Hong Kong—Compared with a Greater China perspective, M+ Museum’s Hong Kong perspective offers more freedom of expression, Lars Nittve, the Executive Director of M+ museum said in a cultural journalism class at the University of Hong Kong last Thursday.
M+ museum is created primarily for people who live and work in Hong Kong, yet its Hong Kong perspective is not just in terms of geography but in terms of its daring collections as well. “For example, we have a lot of collections by Ai Weiwei,” Nittve said. Ai is a Chinese contemporary artist and political activist whose works are often banned in Mainland China.
Nittve said that works shown in Hong Kong may not be shown in other cities on the mainland like Shanghai. “So you have of course the consequence of Hong Kong’s special status in terms of freedom of expression and its position as a traditionally international hub,” he said.
Because of the “One country, Two systems” principle, Hong Kong, a former British colony, enjoys more freedom of expression in comparison to Mainland China, where the Chinese Communist Party put strict censorship on art and other aspects of social life.
In 2012, Uli Sigg, a well-known Swiss collector of contemporary Chinese art, donated 1463 pieces of works to M+, some of which are politically satires, saying that he selected a Hong Kong museum over one in Mainland China because the collection includes works by artists suppressed by the Chinese government.
Last February, Politically sensitive works including photos taken during the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, a democracy protest started by college students, and other local satirical art pieces have been added to the growing collection of M+, according to the South China Morning Post.
Faced with a warning from pro-Beijing Legislative Councilor Chan Kamlam “not to mix art and politics", Nittve responded that M+ would not steer away from politically sensitive issues.
“Freedom of expression is an important factor," Nittve said to the SCMP of the politically sensitive works, insisting that the museum acquired those works for their artistic value rather than the controversial subject matter.
With an overall budget of 7.5 billion HKD, so far M+ has around 4100 works by acquisition and donation according to Nittve. The core of the collection will be visual culture from Hong Kong, represented by seminal works from the 20th and 21st century. The collection will feature works by local masters and emerging talents that would reflect developments of decisive historical, emergent moment and the expansive terms of art-making today.
As an important part of West Kowloon Cultural District, a developing project to boost cultural and entertainment establishments at Hong Kong since 1998, M+ has gone through some difficulties before its completion.
The construction of the museum has been delayed due to a lack of funds from the Legislative Council. The cost of a vast basement, through which traffic will pass to ensure the construction area above ground is free of vehicles, is also a trouble. Because of various problems, M+ will open six months later than the previously planned date.
At the end of last January, a time capsule filled with artworks by local children was placed at the WKCD, marking the countdown to the completion of the M+ building, which is scheduled for 2018, as it is stated on the its official website.