Fashion’s Favorite Set Designer Gary Card Takes on Hong Kong With Solo Exhibit

LONDON — Gary Card, one of the most in-demand set designers working in the realm of fashion with clients including Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Vivienne Westwood, Dover Street Market and LN-CC, will unveil his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at the Oi! art space in North Point.

Running from Wednesday to July 27, the exhibition, titled “People Mountain, People Sea” — a Chinese idiom describing how crowded a place can get — will feature sculptures, paintings and digital installations created through Card’s mischievous lens with Eastern and Western iconographies morphing into something outlandish yet familiar.

All the paintings were done in his studio in London. The sculptures were designed in London digitally and manufactured in a factory in Dongguan, which is an hour’s drive away from Hong Kong.

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“The Dream of Mr Somebody” by Gary Card.

TAI NGAI LUNG/Courtesy of Gary Card

A hero piece of the exhibition is a 15-foot-tall outdoor sculpture called “The Dream of Mr Somebody.”

“It’s a riff on a ceramic piece from the 17th century called Mr. Nobody, which was based on a character from a British play,” said Card, who has been working on the project for a year.

“The character was so popular that the ceramic version of him was made in China and sold back to the British. Going back to that shape and doing a modern take on him was exciting,” Card added.

His version has the figure’s body clustered with familiar things that one can easily find in Hong Kong, hence changing the name of no-body — as the original figure was missing a torso, instead having only a head, arms and legs sticking out of his pantaloons — to some-body.

“I keep thinking about this idea called ‘barnacles of time.’ These objects keep globbing themselves onto this character over the years, he becomes something new with every iteration. That’s one of my observations from the last time I was here. Nothing is taken away from Hong Kong. It’s only layered. I was excited about whether we could work with this idea and make a brand-new piece of work,” Card added.

Having a Hong Kong angle was part of the agreement with Oi!, a space under the government-backed Art Promotion Office, to support Card’s first solo exhibition outside of the U.K.

“A lot of what I’ve been working on is trying to bring a lot of the landscape and the materiality of Hong Kong into the sculptures and paintings. I wanted to make something that a Hong Kong audience might recognize, but maybe give that audience something that they know but with a completely different feeling.

“I think there is an audience here for me. I think people are a lot more receptive to the kind of work that I do here. I think I share a similar love for stuff in Hong Kong in particular. That’s why I feel at home here so much. The show is my love letter to China,” Card said.

An immersive art installation by Gary Card

An immersive art installation by Gary Card.

TAI NGAI LUNG/Courtesy of Gary Card

Inside the gallery space, converted from a historic yacht club clubhouse first opened in 1908, Card will also present his take on an immersive art installation, a series of large “encrusted” sculptures and paintings, as well as his past sculptural work and research material that informed the solo showcase.

For the immersive piece, Card said it served as a nod to his heritage working in the fashion industry.

“I wanted to make something that wasn’t a traditional immersive experience. I wanted to do something where I elevate banal objects like buckets and hair dryers. But within the context of this kaleidoscope of moving objects, they suddenly become fascinating and theatrical,” he added.

For those on a budget wanting to take a slice of his art home, Card has developed a toy called “Sad Sack” that he has been developing with Unbox Industries. It will launch with Amaz by Lokianno at K11 Musea on Friday.

Deep down, Card said the exhibition serves as a personal exploration of his relationship with an oversupply of objects.

“I have surrounded myself with objects since I was a child. I’m buried in stuff at home. I also feel sometimes that I am trapped by my material objects. My job as a set designer is selling goods to people. So it’s a career that sometimes makes me feel a little uneasy. With my art, I discuss that and put it on its head.

“I think this exhibition presents a juxtaposition between things that you might consider sacred and things that you might consider disposable. I’m interested in the relationship between those objects and if the sacred and the disposable can live in harmony together and make something new,” Card explained.

Sculptures by Gary Card

Sculptures by Gary Card.

TAI NGAI LUNG/Courtesy of Gary Card

Overall, Card said he is pivoting toward making more art and being more selective about his fashion commissions.

“I’ve enjoyed a fantastic career as a set designer over the last 20 years. When I started, it was about trying to get some of my art ideas into fashion campaigns and editorials. I’d like to think I had a lot of success. But it was still at the service of selling something or at the mercy of the magazine or the company I was working with. As much as I’ve loved my job, I’ve craved the opportunity to explore my completely unadulterated vision, and that’s what I’m excited about doing at the moment,” added Card.

Hong Kong could be a turning point for his global art career. Previously, Card has hosted several solo exhibitions in the U.K., and curated “Hysterical” an immersive exhibition at Phillips Gallery in Mayfair, London, in 2019. Last year his pieces were featured in Nanzuka Underground’s “Art as Diversity” group show at Tokyo Gendai.

As the exhibition opens its doors in Hong Kong, Card’s other major work of 2024 will also be unveiled at the multibrand concept store LN-CC in Hackney, London, the same week.

Over two years in the making, Card was given a healthy budget to reimagine the retail space for the third time.

“The first couple of times, it was me and my dad building it. There was a lot of stuff that was fairly janky. This time, we gutted it and completely turned it on its head. It still has the same heritage. There are nods to the original LN-CC. We’ve been allowed to make truly luxury spaces with banging sound systems, proper security and air conditioning,” Card said.

Following the Hong Kong debut, the Bournemouth-born Card said he hopes the exhibition can go on tour to cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

“We have been talking to some people, so that might happen. The sky’s the limit at the moment,” Card said.

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