Com­ing Into Fo­cus

Hong Kong stands on the brink of an ex­plo­sion of cul­tural life as a range of arts-fo­cused cap­i­tal works nears fruition. Christo­pher De Wolf as­sesses the hard­ware and soft­ware poised to su­per­charge the city as a global arts hub and en­gage all Hongkongers w

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

HONG KONG STANDS ON THE BRINK OF AN EX­PLO­SION OF CUL­TURAL LIFE AS A RANGE OF ARTS-FO­CUSED CAP­I­TAL WORKS NEARS FRUITION. WE AS­SESS THE HARD­WARE AND SOFT­WARE POISED TO SU­PER­CHARGE THE CITY AS A GLOBAL ARTS HUB

March in Hong Kong is punc­tu­ated by the sound of cham­pagne corks pop­ping as Art Basel plunges the city into a frenzy of par­ties and ex­hi­bi­tions. In just a few years, Hong Kong has been trans­formed into a hub for the global art mar­ket, boom­ing with art fairs and blue-chip in­ter­na­tional gal­leries.

But it’s a less ro­man­tic sound that fore­tells the fu­ture of art in Hong Kong: con­struc­tion. All across the city, work is un­der way on a new gen­er­a­tion of projects that prom­ise to de­liver the world-class mu­se­ums and in­sti­tu­tions that Hong Kong has never had be­fore. In West Kowloon, a per­ma­nent home for the M+ mu­seum of visual cul­ture is ris­ing from the ground next to land slated to be­come a lo­cal ver­sion of Bei­jing’s Palace Mu­seum. Not far away, in Tsim Sha Tsui, the fusty old Mu­seum of Art is be­ing re­vamped and ex­panded with 40 per cent more ex­hi­bi­tion space. Later this year, scaf­fold­ing on the 175-year-old Cen­tral Po­lice Sta­tion com­pound will be re­moved to un­veil Tai Kwun, a cul­tural hub that in­cludes a new con­tem­po­rary art cen­tre.

For a city whose art scene has un­til now been shaped by com­mer­cial prospects, the ar­rival of these new in­sti­tu­tions is noth­ing short of a rev­o­lu­tion. “Art is go­ing to be all around you, like it or not,” says Ade­line Ooi, direc­tor of Art Basel in Hong Kong. “It will fi­nally con­sol­i­date the whole idea of Hong Kong as a cul­tural city or art hub.”

Lead­ing the charge is M+, which has am­bi­tions of be­ing the kind of paradigmshift­ing in­sti­tu­tion that New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art was when it opened in 1929. “What it’s go­ing to do is some­thing that has never been done be­fore, not in the world, not in Hong Kong,” says M+ direc­tor Suhanya Raf­fel, who re­cently moved to Hong Kong from Aus­tralia, where she was deputy direc­tor of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Queens­land Art Gallery.

M+ deals in con­tem­po­rary art, mov­ing images, ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, and the main idea be­hind it is to look at these dis­ci­plines from an Asian per­spec­tive. Raf­fel plans to take an ac­tive role in com­mis­sion­ing new work from artists—an un­usual path for a mu­seum, though one she also pur­sued in Aus­tralia. “[Mu­se­ums] tend to want for art his­tory to have set­tled,” she says. By con­trast, work­ing di­rectly with artists demon­strates “an af­fir­ma­tion of and a be­lief in their prac­tice,” and a recog­ni­tion of the ways that mu­se­ums shape the art world around them.

Be­yond new com­mis­sions, M+ will also ex­plore art and art his­tory through a new, more Asian per­spec­tive—to “re-en­gage and rein­ter­pret the canon,” says Raf­fel.

M+ chief cu­ra­tor Do­ryun Chong says Hong Kong’s out­ward per­spec­tive makes it the ideal place to do this. “M+ re­ally has the po­ten­tial to re­mind the Hong Kong public as well as our in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences how deep the roots of cos­mopoli­tanism are in Hong Kong,” says Chong. Some of the mu­seum’s on­go­ing work can be seen in Am­bigu­ously Yours, an ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing in the M+ Pav­il­ion on March 17 that ex­plores gen­der in Hong Kong’s golden era of pop­u­lar cul­ture, when the city’s mu­sic, movies and fash­ion spread across the globe in a way sim­i­lar to the dom­i­nance of Korean pop cul­ture to­day.

