Hong Kong’s M+ Museum Opens With Spotlight on Local Pop Culture

Collective memories of Hong Kong cinema and pop culture have a major role to play at the newly opened M+ museum of contemporary visual culture, which is received tens of thousands of visitors on its opening weekend despite the city’s changing political landscape.

While much emphasis and media spotlight have been placed on the exhibition of the famed collection of Chinese contemporary art donated by the Swiss mega art collector Uli Sigg, what appealed most to the local public on the opening weekend (November 12-14) was the Hong Kong nostalgia on display.

Designs of the Canto-pop album covers and concert tickets from the 1980s and 1990s — the golden era of Hong Kong showbiz — were among the exhibits featured in the “Hong Kong: Here and Beyond” section, which saw a queue longer than at the five other thematic opening exhibitions.

Divided into four chapters — Here, Identities, Places and Beyond, the Hong Kong exhibition covered a range of visual culture items ranging from contemporary art to artefacts and designs that chronicled the development and transformation of the city from the 1960s to the present.

An album cover and a concert ticket related to the late Canto-pop queen Anita Mui — whose much anticipated biopic “Anita” produced Edko Films has also just opened in theaters — brought memories back, according to exhibition-goers.

Album covers of those by electro-duo Tat Ming Pair, the seven-piece band Tai Chi, three-piece pop group Grasshopper and award-winning singer and actress Deanie Ip were also on display. Rarely-seen tickets to concerts of Sam Hui, the late Hong Kong pop icon Leslie Cheung and George Lam from the 1980s were also among the popular exhibits.

A two-channel video installation titled “Where Do We Look Now?” featuring snippets of Hong Kong films from the 1970s to the present was featured in the show. Shots were selected from films produced in different eras, including Wong Kar-wai’s “2046” (2004), Pang Ho-cheung’s “Aberdeen” (2014), Stanley Kwan’s “Rouge” (1988), “Made in Hong Kong” (1997) by Fruit Chan. Also included were snippets of 2015 dystopian anthology “Ten Years,” which is now so toxic to Hong Kong authorities that two of its five co-directors are now in self-imposed exile.

The M+ museum, which is a star project of the West Kowloon Cultural District, has taken nearly 14 years to build, following repeated delays, management reshuffles and a ballooning budget of no less than $760 million. Earlier this year, the museum suffered attacks from the pro-Beijing politicians, who accused the museum’s Uli Sigg collection of containing artworks that would “spread hatred against China” and may violate the national security law, which bans activities related to subversion, terrorism, secession and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.

Sigg provided much of the art on display, including works by the politically controversial artist-activist Ai Weiwei, who was mainland Chinese-born and also lives in exile in Europe. (Of the 1,510 artworks in the collection, 47 were acquired by M+ for $22.7 million in 2012.)

One of the targeted works was “Study of Perspective: Tian’anmen” by Ai, which is among a series of photography works donated by Sigg. The image of the work has been censored on the museum’s collection website, and the work was not included in the opening exhibitions.

But there were other traces of Ai in the opening exhibitions. Two of his works, a large-scale installation made of ancient jars (with some coated in white paint) titled “Whitewash” (1995-2000), and a 10-hour long video work “Chang’an Boulevard” (2004), were displayed.

Henry Tang, chair of the board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which runs the arts hub where M+ is located, denied any allegations of political censorship. However, complying with the law, including the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong, and the National Security Law, was the museum’s job as a public institution, he said. Respecting a society’s cultural standard was also necessary in deciding which works to put on display.

The museum, housed in a 700,000-square-foot concrete building designed by the world famous Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, is open to the local public for free for the coming year. It is also equipped with a cinema and a mediatheque to showcase moving image works featured among the 8,000-strong collection, but details of the film programs are yet to be announced.

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