Art Exhibitions: cultural identity or bureaucratic baggage?

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Hong Kong’s Museum of Art (HKMoA) on the Tsim Sha Tsui foreshore underwent a 5-year regentrification process, as part of the Cultural Centre complex. A visit this Christmas break was my first since the summer of 2015. 

Reopened a month ago, the seven-story building’s pastel pink coat has been replaced with a dynamic glass-clad facade that reflects the waves of the world-famous Victoria Harbour. It houses a new wing and an extra floor of exhibition space. A total of twelve galleries uphold four pillars of focus: Chinese Antiques; Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy; China trade art; Modern and Contemporary Hong Kong Art. 

The first noticeable transformation indoors are the floor-to-ceiling glass panes, boasting an uninterrupted display the harbour — a work of art in itself. Artworks inspired by the magnificent view are abundant; one is a digital illustration of twenty men and women dressed in caps and coats based on the city’s well-known architecture, including the city’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, Four Seasons Hotel, HSBC’s headquarters and Phase I & II of the International Financial Centre. Another uses abstract diagonal lines and splashes of paint to depict a panoramic view of Hong Kong Island. 

Of the two exhibitions I visited, Hong Kong Art Gallery on the second floor was a highlight. It utilises relatable materials such as red-white-blue nylon canvas and the city’s old-fashioned metal letter boxes to introduce the values to which Hong Kong’s industries are loyal. Infused with puns, the bottom of the first frame declares “everyone (written as ‘corner’ while the pronunciation could also mean ‘everyone’) in building industries is prohibited from intriguing because it would endanger the structure of the building”.

The second frame from the right presents a set of coordinates: 19°97 – 20°47 with a caption ‘unchanging’, a subtle reminder that Hong Kong’s capitalist system and way of life should remain unchanged until 2047, 50 years after the handover back to China in 1997.

A loan from The Tate offers a platform for dialogue between British and Hong Kong artwork

A more comprehensive review of HKMoA shall be on my to-do list until I return for another detailed visit in summer. The gallery that hosts landscape paintings on loan from The Tate shall be my top priority; it aims offer a platform for dialogue between British paintings and the city’s local photography, mixed media work and Chinese painting. 

Although the display of such a collection of contemporary Hong Kong art is long overdue and therefore worth celebrating, HKMoA retains one of its greatest weaknesses.

The Museum is still run by the government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, answerable to the Home Affairs Bureau. This means the art collection is bound to its bureaucratic and conservative tradition.

In the future, it may be more internationally recognised and respected if it could be managed independently to raise funds or set up trusts to buy artwork for their collections, similar to many of the world’s great museums alike. Hong Kong’s Museum of Art is on a journey to curating its own identity, a renewed focus on Hong Kong and the architectural facelift is only part of that process. 

Photographs:

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