Hong Kong should adopt an open selection process for its entry in Venice Biennale

Vivienne Chow calls on the Arts Development Council and M+ to heed pleas to set up an independent panel to choose artists for arguably the most important art event in the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 8:31pm

Recently, my social media page was flooded with congratulatory messages. Not for me, but with posts from the arts community for Hong Kong artist Samson Young, who has been selected to represent the city at the Venice Biennale next year. The arts community is generally delighted that the Princeton-educated sound artist and a rising star of the international arts scene is the third person to be picked by the Arts Development Council and M+ for arguably the most important art event in the world.

This is all in stark contrast to 2012, when the council decided to scrap an open call for proposals and team up with M+, the visual culture museum due to open in the West Kowloon Cultural District, to organise the city’s participation, doubling the budget to HK$10 million along the way.

Hong Kong row over Venice Biennale project

The move caused outrage among the local arts community, which criticised the council and M+ for dictating the selection process without consulting them properly, and also the lack of a professional panel to take charge of the selection process. Some artists and cultural workers hit out at the management of the council and M+ in a forum.

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The criticism subsided after the successful 2013 presentation of Lee Kit, followed by the 2015 show by Tsang Kin-wah. The 2013 exhibition attracted more than 60,000 visitors while last year’s drew more than 82,000. The two shows also earned a great deal of international media coverage.

Success, however, does not equal procedural justice. Unlike Hong Kong’s, the Venice pavilions for countries such as Australia, Singapore, Germany and the UK are decided by a panel comprising well-regarded curators, museum directors and art critics.

The Arts Development Council is aware of this. A report released in January stated that a survey among local artists, curators and other members of the arts sector favoured transparency and wanted a professional panel to be involved in the Venice presentation selection process. The report also recommended inviting major and medium-sized arts institutions to produce the show.

But the council rejected these demands, citing a tight schedule and lack of manpower to handle the 2017 show.

By 2019, when the next Hong Kong show will take place at the Venice Biennale, M+ should be open and the refurbishing of the Museum of Art will be completed. The art space at Tai Kwun – the historic Central Police Station compound – should also be ready. If Hong Kong is serious about its art development, the decision for the city’s showcase in Venice should be taken more seriously, with greater transparency and respect shown to the community.

Vivienne Chow is a journalist and writer based in Hong Kong