, rural schemes and small-scale interventions. Once again, the work by these young Korean architects provide a glimpse into the rapidly changing Korean society and their determination to innovate while searching for a new identity in the global world.


enoki chuNam June PaikNam June Paik Bakelite Robotenoki chuMorimuma rayIsao Miura's Sketches from the Poem Road Isao Miura at poetry cafe

Top & 2nd right: Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu at White Rainbow Gallery; 2nd row left & middle: Nam June Paik at Tate Modern; 3rd row: Morimura Ray’s ‘Garden in Moonlight’ at Contemporary art of Japan: Not just woodblock prints; Bottom two rows: Sketches from the Poem Road exhibition at Poetry Cafe


Chu Enoki: Enoki Chu at White Rainbow Gallery (until 11th April) Chu Enoki is a self-taught seminal figure in contemporary Japanese art who is still relatively unknown outside of Japan.

Walking down Mortimer Street, it would be hard to miss the several rows of de-activated weapons: ‘AK-47/AR-15’ (2000–03) and a life-size cannon replica ‘Salute H2C2’ (2009) in a reference to the cold war at the front of the gallery.

This exhibition also details one of Enoki’s pioneering performance, ‘Going to Hungary with HANGARI (1977)’, which was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s act of shaving a star shape into his hair. The project documented Enoki shaving all of the hair on the right side of his body in Hungary, which subsequently attracted the attention of the police several times. But he returned four years later to complete the performance by shaving his left half of his body.

If you are unfamiliar with the artist’s work, this small but fascinating exhibition would make an excellent starting point.

Contemporary art of Japan: Not just woodblock prints at The Hospital Club (until 5th April) I am not a member of The Hospital Club, but I walked past it one day and saw the exhibition being advertised. I walked in to enquire about the exhibition, and I was told that the work is displayed on the 2nd floor inside the restaurant and bar.

The selection of prints are hung on the walls throughout the restaurant and bar area, hence I felt slightly out of place towering over some business men seated next to the walls. However, if you are interested in Japanese woodblock prints and calligraphy, then this exhibition is not to be missed as it is curated by leading Japanese gallery, The Tolman Collection, which specializes in contemporary Japanese graphic prints.

Sketches from the Poem Road at The Poetry cafe (until 25th April) Not far from The Hospital Club is The Poetry cafe, where you will find another exhibition related to Japanese art and calligraphy.

The exhibition features drawings and poems by London-based Japanese artist Isao Miura, whose work is inspired by 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho’s iconic work, ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. The work at the exhibition is the result of Isao collaborating with poet Chris Beckett on an interpretative journey from text to image, and often back again.


Graphic design


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Preview of 100 years of graphic design at Kemistry Gallery’s pop up space


100 years of graphic design at Kemistry Gallery (ended) 100 Years of Graphic Design was Kemistry Gallery’s first pop-up incarnation since it was forced out of its Shoreditch home by property developer in December 2014. Subsequently, this leading graphic design gallery started a Kickstarter campaign to pledge support or donation for a new permanent space.

As one of the 500+ supporters, I was invited to the preview of this exhibition in Shoreditch one evening. The exhibition was a retrospective of some of the most iconic and exciting moments in graphic design history ranging from 1914 to the present day with work by renowned designers like Milton Glaser, Saul Bass and Anthony Burrill.

I am appalled by the growing power of profit-driven property developers in London, and I don’t think they are any different from the City bankers. I supported the campaign not only because of my graphic design background, but also I don’t want the city to lose an important arts & cultural institute to pave way for more chained shops and restaurants that are making our high streets ever more homogeneous.



Conflict, Time, Photography at Tate Modern (ended) In the last 6 months, I have visited many excellent photography exhibitions in London, but this was undoubtedly the most powerful and poignant.

Most of us have seen harrowing photographs of war and its devastating impact on the victims and landscape around the world. Yet this exhibition was arranged according to the time elapsed between the conflict and when the picture was taken. Images were taken minutes, days, weeks, months and years after the event; thus making the viewers become more aware of the brutal and tragic aftermath of these conflicts.

This was not an ordinary photography exhibition, but one that evoke viewers to contemplate and question human’s intrinsic values and meanings in life.


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Top row: ‘Guy Bourdin: Image maker’ at Somerset House; Bottom row: ‘Human Rights Human Wrongs’ at The Photographers’ gallery


Guy Bourdin: Image maker at Somerset House (ended) It is hard not to be mesmorised by Surrealist photographer Guy Bourdin‘s uncanny, witty and provocative images. Over 100 colour exhibition prints were exhibited at this major retrospective, of which many were created for the then prestigious French fashion house, Charles Jourdan in the 1960s & 70s. As the protégé of Man Ray, Bourdin was a master of story-telling. All his photos were often staged meticulously with strong contrasts, simple and yet unusual compositions, rich textures and bold colours. Decades on, his images are still striking to look at and they out today’s highly-photoshopped fashion images to shame.

