Rubber Duck

Blow-ups inflate the debate on what defines art

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 4:16am

Tens of thousands of people have flooded into Harbour City to catch a glimpse of the giant rubber duck, with many posting pictures of the inflatable artwork online.

But does taking pictures of the duck give one a meaningful art experience? M+ Museum's executive director Lars Nittve has this to say: "Lots of people take pictures of Donald Duck, too. But that doesn't help you to understand it better."

The chief of the contemporary visual culture museum to be built in West Kowloon made the remark after announcing that "Inflation!", a free exhibition of six giant inflatables, had drawn 140,000 visitors. The event ends its seven-week run tomorrow.

The display on the West Kowloon promenade - which includes US artist Paul McCarthy's poo sculpture called Complex Pile - coincided with the visit of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck at Harbour City.

Both artworks were popular with fans, but also had their share of critics. The poo sculpture was just disgusting, some said, while others said the duck was nothing more than an enlarged version of the children's bath toy. "It's an important moment for art life in Hong Kong," said Nittve. "The public has started to think about what is art and what isn't."

For the museum chief, the answer is simple - anything by an artist who has undergone art training is considered art. So, clearly both McCarthy's and Hofman's work pass the test.

But the more important question is what makes good and meaningful art, Nittve said. "Good art is something that makes you think twice, something you can't formulate in any other way. Something you can talk about may not be good art."

Nittve said he did not think that the duck overshadowed the West Kowloon works.

It was unexpected and hilarious that they were displayed during the same period, he said, but that also offered two examples of art on different ends of a scale for public debate.

"Some think art should just be nice and cute and cuddly. Others ask for something more in art."

M+ plans to organise more mobile activities before it moves into its permanent building in 2017. An exhibition showcasing the museum's architectural design will take place this summer.