A Museum of a new kind
On 12 November 2021, after ten years of planning, building, acquisition and curation, M+ will open to the public. Not only the long-awaited museum is a fantastic news for Hong Kong, but it is also a great addition to the region and to the world, as M+ will be the first of a new generation of large-scale museums centering not only on traditional art, but more broadly on visual culture, with a particular focus on the last and current centuries.
With 17,000 square metres of exhibition space across 33 galleries, 3 cinemas, a mediatheque, and research facilities, the museum ambitions to be the region’s and one of the world’s leading institutions for collecting, exhibiting and interpreting visual art, design and architecture, moving images of the 20th and 21st centuries. Probably the most emblematic building of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the museum intends to build on Hong Kong’s historic balance of the local and the international to define a distinctive and innovative voice for Asia’s twenty-first century. In this respect, and for the first time, a strong focus is put on Hong Kong visual culture, with a large collection of works and archives from the local talents.
A premiere as well is the announcement that access to the museum will be completely free for Hong Kong residents as well as worldwide visitors for the first 12 months.
A very large and unique offering
M+ is home to four permanent collections that are rooted in Asia but defined, developed, and examined from a global perspective. An acquiring institution in constant development, M+ has to date amassed over 7,900 artworks, and over 48,000 printed and archive materials.
- The main one, the M+ Collection, is an interdisciplinary collection of visual culture that span from visual arts to design, architecture and moving images, with a unique core collection of works from Hong Kong, mainland China, elsewhere in Asia and beyond, from 1895 to current time. The thematic area of Hong Kong visual culture brings together material from across disciplines, acknowledging M+’s home city as a framework for interpretation.
- The M+ Sigg Collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world. It is composed as an extraction from Swiss collector Uli Sigg’s private collection, which has been documenting the development of contemporary art, with a focus on Chinese art, since the early 1990s. The 1,510 items from 1972 to 2012 include some of the earliest works by the No Name Group and the Stars Art Group— two underground art collectives that are considered to be precursors of contemporary art in China.
- The M+ Library Special Collection of over 440 items addresses printed material as a key creative medium and alternative art practice in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
- Lastly, and quite uniquely, the M+ Collection Archives is a repository of over 48,000 valuable primary documents that lends deeper insights into the creative processes of artists and makers, primarily based in Hong Kong and Asia.
As a museum of the 21st century, M+ has already made available online, for researchers as well as for the general public, over 8,458 items from its collection. The museum is also publishing a digital online M+ magazine.
What’s in store for the opening?
M+ will open with six exhibitions, two of which will be major presentations from the museum’s collection, on view for almost a year:
- Hong Kong: Here and Beyond 香港：此地彼方 will explore the visual culture of Hong Kong through multiple and intersecting perspectives, mirroring the dynamism of the city itself.
- From Revolution to Globalisation/ M+希克藏品：從大革命到全球化 will present a selection of artworks from the M+ Sigg Collection of Chinese contemporary art, portraying the cultural dynamism of China from the early 1970s to the present, as well as the ways international audiences are understanding current China.
Centered around Asia, and with focus on the various artistic disciplines, three other exhibitions will explore and illustrate history of art, design and architecture over the past decades.
- Individuals, Networks, Expressions 個體 源流 · 表現 traces the history and evolution of art in the last fifty years, across all Asia.
- Focusing on design objects, architecture and graphic arts, Things, Spaces, Interactions 物件 空間 · 互動 presents over 500 pieces and their influence in the past seventy years in Asia and in the world.
- The Dream of the Museum博物館之夢 discusses a fundamental shift in art, with the birth of conceptual art in the 1960s. Beginning with four pioneers—Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Yoko Ono, and Nam June Paik– the exhibition will bring together 27 artists from across geographies and generations in exploring chance and found objects as the source of their art.
Lastly, the monumental installation of British artist Antony Gormley Asian Field 安東尼．葛姆雷：亞洲土地 will display around 200,000 clay figurines made over five days by 300 people of all ages from Xiangshan village (now Huadong Town in Guangzhou city). Jointly, the work of photographer Zhang Hai’er will present the makers together with their figurines, in a documentation of the process.
In addition to the main exhibition galleries, M+ will present a series of commissions and displays throughout its public spaces, including the M+ Facade, the Grand Stair, the Studio, the Roof Garden, and the Found Space.
An architecture unique in the world, yet very Hong Kong
The main project of the Hong Kong cultural policy for the past two decades, M+ had to the be museum of all superlatives. The current M+ building is located on land that was reclaimed from the harbour between 1990 and 2003— one of the largest reclamation projects ever undertaken by the city, which increased the size of the Kowloon peninsula by one third and extended the waterfront by nearly one kilometre.
The overall 65,000m² site houses 17,000 square metres of exhibition space across 33 galleries, 3 cinemas, a mediatheque, a learning hub, research centre and offices. In addition to all these cultural facilities, visitors car find a shop, restaurants and a spectacular roof garden that faces Victoria Harbour.
The building was designed and build by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron in partnership with TFP Farrells and Arup from a worldwide competition launched in 2009. One of the main reason for the choice of this project was the integration of the Airport Express structure in the underground, not as a constraint but as a strength for the entire site. In this respect, the architects have created the “Found Space”, a cavernous exhibition space that was excavated along the contours of the Airport Express railway tunnel, which offers a very deep layered open area that extends across multiple floors.
While the overall aesthetic of the site is resolutely minimalist and industrial, Herzog & de Meuron have paid tribute to Hong Kong and the traditional Chinese architecture by integrating a modular terracotta cladding system that covers the building’s facade and various sections of the ground floor.
The glazed ceramic tiles of the M+ building are made from a special clay mixture that was extruded through a mould in a ceramic factory in Chianti, Italy. With a very typical green hue, the cladding at the main entrance clearly references bamboos as much as traditional Chinese roofs.
Respectful of history but turned to the future and the new technologies and media, the south façade incorporates a hybrid 65.8-metre-high and 110-metre-wide LED-display system that allows viewers to encounter collection works and digital commissions from many points in the city. Intertwined with over 423,000 glazed terracotta tiles, the M+ Facade, which operates from 6pm to 11pm every night, acts as a visual amplification of M+ programmes and accentuates the museum’s connection with the urban landscape facing Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island.