Human rights, human wrongs at The Photographers’ gallery (until 6th April) This exhibition explores 50 years of photojournalism (1945 until early 1990s), showcasing more than 200 original press prints from Toronto’s prestigious Black Star collection. It examines major political upheavals, conflict, war and struggles against racism, poverty and colonisation after World War II. Akin to the ‘Conflict, Time, Photography’ exhibition, there are many brutal and haunting photos that are almost too shocking to digest. Yet these photographs serve as a reminder of the importance of human rights, and they celebrate the courage of those who sacrificed their lives for their beliefs and humanity.


The last days of winter

Hampstead heath


Although Londoners had to endure a cold winter this year, we have also had many sunny days. I don’t mind the cold weather much as long as it is not consistently grey and wet. I am prone to winter blues if I am obliged to stay indoor for a long period of time, so whenever I have the opportunity, I would spend time walking outdoor.


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Being the greenest city in Europe, 40% of London is made up of green space. Hence, it would be a ‘crime’ not to take advantage of London’s enchanting parks and woodlands.

In the winter season, I particularly enjoy solitary walking. I don’t use this time to reflect nor contemplate, I merely walk… and I can walk for hours without needing to rest. I find these walks invigorating, and they help to clarify my mind significantly. Aside from meditation, I believe that walking and hiking in nature is the most effective antidote to stress, anxiety and physical tension.


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I love observing nature during the winter period. On the surface, everything seems calm and slightly barren; yet if you look closer, you would find that this is not the case. I was genuinely surprised to see a worker (female) bee out at work one day, it was only then I realised that not all bees hibernate in winters.


Winter beewinter naturehampstead heath


The poignant beauty of bare tree silhouette also reminds us of the fragility, ephemeral and perpetual cycles of life. Soon, spring will be on its way and all this will pass…


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Shopping in Lisbon

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Window of a wine shop in Lisbon


Shopping in Lisbon is fun because there are many independent shops including vintage and traditional shops that are disappearing fast in London. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to shop, but I did manage to visit a few ‘essential’ shopping destinations and stumbled across some intriguing shops during my short stay.


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Embaixada  (Praça do Príncipe Real, 26, Príncipe Real) One of the newest and most exciting shopping destinations in Lisbon is this design/lifestyle concept store that opened in 2013. Located in a 19th century Moorish palace, Palacete Ribeiro da Cunha, it is hard not to be awestruck as you enter into this stunning building. The building accommodates retail spaces for more than 15 Portuguese brands over two floors, offering fashion, design, crafts, as well as an indoor and outdoor restaurant, bar and art exhibition space.


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Top: Real slow retail concept store; Bottom: Lisbon lovers


On the same street further down the street, there is another smaller concept store Real slow retail concept store which also offers fashion and lifestyle products with a small cafe inside. Next to it is Lisbon Lovers, a shop that sells Lisbon-related souvenir that is more design-focused than the average tacky ones.
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Shops and barber in Alfama


Meanwhile, Lisbon’s most emblematic and historical quarter, Alfama also offers some interesting crafts, traditional and quirkier souvenir shops including A Arte da Terra (Rua Augusto Rosa, 40).


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2nd left: Luvaria Ulisse; the rest: CHIcoracao


A few shoos up the hill, there is a wonderful woollen shop CHIcoracao (Rua Augusto Rosa 22-24), which has restored looms from the 60’s and the 70’s to produce their own range of high quality woollen blankets and fashion lines. The prices here are reasonable, and if I had the room in my small case, I certainly would have purchased one of their soft and locally made blanket home!


In Chaido, Luvaria Ulisse (Rua do Carmo, 87A, Chaido) is a contestantfor the title of “world’s smallest shop”. This tiny (4 square metre to be exact) art deco glove shop was founded in 1925 and can fit only about two or three people at a time. The shop manufactures all the gloves they sell, and it is the only specialist glove shop in Portugal. If you want to invest in a pair of high quality and stylish gloves that will last, then this is the place to visit.


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Top: Bertrand Livraria; Bottom: Fabula Urbis


Wandering the streets of Lisbon, I came across many bookstores including specialists and vintage ones. This, I think says a lot about the culture of Lisbon and its people.

