Claire Hsu, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Asia Art Archive

By Blessing Waung

When Claire Hsu returned from London to Hong Kong fresh out of graduate school, she had no idea of the adventure on which she was about to embark.

“I was 24 when I co-founded Asia Art Archive (AAA). It came out of the realization that alongside major economic, political and social development happening in the region, there are also major developments within the cultural sphere as well,” Hsu says.

After receiving her bachelor’s degrees in Chinese and History from the School of Oriental and African Studies, then her master’s degree in History of Art, Hsu returned to Hong Kong having worked in the Chinese department at famed auction house Christie’s in London.

AAA is an independent nonprofit dedicated to the documentation and activation of art history in Asia, within the global context. To many who are familiar with Asian art, AAA is recognised as the foremost resource on Asian contemporary art across the globe.

Hsu’s personal interest is in visual art, which she says has seen great changes in the region over the past two decades. With the rise of Asia’s economy, a burgeoning interest has emerged in the art sphere. However, there is still a dichotomy between the way things are and the way they aspire to be.

“There’s very little scholarship and very little material available in the field, whereas in the West you have public institutions,” Hsu says. “We saw that it was very important to enrich [this region] and to expand to include art history from Asia.”

Through government and corporate funding, the Asia Art Archive has been able to raise more than HK$160 million, Hsu says that the challenge lies ahead in showing others why the organization’s aims are so important.

“We have a board of directors who are very important in supporting the organization. We receive some government funding that’s about eight percent, and 30 percent comes from private individuals and foundations.

We have a little bit of corporate support as well but not very much. Corporate support is more difficult. I think corporates tend towards business, tend to support kind of bigger exhibitions that might have access to audiences.”

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Altogether, the collection comprises more than 50,000 physical and digital records of material. AAA has collaborated with local and international institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Asia Society, The Getty Center, Seoul Museum of Art, and many more.

Through collaborations with other institutions, and especially through presenting public programs, Hsu hopes that AAA will be able to welcome those to access both its physical library and its website, which has had more than four million visitors. Artists and galleries alike collaborate in order to educate and inform.

Additionally, the importance of diversity of the workplace is clear for Hsu, since she has had what she calls an “amazing community of mentors around me.” To give back, Hsu has mentored many of her employees by hiring them directly from university, then providing an opportunity for them to work in the art field and develop their careers the same way that she was able to. Through her work with AAA, Hsu has been honored with a fleet of awards, ranging from being recognized as a Young Global Leader at the 2013 World Economic Forum to being named in Art Review’s “Power 100” list since 2009.

Hsu has also lent her expertise to other projects in Hong Kong, such as formulating the concept for the M+ visual culture museum that is in progress in the West Kowloon District. She also volunteers on the advisory boards of Baptist University, Lingang University, the Guggenheim Asian Advisory Council, and the Asia Society Hong Kong Gallery advisory council.

She says that there are many resources available to those who are interested in her line of work, especially as the sphere diversifies and widens in Asia. There are indeed courses available, such as those at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where students can learn about cultural management. But Hsu’s journey with AAA has truly been a baptism of fire.

“But my area of interest is very much on the creative side, on the content side,” Hsu says. “These are the signs that we are figuring out as we go ahead and as the organization grows.”