kevin poon

Photos: WOAW Gallery, Kevin Poon, McDonald’s, and artists

While the intersectionality of contemporary art, music, streetwear, and culinary concepts may seem alien to most, it is not the case for the rising generation of young collectors across Asia’s art capitals. Millennial Hong Kong-born entrepreneur Kevin Poon is a leading example. 

Speaking with The Peak, Poon said, “I believe that art, music, fashion, and hospitality are interconnected, particularly within the millennial generation. The convergence of these fields is further enhanced by technology. This realisation has inspired me to explore the intersections of these disciplines and embrace the synergies they offer.”

The multi-hyphenate

Over the past two decades, he has been making a name for himself in Asian youth culture by launching the streetwear brand, Clot, in 2003 with his best friend from Hong Kong International School, Cantopop icon Edison Chen.

kevin poon
A rendering of WOAW Gallery Singapore facade. (Photo: WOAW Gallery)

Poon has also launched trendy hospitality and retail venues in his city of birth, such as micro-roaster Elephant Grounds and a cosy 18-seater speciality restaurant Wagyumafia HK. Most recently, he opened a rooftop terrace Cardinal Point at the top of Gloucester Tower, featuring an outdoor bar, an arts club, as well as Japanese, Chinese, and French restaurants. 

Over the course of his entrepreneurial journey, Poon had the opportunity to meet many talented artists of his generation, which opened his eyes to the vast talent out there. The 39-year-old started out in music with an internship at Interscope Records, and collecting art became a natural extension of his creative pursuits and an avenue for him to engage with the artistic community on a deeper level.

“I think that having multiple interests allows you to break free from the confines of traditional settings and explore uncharted territories. It opens up opportunities to try new things and think outside the box. Having a background in multiple verticals enables me to embrace diversity in the way I create, curate, collect, and exhibit,” he added.

Growth and expansion

Putting his words to action, Poon went beyond solely collecting art to launch WOAW Gallery in 2019, which he describes as a “creative outlet” for himself, viewing it as an opportunity to showcase artists he had been in touch with who were interested in exhibiting in Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific but lacked regional representation.

kevin poon
An installation view of Stacy Leigh’s “ESCAPE TO B-ROLL” at WOAW Gallery Central in 2023. (Photo: WOAW Gallery)

Initially starting with pop-up shows during Art Basel Hong Kong and various group exhibitions featuring artists like Koichi Sato and Charlie Roberts, WOAW Gallery garnered an “overwhelmingly positive” response from the novelty-hungry post-pandemic lockdown audience.

We faced a lot of criticism from the art world saying we are too commercial, we don’t represent artists, we only use guest curators, we are a hype gallery.

Kevin Poon, founder of WOAW Gallery

Today, the gallery has expanded across Hong Kong and Beijing with a brand new outpost in Wan Chai, the gallery’s third space in the city. It also launched in Singapore at the beginning of this year, in the lead-up to the inaugural edition of ART SG 2024, the country’s latest international art fair.

kevin poon
An installation view of Tim Irani’s “in silico” at WOAW Gallery Beijing in 2023. (Photo: WOAW Gallery)

The Singapore outpost exhibited famous British artist Jon Burgerman’s works in “Feel The Heat” this year, hosting an ice-cream party in conjunction with the show. 

Against the grain

As WOAW expanded, however, it found itself on the receiving end of negative flak from the typically insular traditional art world. 

Poon explained, “We faced a lot of criticism from the art world saying we are too commercial, we don’t represent artists, we only use guest curators, we are a hype gallery. On top of that, we have had a lot of other bigger blue-chip galleries swoop in on our artists after the first or second show of the emerging artists we work with.”

He strongly believes that part of the reason for the criticism is that they are trying to push the boundaries of what is considered an art gallery and how that ties in with all the other cultural pursuits such as music, film, technology, fashion, and hospitality.

kevin poon
An installation view of En Iwamura’s “URLANDSCHAFT” at WOAW Gallery Central in 2022. (Photo: WOAW Gallery)

One notable collaboration this summer involved McDonald’s, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of McNuggets with a first-ever themed, interactive exhibition dedicated to this iconic fast-food item at the Arts Pavilion at West Kowloon Cultural District. 

Coach McNugget Art World showcased over 20 artworks created by a diverse group of incredibly talented creatives from around the world, including VANDYTHEPINK, Jon Burgerman, UFO907, Gyuhan Lee, and FrankNitty3000.

kevin poon
Sculptures of VANDYTHEPINK’s “Team McNuggets” at the entrance to the special exhibition Coach McNugget Art World at Arts Pavilion, West Kowloon Cultural District, in 2023. (Photo: Kevin Poon, McDonald’s, and artists)

All the criticism has only made Poon more determined. He observed, “I think, in many ways, we strive to break down the barriers of art. We aim to blend the realms of high and low art, challenge discrimination and privilege, and bridge the gap between east and west. These factors define what makes 2023 and beyond unique while we bring Asian artists overseas and invite overseas artists to Asia.”