Interestingly, the oldest bookshop in the world is in fact in Lisbon, and it even has a Guinness World Records certificate on a wall at the entrance to prove it. Bertrand Livraria (Rua Garrett 73 -75, Chiado) was founded in 1732, but it was destroyed after the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and moved to its present-day premises on Rua Garrett in 1773. This original branch has beautiful wood-paneled walls and a wide assortment of all types of books, including some English-language books at the back, offering translated Portuguese literature from names like Nobel Prize author José Saramago or Fernando Pessoa.


Fabula Urbis (Rua de Augusto Rosa, 27) in Alfama is a small gem that sells books and CDs that revolves around Lisbon, past and present. The subjects offered cover poetry, novels, history, politics, art, photography, crafts, textiles, fashion, theatre, cinema, opera, music, astronomy, archaeology, gastronomy, and travel etc.

Situated above the bookshop is a room designed with a stage and piano. It is used for evening recitals and exhibitions of paintings or photography. It is certainly more than just an ordinary book shop.


Palavra de Viajante (Rua de São Bento, 30) is a bookstore that is dedicated to travel. Aside from guide books and travel-related books, they also sell maps, games and notebooks. There is also a pleasant cafe that serves coffee, cakes and simple lunches.


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Top left: Notebooks at A Vida Portuguesa; Others: Artes e Letras Atelier and purchases from the shop


A Vida Portuguesa (Rua Anchieta 11, Chiado) is probably one of the most famous Portuguese shops thanks to its retro and quaint Portuguese packaging and products. The first Lisbon shop was launched in 2007, and since then it has even branched out to Porto (I love the interior and fittings of their Porto branch). The brand has established partnerships with many traditional Portuguese brands, and so all the products found here are quintessentially Portuguese. You will find bathroom essentials, homeware, food, toys and stationery including Viarcro pencils and Emílio Braga notebooks here.

I was on tram 28 passing through São Bento one day when I saw a shop that looks like a letterpress workshop. On the next day, I endeavoured to find the shop by following the tram route. I was quite thrilled when I eventually found it, and even more so when I stepped inside.


Artes e Letras Atelier (Rua dos Poiais de São Bento, 90) is indeed a letterpress workshop and shop that sells letterpress cards, prints and self-published art/ illustration books, with a small exhibition area at the back. I often feel extremely excited when I find gems like this in different cities, because usually they are not listed in guide books. Chatting to the owner, I found out that she is responsible for the designs of the cards and prints sold at the shop, and occasionally she will also print booklets and posters for other designers or small studios.

There are many quirky and unusual art and illustration books that are produced and published by local artists and designers. I felt almost like a kid in a candy store. With limited cash in my wallet (probably to my benefit that they don’t accept credit cards), I decided to purchase a letterpress postcard and an ‘erotic’ themed illustration book called “Acontorcionista manifesto” (see above). This shop is a must if you love letterpress and all printed matters!


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Casa Pélys


Like I mentioned earlier, there are many cool vintage shops in Lisbon and many of them are not listed in the guide books. One of them is Casa Pélys in Campo de Ourique. As soon as I walked into the shop, I felt like I was transported back in time… seeing the retro tiles on the floor, vintage children’s books, toys and homeware brought a smile to my face. The shop was once owned by a photographer Mr Pélys, hence you can still see the remnant of the signage Foto Pelys on the shop front. Now the new owner is a former bookseller who has turned the ground floor and basement into a mini flea market where one can rummage around for as long as one wishes.


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Vintage and antiques shops on Rua de São Bento


Rua de São Bento is home to many antiques and vintage shops, including The World of Vintage (Rua de São Bento 291) which specialises in 1950s – 1970s vintage furniture and objects.


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Top 2 rows: Conserveira de Lisboa; 3rd & 4th left: Loja das Conservas; 5th row: Parceria das Conservas at Mercado de Campo de Ourique


One of the most popular souvenir to bring home from Portugal is undoubtedly canned sardines! And there is an array of brands, flavours and packaging to choose from. But the top favourite shop and brand is Conserveira de Lisboa (Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, 34, Baixa), which is recommended in almost every guidebook. Opened in 1930, the interior of this 80-year old shop has hardly changed for decades. The main attraction is the original wooden counter, selves and an old cash register. The retro packaging is also loved by tourists and locals alike, thus making canned fish a popular souvenir to bring home.


If you want to find out more about canned fish and its history, then you must pay a visit to Loja das Conservas (Rua do Arsenal, 130)/ National Association of Manufacturers of Canned Fish. Here, you can find a wide range of well-known Portuguese canned fish brands and the history of these canning factories. And aside from the famous sardine, you can also find tuna, eel, Ray’s bream, mackerel and horse mackerel. If you are stuck on what to pick, you can always ask for recommendations (which I did) from the shop assistants. Don’t underestimate the allure of canned fish, and make sure you have enough baggage allowance because you may end up buying more than you intended after a visit to this shop!

