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History

The University Museum Art Gallery

The University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG) of The University of Hong Kong was founded in 1953 as the Fung Ping Shan Museum. Originally established as the Fung Ping Shan Library of Chinese language publications in 1932 in honour of its benefactor, the building became a museum dedicated to collecting Chinese art when the University’s libraries consolidated. The museum was renamed UMAG in 1994, shortly before its new wing was opened to the public in 1996. It is the oldest continuously operated museum in Hong Kong and  over the past sixty years it has built up a diverse collection of ceramics and bronzes dating from the Neolithic period (c. 7000–c. 2100 BCE) to the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), as well as traditional and modern paintings from the Ming (1368–1644) to the twenty-first century.

Chief among the collections are the Museum’s ceramics, which show the extraordinary achievements of the Chinese potter from Neolithic period painted pottery jars, to the decorative porcelains of the Qing dynasty. Among the early wares are examples of funerary pottery dating from the Han (206 BCE–220 CE) to the Tang dynasties (618–907), which include lead-glazed models and vessels, as well as tri-coloured (sancai) ceramics. Throughout Chinese history, ceramics have been traded and admired outside of China. Of these, green ware, particularly Yue and celadon, which were sought after in Southeast Asia and Korea, and the development of blue-and-white porcelains, which were made for the Islamic market and popular in Europe, have been the most influential pieces and are well-represented in the Museum’s collection. Of particular note is one of the earliest known examples of underglaze-blue decoration in the form of a small tripod water pot dating to the Tang dynasty. The Museum also has representative examples of work made by the famous Song (960–1279) kilns, such as those of Ding and Cizhou, and mono- and polychrome decorated ware from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Other highlights of the collection are the Museum’s Chinese bronzes that include ritual vessels dating to the Shang (c. 1600–c. 1100 BCE) and Western Zhou (c.1100–771 BCE) periods, and a comprehensive collection of mirrors dating from the Eastern Zhou (770–256 BCE) period to the Tang dynasty. The Museum also contains the largest known collection of Mongol period (Yuan dynasty 1271–1368) Nestorian crosses in the world. In addition to its collection of carvings in jade, wood and stone, the Museum has a small but significant collection of Chinese ink painting dating from the Ming dynasty to the present and twentieth-century Chinese oil painting.

In addition to these permanent collections, UMAG regularly hosts exhibitions of contemporary and ancient Chinese and Western art, as well as on early Hong Kong history. The Museum was originally established as a teaching museum and has maintained this commitment to the University through the teaching of Chinese art and museum studies and by encouraging students to broaden their education through the arts. It regularly presents non-exhibition related talks and activities that are open to both the University’s students and public.

Related articles:

Knothe 2014: Florian Knothe, ‘Treasures, Traditions and Transformations: UMAG at Sixty’, in Orientations, 45(2), 163-164.

Ng 2019: Sarah Ng, ‘The Early History and the Ink Painting Collection of Hong Kong’s Oldest University Museum and the First Art Museum: Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG)‘, in Arts of Asia, May-Jun 2009, 94-102.

Fung Ping Shan Building

HISTORY OF THE FUNG PING SHAN BUILDING

Conception and Construction 1929–1932

The University of Hong Kong was established in 1912 as the city’s first institute of higher education modeled on the British educational system. In 1929, Mr. Fung Ping Shan, a prominent Hong Kong businessman and advocate of Chinese cultural and historical education, made a generous donation for the establishment of a library building to house the university’s collection of Chinese books focused on history, literature, arts and culture.

Construction began in 1931 and was completed in 1932. The architectural firm Leigh and Orange designed the library with Han Yu Company as the contractor. Unfortunately, Mr. Fung Ping Shan passed away before the library building was completed. To commemorate Mr. Fung’s generous contribution and support for Chinese culture, the building was named “Fung Ping Shan Library”.

 

Second World War 1941–1945

Interruptions to library operations briefly occurred during Hong Kong’s period of Japanese occupation. In December 1941, the Fung Ping Shan Library was used as a dormitory by the British First-aid Station of Air Defense at Mid-levels Section E, and anti-aircraft guns were installed on the roof. However, with Hong Kong’s surrender to Japanese troops on 25 December 1941, these resistance activities abruptly ended.

The University of Hong Kong fell under Japanese possession on 2 January 1942, and the Fung Ping Shan Library was likewise seized for Japanese use. However, the Japanese continued using the space for scholarly purposes, even expanding upon the collection by incorporating other private (confiscated) collections. This arrangement lasted until the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945. Both the University and the Fung Ping Shan Library reopened in October 1946.

 

Post-War 1950s–1994

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the library building underwent a handful of minor repairs and remodeling. In 1953, the “Museum of Chinese Art and Archaeology”, dedicated to collecting Chinese art and artefacts within the University’s Institute of Oriental Studies, moved into the second floor of the Fung Ping Shan building. On 4 April 1955, the museum section was formally opened to the public.

