Hong Kong row over Venice Biennale project

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 3:26am

A row in the Hong Kong art world over the city's representation at the 55th Venice Biennale next year has erupted into fury.

On Wednesday night, the management of the Arts Development Council (ADC) and West Kowloon arts hub museum M+ attended an open forum in an effort to resolve the dispute.

However, rather than being an exchange of views to better understand the differing perspectives among some 100 attendees at the Fringe Club theatre, things got sour.

Not only was the council severely criticised for operating "within a black box", the decision to put M+ executive director Lars Nittve in charge of the Hong Kong pavilion was attacked.

"There was so much anger," said one shocked expat gallery owner attending the forum. He also said there was a lot of distrust and insecurity within the local arts community.

The trouble began in June when the ADC announced its Venice partnership with M+ and named Nittve lead curator.

Ever since Hong Kong's first appearance at the biennale, the curator has been chosen after an open invitation for proposals.

Furthermore, homegrown artist Lee Kit was chosen as the sole representative for the city next year. A group of local artists and curators petitioned against the decisions, criticising the lack of consultation. Some ADC members said they had not even been properly consulted before the decision was made.

ADC chairman Wilfred Wong Ying-wai and chief executive Chow Yung-ping said on Wednesday that the topic was discussed at two council meetings and the decision was made unanimously.

Nittve explained he was acting as a result of the ADC's invitation, and said his team was passionate about their choice of Lee, who was an exceptional artist.

On the row, Nittve added: "We shouldn't confuse our longing for political democracy with artistic democracy."

M+ has doubled the budget for the biennale by adding HK$5 million. In response to a question about whether M+ had bought its partnership rather than being chosen for its expertise, Nittve said: "It's close to an insult."

Wong said if the arts community was not happy with the ADC, it had a chance to act at its next election. But among the 27 council members, only 10 were elected by the arts community. The rest of the council members were appointed by the government.

"Why does the ADC always make problematic decisions," asked artist Chow Chun-fai.

The ADC said it was conducting a review of its election system.