FOR A CITY WHOSE ART SCENE HAS UN­TIL NOW BEEN SHAPED BY COM­MER­CIAL PROSPECTS, THE AR­RIVAL OF THESE NEW IN­STI­TU­TIONS IS NOTH­ING SHORT OF A REV­O­LU­TION

There’s also the ques­tion of the build­ing it­self. When it opens in 2019, M+ will in­clude 15,000 square me­tres of flex­i­ble ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces that are de­signed to blur the lines be­tween its dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. It will also be home to a cin­ema, me­diatheque, re­search cen­tre, per­for­mance spa­ces and a li­brary and ar­chives. The mu­seum will work with artists to com­mis­sion new pieces for the build­ing, both spec­tac­u­lar phys­i­cal ob­jects for its public ar­eas and site-spe­cific per­for­mances that re­spond to its ar­chi­tec­ture.

“When it opens, that’s when the penny will drop,” says Raf­fel. She ex­pects M+ to be­come the kind of place that ev­ery or­di­nary Hongkonger vis­its sev­eral times a year for var­i­ous events and ex­hi­bi­tions. “It will be­come part of ev­ery­one’s lived ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Across the har­bour, con­struc­tion has been com­pleted on the Old Bai­ley Gal­leries in Tai Kwun—a pair of tex­tured black boxes, also de­signed by Her­zog & de Meu­ron, that ap­pear to float above the Vic­to­ri­an­era com­pound. These will form the heart of a new con­tem­po­rary art cen­tre run by To­bias Berger, who pre­vi­ously worked at M+ and the non-profit Para Site art space, and in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor Xue Tan.

Tai Kwun has so far kept a tight lid on its plans for the com­plex, but Berger re­vealed some de­tails in Fe­bru­ary when he spoke at Art Fair Philip­pines in Manila. The Old Bai­ley Gal­leries will in­clude 1,500 square me­tres of ex­hi­bi­tion space, and a public pro­gramme of per­for­mances, work­shops, sem­i­nars, screen­ings and talks will make use of the com­pound’s re­stored his­toric spa­ces.

Un­like M+, the Old Bai­ley Gal­leries will not have its own col­lec­tion, which Berger says gives it a cer­tain kind of free­dom. “You can be much more ex­per­i­men­tal, much more for­ward look­ing,” he says. He plans to avoid host­ing trav­el­ling in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions and in­stead fo­cus on shows that will be lo­cally rooted. “I’m work­ing for Hong Kong—i’m not work­ing for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket or peo­ple in New York,” he says.

It will also work with Hong Kong’s small but stal­wart col­lec­tion of non-profit arts or­gan­i­sa­tions. That will give the non-prof­its ac­cess to the Jockey Club’s am­ple fi­nan­cial re­sources to pro­duce more am­bi­tious shows than might oth­er­wise be pos­si­ble. “They will be paid hand­somely,” says Berger.

Claire Hsu, direc­tor of the Asia Art Ar­chive, which doc­u­ments con­tem­po­rary Asian art prac­tices, is ex­cited about the po­ten­tial for the Old Bai­ley Gal­leries to en­gage with Hong Kong’s ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions. “What’s great about Tai Kwun’s pro­gramme is that col­lab­o­ra­tion with other non-profit in­sti­tu­tions is woven into its very fab­ric,” she says. “It will also be a new way to ex­pe­ri­ence her­itage and con­tem­po­rary art to­gether.”

En­tre­pre­neur Alan Lo, co-founder of the Cen­tral art res­tau­rant Dud­dell’s, says the growth of the art mar­ket has had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on lo­cal artists, who are gain­ing in­creas­ing global ex­po­sure as more in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tors and gal­lerists visit the city.

The next step will be for Hong Kong­grown gal­leries to project them­selves abroad—the mir­ror image of what has hap­pened un­til now, with West­ern gal­leries ex­pand­ing here. “We are look­ing at a project in Lon­don and in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent cities as well,” he says, which could lead to “a whole new di­a­logue be­tween cities.”

The bot­tom line seems to be that as ma­jor new in­sti­tu­tions come on­line, the whole art scene will ex­pand. “It’s an ecosys­tem—one type of thing can’t live with­out the other,” says Ooi. “It will work to our ad­van­tage be­cause we can fi­nally point peo­ple in the di­rec­tion of these new mu­se­ums and say, ‘See what’s be­ing done in this part of the world.’ I’m thrilled. It’s go­ing to be bet­ter for all of us.”

IN­SPIRED RENDERINGS Left: once fin­ished, M+ will fea­ture 60,000 square me­tres of ex­hi­bi­tion space. Above: the Mu­seum of Art in tsim Sha tsui. op­po­site page: the M+ build­ing is due for com­ple­tion in 2019

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