Last but not least, don’t forget to bring back a bottle of Portuguese wine or port back home! Portuguese wine must be one of the most underrated in the world! Personally, I love Portuguese wine and I am surprised by the limited choices available in the UK. Wine is relatively cheap to buy and drink in Portugal, and one of the best places to taste and buy Portuguese wine is at Viniportugal at Terreiro do Paço. Visitors can purchase a rechargable Enocard for the price of € 2, which will give access to tasting 2 to 4 wines from a selection of 12 wines from different regions of the country. It is a good starting point if you want to learn more about Portuguese wine.


Lisbon’s art deco & art nouveau architecture

Cais do Sodre station

 Interior of Cais do Sodre station


Lisbon has a fantastic variety of architecture from different periods, including one of my favourites: Art Deco.

I was quite pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre station to catch a train towards Cascais. Opened in 1928 and designed by Pedro Botelho and Nuno Teotónio Pereira, the most notable feature of this Art Deco building is its beautiful foyer, with an emphasis on geometric patterns. I like the simple but impactful stained glass windows, and the use of zig zag lines and checked patterns throughout. There is a lot going on, but somehow it works harmoniously.


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Cais do Sodre station


In the centre near the Praça dos Restauradores stands one of Lisbon’s most beautiful Art Deco buildings: the former Teatro Eden. Opened in 1931 and designed by architects Cassiano Branco and Carlo Florencio Dias, it soon became one of the city’s most important cinemas. Unfortunately, the cinema closed in 1989 and was left neglected for years until it was converted into Orion Eden Hotel in 2001.

Not far from the old Teatro Eden is another former cinema, Condes Cinema. It was built in 1951 by architect Raul Tojal on top of the former Teatro da Rua dos Condes. The notable feature of this Art Moderne building is its streamline corner and a circular rooftop. Like the fate of Teatro Eden, the cinema closed in the late 1990s and was left in ruins for years until it was converted into Hard Rock Cafe in 2003. All the original fittings of the interior were demolished, leaving no trace of the old cinema.


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Top: Old Condes Cinema; 2nd left: Old Vitória hotel; the rest: Other modernist buildings with circular balconies


On Av. da Liberdade, the eye-catching Old Vitória hotel (170) was designed by Cassiano Branco in 1936-37. This marble-clad building was initially intended to be apartments, but opened as a hotel and is now the Communist Party of Portugal headquarters. It would be hard to miss this building from street level because of its distinguishable stacked circular balconies. The composition combines the clean solidity of Modernism with the lyrical playfulness of Art Deco. Apparently, German spies frequented its grand rooms during World War II.


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Cinema São Jorge


On the opposite side of the avenue, there is another bold building with a huge São Jorge sign on the top. This is Cinema São Jorge (175), which opened in 1950 as the largest cinema in Portugal. Designed by Fernando Silva, this elegant building reflected the glamour of Hollywood at the time. Unlike the two unfortunate cinemas mentioned above, this cinema was altered in1982 to incorporate two cinemas at balcony level, and was renovated in 2007 by the City of Lisbon. You can still see the two historical film projectors at the entrance of the cinema.

It is easy to be distracted by all the grandiose facades on Av. da Liberdade. Yet hidden behind these buildings lies an intriguing 1920s entertainment park/complex, Parque Mayer.


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Parque Mayer


I was only lead into this complex (now also used as a car park) because of the four white pillars with art deco lighting at the entrance. I was curious and decided to explore further.

Wandering around the complex, I was shocked by the state of these old art deco theatres and the area itself. They looked as if they had been left neglected for decades, even though there is a functioning restaurant at the back and some construction workers working on the site of a white building. On the wall of the Teatro Varidades, there are hangings of the theatre’s history since the 1920s. So I can’t help wondering to myself: what happened to this place?

The history of this entertainment park began when it was acquired by journalist, playwright and theatre impresario Luis Gallardo in 1921. Gallardo wanted to create a park or mini Broadway dedicated to theatres and entertainment, and so Parque Mayer was born in 1922. The first theatre that opened was Teatro Maria Victoria, named after the actress and singer Maria Victoria who died a few years earlier. Then others followed: Teatro Varidades (1926), Teatro Capitólio (1931) and Teatro ABC (1956).

