If you look at what we have achieved to date I think it almost is an answer enough – the team we have built (and continue to build), the first 2500 works in the collection, where we are with the architecture competition and the various programmes and exhibitions we have presented: the impact has been extraordinary. The debate about contemporary art in wider circles in HK society has almost exploded – the level of recognition both locally and internationally of what we are doing is much higher than we could ever dream of. In principle, I can say that the results we are achieving exceed all our expectations and with still four and a half year to go. But perhaps I should add that the amount of work it takes to reach these results also exceeds all expectations...
Of course! But it is important to remember that this only is one aspect of a much more complex ecology. It is important for Hong Kong to develop its non-commercial sides.
M+ was sounded out by ADC – the Hong Kong Arts Development Council – who are the commissioners for Hong Kong’s participation at the Venice Biennale. We were asked if we could consider taking on the curatorial responsibility for the 2013 exhibition. We thought about it and came to the conclusion that even though we already may have more than enough on our plate – building a collection, a building for the museum, and doing programmes in Hong Kong – it was almost a responsibility to do it. It is important for Hong Kong artists that they get the most out of the Venice participation and we have the experience, expertise, contacts and resources to do it well. After this invitation, we made two presentations for the ADC, who, – after discussion – handed us the curatorial responsibility for the 2013 participation. Yes, there were pretty stormy discussions afterwards, driven by a number of quite different interests and concerns, but I am absolutely convinced that ADC did the right thing.
The choice of Lee Kit was driven by the fact that he is one of a handful Hong Kong artists who fit the criteria that were set up and who had not already exhibited in Venice. But also, he is an artist that I, as the chosen lead curator, had an active interest in. This was a normal curatorial decision, where location, timing and passion, all come together. The proposal for Kit’s exhibition was more a formality and it is not very detailed – it just outlines Kit’s artistic position without going into details. The way Lee Kit works is quite site-specific and he really treats the actual space as an empty canvas, to use a somewhat worn metaphor. Right now, the exhibition is taking shape – on site.
The challenge for anyone with the kind of low key and intimate tone that Lee Kit has in a place like Venice is of course how to get people’s attention when the noise level is so high. I think he will benefit from the fact that the Hong Kong exhibition space, though amazingly centrally located, is a bit secluded. It is possible to shift the viewer’s focus there. Kit also benefits from the fact that he is the only exhibitor in the space – he can establish a unique atmosphere or ambience in the space.
I think there are many reasons for this tendency in his generation – even though one should be especially careful to talk about tendencies in HK art – it is very easy to find artists there who do not fit the bill. But I think one, relatively direct reason is related to a sort of protest against the rational, consumerist, utilitarian sentiment that permeates the Hong Kong society. There are already many other positions in the contemporary art scene in Hong Kong and I am certain that we will see other surprising developments in the coming years – more rapidly than ever, given the dynamic situation we have at the moment.
Yung Ma is an amazing young curator, and it is a true privilege to work together with him. We also recruited a special assistant curator for the Venice project, Mia Fong, who also turned out to be a true star. Then there are the new exhibition interns and technical interns, who have just started to get involved. I think it is important for the future development of the Hong Kong scene that we can build up a pool of curators and other museum staff with experience and who have worked on an international level. I personally love to share my experience with them!
Still. Sunny. Melancholic. Loose and Precise. - [O]
Lars Nittve was in conversation with Stephanie Bailey