Cabinets of Curiosities in France and Hong Kong: a fascinating journey into the past


City University of Hong Kong (CityU) invites you on a journey through time and space into the world of mysterious discoveries that reveal European collectors’ fascination with exotic animals, plants, minerals and art objects unknown in the West until a few hundred years ago.

“The Cabinets of Curiosities. From the Natural Sciences to the Art of Nature. Collections from France and Hong Kong” exhibition from 25 May to 19 August is presented by CityU Exhibition Gallery in partnership with Le French May Arts Festival.

The event will introduce Hong Kong audiences to over 250 natural and artificial artefacts from 10 museums, galleries and private collections. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of La Maison Deyrolle, founded in 1831 and itself a living repository of the French cabinets, and of the Musée du Vivant – AgroParisTech, whose collections also date back to the early 19th Century, CityU is able to exhibit these collections for the first time in Hong Kong. 

“I am very proud that CityU has the opportunity to work once again with Le French May to produce an exhibition of outstanding cultural and social significance,” said Professor Way Kuo, CityU President. “‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ enables communities on one side of the globe to learn about other cultures, ethnicities, wildlife and plants thousands of miles away.”

“Cabinets of Curiosities” were the predecessors of museums, and were actual cabinets or small studies in which rulers and wealthy owners stored both precious religious, royal and valuable items as well as unusual specimens from the natural world. Such artefacts were brought back to Europe during 16th, 17th and 18th centuries by ocean-going expeditions intent on exploring the “new” continents of Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania. Their beauty, strangeness, and rarity invested these objects with great value and their owners displayed them as “curios” in richly decorated cabinets to the delight of their guests.  

Collectors sought to recreate a microcosm of the universe in these cabinets. They amassed natural plant and animal specimens, acquired mechanical devices and rare artistic objects, and purchased foreign artefacts. 

“These cabinets were also the site of serious scholarly and scientific investigations that were published in encyclopaedias, histories and collection catalogues. There the study of nature went hand-in-hand with the study of the arts and letters. These early scholars and scientists laid the foundations for what later became the academic disciplines of the social and natural sciences,” said Dr Isabelle Frank, Chief Curator and Director of CityU Exhibition Gallery. 

The cabinets exerted a spell well into the last century with artists such as Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, Man Ray and Jean Cocteau, whose pieces appear in the exhibition, exploring the relationship between human and natural creations in all their forms. Similarly, the works of more contemporary artists, from Damien Hirst to Jean-Michel Othoniel and Professor Jeffrey Shaw, Chair Professor of CityU’s School of Creative Media, are themselves curios or even miniature cabinets. 

The exhibition is divided into five sections: (i) Cabinets of Curiosities – a Brief History; (ii) Maritime Expeditions and the Collecting of Exotica; (iii) The Musée du Vivant – AgroParisTech: From Amateur Collections to Discoveries in the Natural Sciences; (iv) The Maison Deyrolle Cabinet of Curiosities: Nature Art Education and (v) Cabinets of Curiosities and Contemporary art.

Exhibition details
Date:         25 May – 19 August 2018
Time:         10am – 7pm (closed on Mondays) 
Venue:     CityU Exhibition Gallery, 18/F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, 
Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon 
Admission:     Free-of-charge

A media preview and the opening ceremony of the exhibition will be held on 24 May with the following details:

Media preview
Date:            24 May 2018 (Thursday)
Time:            2:30 pm (registration starts at 2:15 pm) 
Venue:    CityU Exhibition Gallery, 18/F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, CityU, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon
Spokesperson:     Dr Isabelle Frank, Chief Curator and Director of CityU Exhibition Gallery
RSVP:            Kiwi Fong at 3792 0944 or

Opening ceremony
Date:            24 May 2018 (Thursday)
Time:            5:30 pm
Venue:            5/F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, CityU
Guests of Honour:    
Ms Paule Ignatio, Deputy Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau
Professor Way Kuo, CityU President
Dr Andrew Yuen, Chairman of the Board, Le French May
Dr Isabelle Frank, Chief Curator and Director of CityU Exhibition Gallery

Press kit with high resolution images can be downloaded at:

Media enquiries: 

Dynamic Network Alliances PR 
Kiwi Fong        Tel: 3792 0944 / 9663 6077        Email:    

CityU Communications and Public Relations Office    
Terry Lam    Tel: 3442 5228                    Email:


Special thanks to these contributing lenders:
La Maison Deyrolle
Le Musée Du Vivant – AgroParisTech
Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier
Galerie Kraemer
A2Z Art Gallery
Philippe Thomas (private collector)
Gilles Bonnevialle (private collector)
Hong Kong Maritime Museum
University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Lee Shau Kee Library, Special Collections
The exhibition is curated by Dr Isabelle Frank, with the support of associate curators Gilles Bonnevialle and Nicolas Patrzynski.

About Dr. Isabelle Frank
Isabelle Frank is the Director of the CityU Exhibition Gallery. She received a doctorate in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in art and archaeology from Princeton University. She taught at Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts before moving to academic administration, becoming associate dean for academic affair at The New School, and then dean at Fordham University’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. 

About Gilles Bonnevialle
Gilles Bonneivalle is the President of the Maecenae Association, a non-profit organisation that aims to organise or assist in cultural activities such as exhibitions, festivals, and workshops in France and abroad. The association contributes financial support such as donations or patronage to art and cultural projects and strives to promote art activities and artists locally and globally.

About Nicolas Patrzynski
Nicolas Patrzynski is an audio-visual scenographer and the Director of Nicolas Patrzynski, a production house that offers digital and exhibition production, audio-visual scenography and production, and digitisation of works and archival documents services. He worked for previous exhibitions at Le French May such as Le Corbusier in 2015 and Paris, Toits Emois: The Roofs of Paris in 2017.

About CityU Exhibition Gallery
CityU Exhibition Gallery has organised a number of new media art exhibitions that lie at the intersection of the arts and technology, offering fresh perspectives on the displays and providing interactive experiences for visitors. The exhibited projects have included cross-cultural work by the Italian painter Giuseppe Castiglione; the cultural legacy and future of Hakka Kung Fu; unpublished handwritten materials by well-known Chinese scholars; and innovative new media technology and 3D visualisation on Lingnan Hung Kuen Kung Fu. 


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