Why I believe in M+
A few issues back I spoke about the tepid state of affairs for Hong Kong artists, but now it seems that hope is on the horizon. Well, at least for those that make the grade.
I speak of M+, the ‘visual culture’ museum which will be located within the much-discussed West Kowloon Cultural District in a few years. Last week, I attended a packed public forum to hear (and question) Lars Nittve (pictured below), the executive director of M+, about his vision for this new museum. The architectural community was certainly out in force, but there were also scores of artists and art enthusiasts in attendance to hear about the grand plan for M+.
Firstly, let’s remember that Lars Nittve was at the helm of London’s Tate Modern from its inception – helping to steer its conceptual direction. One lesson he learned from that experience, and wants to replicate here in Hong Kong, is to create a sense of ownership among the local community. That starts with an emphasis on Hong Kong-created art. So, using a diagram of concentric rings, Nittve explained that HK-based artists will be at the core of his new museum, which will then move out to Chinese artists, followed by Asia artists and then the rest of the world.
You might think this theory should be a ‘given’ – but think about the copycat or one-upmanship mentality that could easily have blinkered his vision. The mandate could have been to collect the best from around the world in contemporary art… y’know, because we’re a ‘World City’! But luckily it sounds as though M+ is going to strike an original chord by making Hong Kong art a seed at its centre.
Secondly, the museum will take an ‘integrated approach’ – meaning departments, genres, spaces and so forth will mix and match, as well as collaborate and convene from a multitude of angles. Nittve said that one of the problems facing New York’s MOMA is that never the twain shall meet (the sculpture department doesn’t talk to the 2D folks and so on). The plan for M+ is that it will vibrate with art – both inside and out. Who can disagree with that?
But then how will M+ function alongside the existing HK Museum of Art? Diplomatic to a tee, Nittve says the more museums the merrier. He wants M+ to be ‘part of a lively museum scene working towards the common good of a strong cultural city’. Interestingly, he’ll also be aiming to create stand-alone pavilions which skirt the main building – making them available to local artists to exhibit their works. That’s the plan at the moment.
But let’s not get over-excited. The principal building of the museum will not open until around 2017. In the interim, Nittve and his team will be experimenting. M+ has already sponsored a pop-up concept called the Bamboo Theatre at the recent Chinese New Year. And in May it’s going to be Yau Ma Tei! Check out their upcoming initiative called Mobile M+ in Yau Ma Tei from May 15 to June 10, featuring the work of six Hong Kong artists.
Finally, come September, Nittve is going on a shopping spree… with HK$1.7 billion in his pockets. No cultural austerity measures here! But they’re also looking for wealthy donors who are happy to pledge their art collection to a good home. The only person I saw in the audience who fitted that description was Sir David Tang. The hint could not have been lost on him. Hey David, M+Tang?
Editor's note: And here's what Lars Nittve told us in his first media interview in Hong Kong a year ago. Can't say he hasn't delivered so far!