Ai Weiwei

I won't shy away from controversy, says Lynch

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 May, 2011, 12:00am


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Will the arts hub authority steer clear of controversial artists such as Ai Weiwei ? New chief Michael Lynch says no.

'The thing that characterises Hong Kong is its freedom of expression,' he said yesterday. 'Being able to express ourselves artistically should maintain a defining characteristic of Hong Kong arts organisations and artists. That's what I'll be interested in doing.

'Ai Weiwei, for instance, is an artist of established international reputation. There's absolutely no reason why we wouldn't be looking at that sort of work.'

Lynch, 60, is said to have been the best of about 40 candidates to lead the multibillion-dollar arts hub. The project is expected to be constructed in phases, with the first to open as early as 2015.

'We should have hired Mr Lynch last time, but he withdrew because of some family affairs. So, we chose Mr [Graham] Sheffield,' said one board member.

Explaining why he turned down the same job in 2009, Lynch said: 'Personal circumstances meant that it wasn't possible for me to contemplate leaving Australia, having just arrived back, so I withdrew myself from contention.' Asked if it would happen in the future, he said, 'No'.

The authority's chairman, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, said Lynch impressed him at a 2009 forum organised by businessman David Tang Wing-cheung on the arts hub project. He declined to disclose Lynch's annual salary.

But Lynch said he would be 'reasonably compensated for one of the most complex jobs in the world', and later revealed that the rumoured amount of HK$5 million a year was 'pretty close' - some HK$1.25 million more than Sheffield.

The official appointment yesterday ended a global headhunt exercise triggered in January after the abrupt departure of Sheffield, who quit on grounds of ill health after about five months in the job.

Lynch has been involved with the arts community and the film industry for over three decades, and was appointed Australian Broadcasting Corporation director in 2009. He was the head of the Sydney Opera House from 1998 to 2002. From 2002 to 2009, he was chief executive of London's Southbank Centre, where he was responsible for the transformation of the area's cultural precinct.

Experienced arts administrator Ting Yu hopes the new chief will speak regularly with art groups, in particular with Cantonese opera groups.

Legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a member of a Legislative Council group monitoring development of the West Kowloon Cultural District, urged the authority board to give Lynch a freer hand to work out plans for the cultural hub. But she noted that Lynch might lack knowledge of local or Chinese culture.

Lynch conceded that his experience with Chinese art forms was limited, but said he was familiar with the city. 'I first came to Hong Kong when I was 13. I've been here many times over the course of the past 45 years.

'I actually sailed into the harbour in 1963. And I now have an office looking out over the harbour. From my point of view, I think that I can certainly say I have enough understanding of what it's going to be like,' he said.

His wife, Chrissy Sharp, who runs the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne, will live with him in Hong Kong from around September. His three children, who all work in the arts and film industries in Australia, would visit at various times, he said.