The government appears to be setting itself up for another political blunder in seeking to cede 3,000 square metres of prime central waterfront to the People's Liberation Army.
Having created this vast new area which we had been led to believe was to be open space to be enjoyed by the public, the bureaucrats now want to rezone it as military land. There seems to be an inherent default position in this government that whenever it has an option, it does the wrong thing. True, there is an agreement to provide land 150 metres long and 20 metres deep for use by occasional visits by PLA warships for social or ceremonial visits. There is no harm in that and indeed might be fun for the public. But there is no need to cede the land to the PLA for this. As Paul Zimmerman, the chief executive of Designing Hong Kong, points out under the Public Order Ordinance, the area can be declared a temporary closed area for use by the PLA when a vessel is in town.
The government says the PLA has given an as yet unseen undertaking that the public can use the area when no vessel is in town. In which case, why doesn't the government look after the land? The explanation, according to Zimmerman, bizarre though it may seem, is that the Leisure and Cultural Services and Food and Hygiene departments do not want to clean the toilets which are built into the PLA berth, or maintain the gates. "It is a typical bureaucratic battle as government departments try to avoid management responsibility."
Zimmerman urges people to object to this folly by signing his petition at www.savecentral.hk by this evening ahead of the deadline for comments to be presented to the Town Planning Board. He has so far collected more than 13,000 signatures.
Art and the market
Hong Kong's annual art jamboree was fittingly enlivened on Friday evening with a debate staged by Intelligence Squared on the motion, "The market is the best judge of art's quality". Intelligence Squared aims to raise the level of public understanding and discussion of culture in its broadest sense.
As moderator Charles Guarino, the publisher of Artforum Magazine, observed: "In Hong Kong, of all places, the motion should stand a fair chance of success."
However, although you get the feeling sometimes that the market is believed to be the ultimate judge of everything important, the motion was resoundingly lost with 25 per cent voting in favour and 73 per cent against. Before the debate started, 20 per cent were in favour and 60 per cent against, with 20 per cent undecided.
Opening for the motion, Jeffrey Deitch, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, said the art market was not simply about buying and selling and supply and demand. "It is a complex open system that encompasses a giant web of information and disinformation and informed and misinformed opinions that influence our perceptions of quality and value." The great thing about its structure, he said, was its "freedom", in that anyone could participate.
Amy Cappellazzo, the chairman of Post-War & Contemporary Art Development at Christie's, for the motion, said the market was a better option for deciding quality than the government, or museums or even the artists themselves.
Matthew Collings, an art critic, writer, broadcaster and artist, speaking against the motion, asked: "Why has this motion arisen, why is it taken seriously?" It's because people have lost faith in the other institutions such as academia and art criticism that people used to turn to as arbiters of quality. Art criticism, he said, had become "feeble, compromised, meaningless, hasty and without any dignity".
While there are heavy thinkers, they exist in academia, and speak in a language that takes too much time to get to grips with. "No wonder then that we turn to the thing that seems like the bottom line of value." The market was one judge among many, he argued. "The need has arisen in the last couple of decades that everything must be decided by the market."
End of art
Somebody at Art Basel clearly has a sense of humour. We see that the official drink at the art fair was none other than the world's oldest established champagne house - Ruinart.