“I’m not a sur­geon, I’m not go­ing to go to work and say, ‘Shit, I’m go­ing to fuck up some­one’s life for­ever.’”

Un­til re­cently, Yung Ma was a cu­ra­tor at M+, Hong Kong’s first pub­lic con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tion. A re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween K11 Art Foun­da­tion and the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou has re­sulted in a three-year post for Ma in Paris, putting him in charge of ac­quir

HK Magazine - - FIRST PERSON -

I started to go

to art shows when I was a teenager. I wasn’t in Hong Kong at the time. I’d been mov­ing around a lot in my for­ma­tive years—in the east and the west.

I’ve al­ways liked art.

I liked doo­dles and all that, although I don’t think that had any­thing to do with my choice af­ter­wards.

I stud­ied fine art

in or­der to be­come a stu­dio artist, but right be­fore I grad­u­ated with my BA I de­cided I didn’t want to be an artist. I just don’t think I was cut out for it.

Be­ing an artist,

you need a lot of self-mo­ti­va­tion and I just don’t think I had it in me at the time. When I was do­ing my BA, I was mostly a video per­son. I de­cided to do a film di­rect­ing pro­gram, think­ing I might go into it.

Again, I re­al­ized

I didn’t want to get into film di­rect­ing.

The work

that you do as an artist is quite lonely— You work with your­self. When it comes to film di­rect­ing you work with too many peo­ple.

Cu­rat­ing

is in the mid­dle of that. To be a cu­ra­tor, you have to be cu­ri­ous about things. You have to be or­ga­nized. A lot of peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that.

Peo­ple have this image

of a cu­ra­tor as an arty, hip­pie-ish type.

I don’t just look at art.

For me, film, mu­sic, lit­er­a­ture, theater, our sur­round­ings—ev­ery­thing is im­por­tant. Con­vic­tion is im­por­tant.

I started work­ing

in Hong Kong in 2005. It’s in­cred­i­ble how it’s changed within a decade.

On my first day

at uni, I was told that “Only 10 per­cent of you will stay in the art world af­ter­ward,” and that’s true. It’s the re­al­ity.

But it’s like any other pro­fes­sion.

Just be­cause you study some­thing doesn’t mean you’ll be able to work in that field in the fu­ture.

There are more

fine art grad­u­ates now than when I first started. There used to be only two univer­sity cour­ses [in fine art] and now there are maybe nine.

There are op­por­tu­ni­ties

for young artists to present their works in Hong Kong, so I don’t think it’s that aw­ful!

[On his appointment to the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou]

I wanted to try some­thing dif­fer­ent.

It’s in­ter­est­ing

to get to know a dif­fer­ent kind of in­sti­tu­tional struc­ture. The way the French struc­ture works is quite dif­fer­ent com­pared to English­s­peak­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

The Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou

is one of the largest [art mu­se­ums] in the world, so it’s fas­ci­nat­ing and chal­leng­ing.

Most western in­sti­tu­tions

have re­al­ized that art his­tory—or ac­tu­ally, hu­man his­tory—is not just about the west any­more.

The Pom­pi­dou

has in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tions of video art, of de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture objects, of film. So how do we then try to place Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art in terms of the over­all col­lec­tion, in di­a­logue with the other parts?

Hong Kong con­tem­po­rary art

is quite dif­fer­ent to what they’ve been pro­duc­ing in main­land China, but at the same time, there’s some­thing uni­ver­sal in terms of artis­tic lan­guage.

For me, what’s im­por­tant

is whether the work is good or not, rather than the re­gional un­der­stand­ing of it.

Art that is trans­for­ma­tive

for the viewer: for me that’s good art. If it says some­thing, that’s even bet­ter.

[On leav­ing M+]

The joke is that I’ve lost so much hair, that’s why it’s time! I wanted to learn some­thing dif­fer­ent. I don’t know why peo­ple are mak­ing such a big deal out of it, it’s just chang­ing jobs. Ev­ery­body’s done it.

I think

I’ve done a pretty de­cent job with M+. I’m loyal to them in that I re­ally like the in­sti­tu­tion and the peo­ple there, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay there un­til I die.

Of course

you’re never re­ally done, es­pe­cially with mu­se­ums, be­cause you have to plan ahead so much. But I’ve done my bit al­ready. I’m look­ing for­ward to seeing what they’re go­ing to do.

You can’t re­gret it.

Look, ul­ti­mately, it’s art: Art is es­sen­tial to our lives, but it’s not life and death.

I’m not a sur­geon,

I’m not go­ing to go into work to­day and say, “Shit, I’m go­ing to fuck up some­one’s life for­ever.” I do the best I can and I let go.

Some of the works

in M+ will have my name at­tached in the sys­tem for­ever. The works are go­ing to be there long af­ter I’m gone. So the works are more im­por­tant than I am. There will al­ways be peo­ple look­ing af­ter them.

I don’t want

to be re­mem­bered. It’s much more im­por­tant for the artists and the film­mak­ers and the works to re­main. I’m just there to make it hap­pen. And I step down, and I go away.

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