It is often difficult to write about the art scene of Hong Kong, because many questions (mainly political ones) are being posed. Is the Hong Kong art scene part of the Chinese cultural space or is Hong Kong separated from Mainland China? What is the level of Hong Kong’s cultural autonomy? Hong Kong has a high level of cultural autonomy (meaning it’s not completely dependent on Beijing policies), but we cannot say that it has the same art policies as the United States, for example. Yes, there is a freedom of speech in Hong Kong, but many fear to use it. That is why there have been growing speculations on whether the long-awaited M+ Museum in Hong Kong will actually open, as it is scheduled, in 2019.
What is M+ Museum ?
M+ Museum is a new museum of visual culture under construction in the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong. Following an international competition, the celebrated Swiss architecture firm of Herzog & de Meuron, working with Hong Kong-based TFP Farrells and Ove Arup & Partners HK, has been selected to design the M+ building. Scheduled for opening in 2019, the approximately 60,000 gross floor area scheme will create an iconic presence for M+, and Hong Kong, on the museum’s site overlooking Victoria Harbor. The Museum has already begun to develop its own collection. On June 12, 2012 Uli Sigg, Swiss collector of reportedly the largest and most comprehensive collection of contemporary Chinese art in the world, announced that he would donate the majority of his holdings to M+. The collection includes works by artists suppressed by the Chinese government, for example 26 pieces by Ai Weiwei. Graffiti works by the late Tsang Tsou Choi, the so-called “King of Kowloon”, are among the pieces donated, as well as works by Candice Breitz, Liu Heung Shing, and so on.
Fears for the Future
All these plans sound great, but in reality, it’s not that simple. The main purpose of the M+ Museum Project is to put Hong Kong on the map of the global contemporary art centers, by creating a Western style art space and context. And that was the original vision. However, in recent months and years, many fear that the museum would look like as it is planned. First, there is a big problem with delays and the departures of high-level staff members. However, the bigger problem is the fact that it seems that curators and other high-level staff members will not be able to maintain independence in their work. There is a fear of Beijing, and how Beijing would react to the Museum’s program. As Pi Li, the Sigg senior curator at M+ told The New York Times: The problem in Hong Kong is not censorship. The problem in Hong Kong is self-censorship. It’s self-censorship hidden in the procedures, so it’s difficult to distinguish.
M+ Museum Building in Hong Kong
Simply, politics determines the rules of play in the world of art. In China, it’s not so simple. Although the Chinese art market is the fastest growing market in the world, there are a lot of cases of censorships. Hong Kong is a bit different story – even after 1997, when the city was returned to China, it has maintained a high level of political and cultural autonomy. However, many recent events, such as the so-called Umbrella Revolution from 2014 showed that Beijing’s influence is quite big. Hong Kong and the city’s art circles want to transform the city into one of the largest art hubs in the world (Art Basel Hong Kong is one example), but it won’t be easy for curators, artists, collectors do have a complete freedom in their work. That is why the future of the M+ Museum is uncertain. It will probably be opened in 2019, but the question is how will it function, and will it maintain independence from political decisions coming from Beijing?
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