Aside from theatre, there were also restaurants, carousels, fado houses, cinema and box fight. It was a bohemian place par excellence, and a magnet for Lisbon’s political elites, artists and intellectuals. I didn’t find much information on what exactly happened, but presumably like many other theatres and cinemas in Lisbon, it fell into decline at some point and eventually became a derelict site.

A new rehabilitation project of the park was proposed in the mid 2000s, but constant legal disputes and bureaucracies between BragaParques (the landowner) and the Council of Lisbon had barred the project from going ahead. Will we get to see a new entertainment park in the future? Let’s wait and see.


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Top two rows: Museu do Oriente; Last two rows: 2 other Art Deco buildings nearby


By the seafront in Alcãntara is the Museu do Oriente, which I mentioned in the previous entry. The restored 6-storey white conspicuous building was a former salted cod (bacalhau) processing factory. Originally designed by Portuguese architect João Simões Antunes in the 1940s, it was converted into the current museum in 2008 by Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos.

There are also some interesting art deco buildings nearby, probably built around the same period.


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Mercado Sao Bento

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Many derelict Art Deco buildings can be seen in the city


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Top two rows: Cascais; Bottom two rows: Estremoz


Besides art deco, art nouveau architecture can also be spotted in the city especially around the Estrella district.

Yet the most fascinating art nouveau architecture is located at 28 Av. Fontes Pereira de Melo, the Headquarters of Metropolitano de Lisboa, designed by Portuguese architect Manuel Joaquim Norte Júnior in 1912.

Informally nicknamed the ‘wedding cake’ for its exuberant decoration, the building was the recipient of the Prémio Valmor architecture award in 1914. Designed as a private residence, it has been the headquarters of Metropolitano de Lisboa  (the managing company of the Lisbon Metro) since the 1950s. The building is also listed as of Public Interest in 2002, and is considered a remarkable ‘museum’ of early 20th century decorative arts, given its lavish finishes and details.

Right next to it is the entrance to the Picoas subway station, a gift from the Paris Metro (RATP) known as Guimard access in 1995. (there is also one in Moscow at the Kievskaya station). This is a copy of the original designed by French Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard to adorn the entrances of the Parisian Metro Stations that can still be widely seen in Paris today.


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Top 3 rows: Metropolitano de Lisboa; 4th left, 5th & 6th rows: Picaos metro station entrance; Bottom two rows: an Art Nouveau building in Estrella




Lisbon’s Brutalist architecture

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation


In recent years, Brutalist architecture has made an unexpected comeback. Eyesore or masterpieces? It is all relatively subjective. In Lisbon, there are some fine examples that are worth exploring if you are interested in this type of architecture:

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – The foundation is a vast complex that houses Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, which was constructed in 1969 by Alberto Pessoa, Pedro Cid and Ruy Athouguia. The austere horizontal concrete structure contains a world-class art museum, auditoriums, offices and a library which sits above an underground world of conservation, study and storage.


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I think the highlight of this complex is its serene modern park designed by landscape architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles. The contrast between the cold concrete structure and the beautiful landscape is what makes this place intriguing. The complex would look rather depressing without the lawn, bamboo forests, exotic plants, ponds and hidden streams; and it demonstrates how nature and landscape can alter our environment dramatically.


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The later addition to the complex is Centro de Arte Moderna in 1983, which was designed by British architect, Sir Leslie Martin (famous for London’s Royal Festival Hall). This outstanding multifunctional space is bright and airy with floor to ceiling windows that overlook the tranquil pond outside. You can also see the interior of the building from my previous post entry here.


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Palácio da Justiça


I was walking through Edward VII Park one day and I suddenly noticed a conspicuous concrete structure from afar. Moments later I was standing underneath it and feeling quite ‘insignificant’.

This massive and imposing modernist architecture is the Palácio da Justiça or Palace of Justice (Rua Marquês da Fronteira 1098 – 001), constructed between 1966-1969 and designed by Januário Godinho and João Andresen. The architects adopted a highly original conceptual language, and they combined it with new materials employed in its construction. Personally, I think the beauty of this structure lies in its subtle details, i.e. the repetitive patterns of squares, rectangles and circles used throughout exterior, as well as on the ground (large overlapping circles).


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Liberty Seguros Building 


Another of my accidental discovery was the Liberty Seguros Building (Av. Fontes Pereira de Melo, 6), designed by António Gomez Egêa and Ionel Schein from 1966-70.

This 14-storey office building (formerly the Edíficio Winterthur) has a rather unique zig-zag facade, in which all the windows are angled downwards, thereby creating a serrated surface. I am particularly curious in regards to the amount of sunlight that penetrates into the building. I would love to see the interior of this building, and enjoy the spectacular view of the city from its rooftop.