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Inside Hong Kong's New Cultural Institution M+

Hong Kong's first Museum dedicated to contemporary art and visual cultureM+has finally opened. With a staggering number of art works on view, here are a few to look out for, to get the full M+ experience.

November 18, 2021

Hong Kong’s first museum dedicated to contemporary artM+ Museum of Visual Culturehas finally opened its doors to the public. Comparable to Tate, MoMA, and Centre Pompidou, the highly anticipated institution contributes significantly to Hong Kong’s cultural landscape, bolstering its reputation as Asia’s cultural hub.   

The Main Hall, M+, Hong Kong | Photo: Kevin Mak, © Kevin Mak, Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron

Designed by Herzog de Meuron, the unmissable brutalist structure contains vast gallery spaces, industrial grey interiors with soaring ceilings and breathtaking views of Victoria Harbour and the West Kowloon Art Park. With features specifically evocative of Tate Modern in London, the space’s existence in Hong Kong hits a surreal note. A statement spiral staircase and rooftop garden perhaps sets it apart. 

The Atrium, 2F, M+, Hong Kong | Photo: Kevin Mak, © Kevin Mak, Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron

Helmed by director Suhanya Raffel, the institution’s curation and goals focus on showcasing art from Hong Kong, the greater China and Asia, specifically from an Asian perspective. During a time when, globally, institutions are being called on to revise their own exclusionary histories, and rebuild more diverse ones, the opening of M+ strikes a particularly resonant chord. In a collection of over 50,000 artworks (or “collection items” as deemed by the museum) by 777 artists, 76 percent are Asian. Currently, 1,500 artworks are on display across six exhibitions. Here are a few that made a memorable impact.  

Installation view of CRUCIFIED TVS —NOT A PRAYER IN HEAVEN (TRADITIONAL CHINESE/ CANTONESE/ENGLISH VERSION) in Focus Gallery | Photo: Kevin Mak, © Kevin Mak,Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron

Seemingly the most popular (and certainly most instagramable) piece is Young Hae Chang Heavy Industry’s Crucified TVs – Not a Prayer in Heaven (2021), a single piece installed in the Focus Gallery. Comprising of a series of TV screens assembled in a crucifix shape, the work acutely captures a fervour resonant with contemporary sentiment. Alternating phrases flash on the screens, forming slogans such as “A world on fire is like a life in hell.”  

Antony Gormley Born 1950, United Kingdom Asian Field 2003 Clay Dimensions variable M+, Hong Kong. Museum purchase and gift of anonymous Hong Kong donor, 2015 © Antony Gormley

Similarly occupying a single gallery space is Antony Gormley’s Asian Field (2003). A vision to behold, this work is part of the artist’s seminal series Field, and comprises 200,000 clay figurines, made by villagers from a Guangdong village, at the artist’s invitation. The result simultaneously stuns and overwhelms. 

Installation view of M+ Sigg Collection/ From Revolution to Globalisation in Sigg Galleries | Photo: Lok Cheng, M+Courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

The much-awaited Sigg collection, donated by Swiss collector (and former ambassador to China) Uli Sigg is one of the more sizeable exhibits on view, essentially showcasing the development of post-war era China history, from the 70s to now. The collection has many highlights including Ai Weiwei’s vast floor installation White Wash (1995 - 2000), comprised of a series of classical vases encased in varying degrees of white paint. Another standout work is Sun Yuan and Peng You’s Civilisation Pillar (2001)a staggering candle-like structure made from human fat (among other materials), alluding to society’s vain, consumerist tendencies.  

Perhaps the most aesthetically-inclined exhibit on view is The Dream of the Museum, showcasing works which demonstrate how artists use contemporary means to explore found objects, using works by legendary artists Duchamp, Yoko Ono, and John Cage among others as a point of departure. Covered in bamboo, the walls of the gallery create an intimate and meditative atmosphere which enhances the effects of the works. Zheng Guogu’s delicate thangka like orange creation hangs next to a wall behind which lies Gabriel Orozco’s Untitled (OROXXO) series from 2017, containing household items arranged on shelves. There is a discovery to be made around every corner.   

Lee Mingwei The Letter Writing Project 1998 © Lee Mingwei | Photo: Lok Cheng and Dan Leung, M+

A similar mood is created by Lee Mingwei’s The Letter Writing Project (1998), a part of the ‘Individual, Networks, and Expressions’ exhibit. Subtly immersive, visitors are invited to come and sit inside beautifully constructed minimalistic booths and write letters, either standing sitting or kneeling, references to Buddhist meditation poses.   

Engaging local audiences, and paying to tribute to Hong Kong’s local art history are both priorities for the museum. In total, 136 out of the 777 artists present in the collection are from Hong Kong. The exhibit Hong Kong Here and Beyond is centered around four themes, ‘Here’, ‘Identities’, ‘Places’, and ‘Beyond,’ and the curation aims to shape an understanding of the city. The presentation begins with late Tsang Tsou-choi’s (a.k.a. King of Kowloon) Untitled Pair of Doors inscribed with his signature calligraphic aesthetic and ends with Kong Khong-chang (Kongkee)’s Flower in the Mirror (2021), an animation drawing of which several visual references are intrinsic to Hong Kong.  

Installation view of Things, Spaces, Interactions in East Galleries | Photo: Lok Cheng, M+Courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

Design and architecture are emphasized, most notably in the design-focused exhibit ‘Things, Spaces, and Interactions.’ Consisting of numerous historically important pieces of furniture and models, the highlight of the show is the Kiyotomo sushi bar (1988), a life-size installation of the popular Tokyo sushi bar’s interiors (often frequented by creatives and designers) designed by Kuramata Shiro.   

Viewing art builds an appetite, and M+ has various dining options to cater to what will be undoubtedly be mass audiences. The CURATOR Creative Cafe is the designated coffeeshop, offering an ‘artsy print coffee’ where images can be imprinted onto your lattes. ADD+ all day dining overlooks the West Kowloon art park and features a predominately Asian menu. A more formal restaurant, Mosu, will be opening soon in 2022, bringing Korean cuisine to the forefront.  

With plenty to indulge in, for all the senses, the cultural potential of M+ is just waiting to be discovered.