For the next decade, the Fung Ping Shan Library housed these two assets—the library collection and the museum collection—until 1962 when the library materials were moved from the building and integrated into the newly-completed Main University Library. In 1964, after renovations, the Fung Ping Shan Library building officially rebranded itself as the “Fung Ping Shan Museum of Chinese Art and Archaeology”, shedding the original library title and usage.

On 31 January 1964, the Fung Ping Shan Museum was officially opened by Mr. Fung’s son, Sir Kenneth Fung Ping-fan. This museum eventually separated from the Institute of Oriental Studies and the Chinese Department, becoming its own University entity on 1 December 1975.

 

University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG) 1994–present

On 1 July 1994, the University Museum fused with the newly established University Art Gallery, formally creating the “University Museum and Art Gallery” (UMAG). With the opening of the adjacent T.T. Tsui (Tsin Tong Tsui) building on 8 November 1996, staff offices and art gallery space moved out of the museum. The T.T. Tsui building was designed to be linked to the Fung Ping Shan building via a footbridge. In September 2013, a lift was added to the Fung Ping Shan building on the east elevation, designed by Nelson Chen Architects Ltd.

 

BUILDING DESCRIPTION

 

Location and Setting

The Fung Ping Shan Building sits on Bonham Road, adjacent to the east gate of the University of Hong Kong. As part of the University, it is located on the lower (northern) section of the campus, with a base elevation around that of the nearby Main Building (a Hong Kong Declared Monument). Rising only three stories, the Fung Ping Shan Building is a humble site compared to the nearby newer constructions.

There are two entrances to the building. The original entrance faces north to Bonham Road, and is accessed via a large staircase (original) or via a footpath from the east gate (added in 1987). A second entrance, which also serves for handicap access, was added in 2013 via a lift and footbridge connecting the adjacent T.T. Tsui Building. The historic façade is framed by a large frangipani tree (Plumeria rubra) and a Chinese banyan tree (ficus microcarpa).

 

Structure

The building is a three-story red brick structure, designed in a symmetrical Butterfly Plan with the central body housing the open library space and the wings as side rooms, which are all now galleries. The Butterfly Plan, also known as the Double Suntrap Plan, is a “nineteenth-century design where two or four wings of a house are constructed at an angle to the core, usually at about 45 degrees to the wall of the core building.” (Historic England)

The back (south) side elevation is bow-shaped, creating an interior central space with a curved wall. This central space, now named the Drake Gallery (after the museum’s first director, Prof. F.S. Drake), is an open chamber without separation by floors. An interior balcony walkway runs along the perimeter of the 2/F central gallery, allowing access to the east and west sides as well as the back southern curved wall. The walkway is supported by four octagonal columns.

A large overhead convex glass skylight is built into the roof’s structure, allowing diffused natural light into the space below. The skylight is a defining feature of the space, and displays a metal frame and glass panes in an octagonal shape. While originally fashioned with wired- and obscured-glass plates, its components have been replaced over time, but the original design still exists.

Large vertical windows along the curved southern wall provide natural light on the first and second floor. These windows are only opened when the exhibitions allow. There are two staircases within the Fung Ping Shan Building. The central staircase leads from the ground floor entrance to the first and second floors. This staircase is stone, with a wooden and iron bannister. A second stairwell, constructed in 1969, connects the ground floor workshop room to the first-floor furniture gallery.

 

Materials

The exterior ground floor was constructed using dressed ashlar granite, generally understood to be one of the finest units of masonry due to the thin joints between stone blocks. The first and second floors exhibit exterior red brick and ornamental stone columns, with a stone pediment at the top of the second-floor façade. The roof is flat except for a raised perimeter edge and the glass convex skylight juts upwards triangularly. Internally, the floors are laid with wood, as are certain elements like the stairway bannister and windowsills.

 

Styles

The architectural style of the Fung Ping Shan Building is primarily Neo-Georgian, with secondary elements of Arts and Crafts as well as Regency styles. While the Butterfly Plan was used in late Victorian architecture, and during the early Arts and Crafts Movement, there is no information as to why the plan was chosen for this particular site. It is not clear if the general design was proposed by Leigh and Orange, the architects of the building, or by Mr. Fung Ping Shan himself, who had viewed and designed other educational sites.

The Fung Ping Shan building exhibits large windows on every façade. Due to its location against a slope, the only ground floor windows appear on the front (north) façade. These windows display two recessed blocked masonry windows (“blind windows”) on the front of each side wing. Without written documentation of these windows’ purpose, we can assume this architectural choice was made for symmetry.

 

Current Legislative Grading

On 16 November 2018, the Fung Ping Shan Building (exterior only) was designated a Declared Monument by the Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance (Cap. 53)—a declaration which enables the Antiquities Authority to prevent alterations or to impose conditions of alterations based on their expertise in order to protect the monument. The Fung Ping Shan Building was bundled together with two other historic buildings on HKU campus, Eliot Hall and May Hall, which all received the status of Declared Monument. Prior to its Declared Monument status, the Fung Ping Shan building had been a Grade 1 Historical Building, granted on 18 December 2009.

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