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M+ opens as ‘Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture’

M+ rises above Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District © Kevin Mak/Herzog & de Meuron

Following nine years of planning and construction Hong Kong’s M+ (Museum +) opened today in the newly established West Kowloon Cultural District.

Architects Herzog & de Meuron have orchestrated the development of the museum, part of a new cultural district, which has emerged from reclaimed land in the city’s Victoria Harbour.

Above all, M+ is a public forum, a built platform for the exchange, encounter and activity of people and art

Herzog & de Meuron

The M+ has a global collection of visual art, design, architecture and moving images from Hong Kong, Greater China, Asia and further afield. The opening presentations showcase approximately 1,500 works across 33 galleries organised into six thematic narratives.

A new kind of museum but with strict censorship laws

M+ offers wide-open spaces and multiple entrances to encourage a sense of openness to the surrounding environment © Herzog & de Meuron

M+ has marketed itself as a new kind of museum that reflects ‘our unique time and place, a museum that builds on Hong Kong’s historic balance of the local and the international to define a distinctive and innovative voice for Asia’s 21st century’.

This is true in many senses but perhaps most poignantly because of the National Security Law for Hong Kong passed by the Chinese Government last summer – a legal framework to ensure challenges to its authority can be dealt with effectively.

The opening presentations showcase approximately 1,500 works © Herzog & de Meuron

This has affected M+ directly as some politicians have alleged that certain works in the museum’s collection violated the law. In one particular case an Ai Weiwei artwork was accused of ‘spreading hatred against China’ and was removed it from the M+ website with the artist stating that M+ cannot achieve its ambition of becoming a world-class cultural facility if it is subject to such censorship.

Future of the art museum in Asia

Despite this, M+ Museum Director Suhanya Raffel said he firmly believed that the future history of the art museum will be written to a significant degree in Asia. “Few institutions will be more pivotal to that story than M+, a brand new centre for visual culture and a world-class landmark for a great international city. M+ delivers the stories from our part of the world, told by voices participating in and influencing the global conversation.”

The M+ building is composed of a tower raised atop a square podium © Herzog & de Meuron

The M+ building is composed of a tower raised atop a square podium complete with a sequence of exhibition and display spaces and roof garden. The terracotta tile-clad tower, which rises from the centre of the podium, includes a research centre, offices, restaurants and the members’ lounge with panoramic views of the harbour.

With multiple entrances to the building, the museum has created a porous system of spaces that it says will encourage a sense of openness to the surrounding environment.

The museum has used custom-designed cladding on its facade, inspired by traditional Chinese roofs, and differently textured wood and concrete used across the museum’s interiors which give both a natural but industrial feel.

The M+ rises above the Kowloon Metro Station © Herzog & de Meuron

A new institution of visual culture and art

“M+ expresses a vision for a new institution of visual culture and art for Hong Kong and the world,” said herzog de meuron. “Rooted in the ground, above a train tunnel, the building rises up to the sky with its face towards the city. It will speak a powerful, yet poetic language of art.

“A cultural centre for 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture and the moving image, M+ embraces the entire spectrum of spaces, means of display and activities related to exhibiting and viewing these media. Above all, M+ is a public forum, a built platform for the exchange, encounter and activity of people and art.”

The six opening exhibitions:

M+ comprises 33 galleries © Kevin Mak/Herzog & de Meuron

  • Hong Kong: Here and Beyond (G, Main Hall Gallery) – divided into four chapters, Here, Identities, Places and Beyond, the exhibition captures the city’s transformation and unique visual culture from the 1960s to the present;
  • M+ Sigg Collection: From Revolution to Globalisation (level 2, Sigg Galleries) – a chronological survey of the development of contemporary Chinese art from the 1970s through the 2000s drawn from the M+ Sigg Collection;
  • Things, Spaces, Interactions (level 2, East Galleries) – a thematic and chronological exploration of international design and architecture over the last seventy years and their relevance to our lives today;
  • Individuals, Networks, Expressions (level 2, South Galleries) – a narrative of post-war international visual art told from the perspective of Asia;
  • Antony Gormley: Asian Field (level 2, West Gallery) – an expansive installation of tens of thousands of clay figurines created by the world-renowned British sculptor together with 300 villagers from a Guangdong village in five days in 2003, reflecting the country’s vast territory and population; and
  • The Dream of the Museum (level 2, Courtyard Galleries) – a global constellation of conceptual art practices at the heart of M+’s unique Asian context.

‘M+ embraces the entire spectrum of spaces’ © Herzog & de Meuron

Upon entering the Main Hall visitors will encounter new additional commissions by Taiwan’s leading calligraphy artist Tong Yang-Tze, and the Donor Wall Texture, a digital composition of text displayed on an LED screen by acclaimed Japan’s designer Nakamura Yugo.

In the Found Space, M+’s subterranean display space for large-scale multidisciplinary works, the first in a dynamic series of installations will present the work of artists Chen Zhen and Danh Vo.

A new M+ Commission by Haegue Yang features long braids of metal bells that hang from ceilings of different heights. Video highlights from the collection and a ten-part animation How to Build a Museum by Vincent Broquaire are featured on the M+ Facade.

All visitors will enjoy free admission to M+ exhibitions, except for special exhibitions and events, in the first 12 months after the opening date.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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