Incoming West Kowloon museum curator vows to be 'politically incorrect'

Incoming museum supremo vows to push back against those who would neuter provocative art

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 5:51am

Censorship has no place in at ideas places like venues such as museums, which should stimulate people to think for themselves, says a top New York curator who is due to join Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District’s visual culture museum.

Korean-born Doryun Chong, currently an associate curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, who will join M+ as chief curator, and says he will not succumb to pressure from politicians warning the visual culture museum not to confuse art and politics.

A museum should be a place where a variety of ideas can be provoked and discussed, even ideas that are perceived as dangerous. Art is not just pleasure for your eyes. Your conscience changes through experiencing art]

“If I were to say yes, [M+] should withdraw the offer,” said the award-winning 40-year-old curator, in response to much criticised remarks by pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Kam-lam ‘s at the Legislative Council.

“A museum should be a place where a variety of ideas can be provoked and discussed, even ideas that are perceived as dangerous,” he said.

“Art is not just pleasure for your eyes. Your conscience changes through experiencing art].”

Chong’s appointment as M+’s chief curator was announced yesterday, after a search to fill the position that has taken nearly three years.Rumour had it that Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo’s chief curator, Yuko Hasegawa, formerly a former board member of the West Kowloon Cultural District, had once been tipped for the job. Hong Kong talents are simply out of the question as few have had prolonged experience of working at world-class cultural institutions or museums.

A “talented” curator, according to The New Yorker, Chong moved to the US when he was 18 and studied art history at the University of California at Berkeley. He took a post at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco in 1999 and worked at the Walker Art Centre’s visual arts department in Minneapolis for six years before moving to MoMA. He also co-ordinated the South Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001.

Chong has dealt with Asian contemporary art constantly throughout his career in the US, including the acclaimed exhibition “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde” at MoMA last year.

Mainland artist Song Dong mentioned Chong in his “36 Calendars” exhibition earlier this year, saying that Chong he knew a lot of Chinese characters and praising him for his interpretation of the work of French-Chinese avant-garde artist Huang Yong-ping, which earned him the inaugural Independent Vision Award from art body Independent Curators International in 2010.

Chong said the vision behind M+ was in line with his own practice.

“[It] is meant to be an … international and cosmopolitan institution, while never losing sight of its rootedness,” he said.

“I think of the region and all the countries in different realities, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong or China in comparative sense, the connections and the differences.”

Despite working at the painting and sculpture department at MoMA, Chong said he was receptive towards various forms of visual culture ranging from visual arts to performance and moving image. In response to localism criticisms against West Kowloon appointments, Chong said he was “not completely ignorant” about Hong Kong. As a matter of fact, he grew up with Hong Kong popular culture in the 1980s, particularly Hong Kong cinema because of the South Korean internal conflicts with cultural imports from America, Japan and communism.

“Hong Kong cinema was this vision of popular culture, an advanced culture,” said Chong, who liked a range of films from John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow to Wong Kar-wai’s early films and Infernal Affairs.

Chong will take up the position in the second half of September. He said familiarising himself with the community and the public will be his priority.