For the arts in Hong Kong, 2015 was year of firsts, friction, departures and delay

The M+ Museum of Visual Culture at the future arts hub was delayed again, and both museum and hub lost key leaders; the MTR was accused of bullying musicians, and China’s slowdown hit auctions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 8:00am

2015 has been an eventful year for the city’s art scene. The future M+ museum made the biggest headlines for a series of unsettling developments. The MTR Corporation drew fire for its cackhanded approach to commuting musicians. And then there was the not so unexpected correction in the auction markets. There were some bright spots, too, courtesy of some of the city’s most persistent art promoter.

1: M+ opening delayed, again

The future museum for visual culture promises to be the best museum Hong Kong’s ever seen ... when it eventually opens. In May, M+ announced that the museum building “should be” ready in the fourth quarter of 2018, with a public opening of the venue set for late 2019, which is some two years later than originally scheduled. Meanwhile, Asia’s other aspiring art hub wows the world with its new national gallery.

Read the news report on M+ here.

2: Lars Nittve to step down as executive director of M+

Next month, Lars Nittve is leaving Hong Kong and M+, the institution he has done so much to lay the foundations for. He will stay on as a consultant, but the founding director of the Tate Modern museum leaves big shoes to fill.

Here, he tells the SCMP why he’s leaving.

3. MTR booed for bullying local musicians

The Mass Transit Railway became embroiled in a new public relations nightmare after it was revealed that it barred students from carrying their musical instruments onto trains. Reacting to the massive outcry that followed the initial news reports, the corporate introduced a trial scheme that allows pre-registered passengers to travel with larger instruments.

Read the story that sparked the controversy here.

4. Duncan Pescod replaces Michael Lynch as CEO of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority

The former housing chief was promoted from chief operating officer of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority to the top job after Michael Lynch left in August, becoming the delayed and over-budget project’s third chief executive in six years. His main strength: he knows how the government works and he knows how to put up buildings. His main weakness: Zero experience in cultural management. It’s a tough job, as Lynch explained on his last day.

Read about Pescod’s appointment here.

5. Legco gives go-ahead for East Kowloon Cultural Centre

On the other side of Kowloon, the government’s finally starting work on a new $4.1 billion cultural hub. The East Kowloon Cultural Centre will have five venues, including a 1,200-seat multi-purpose hall and a 550-seat theatre, plus three smaller halls of 120 to 250 seats for music, drama and dance. It should open in 2021.

Read about the project here.

6. Antony Gormley’s rooftop statues appear in Hong Kong

Life-size nude statues modelled on British sculptor Antony Gormley are peering over Hong Kong commuters from the top of building in Central and Admiralty. Supporters claim that the project, called “Event Horizon”, will spur the development of public art in Hong Kong. Opponents say it is not sensitive to the city’s high rate of suicide by jumping.

Here’s our interview with Gormley and you can read about the controversy here.

7. Tobias Berger quits M+ for Central Police Station

Tobias Berger has left M+ to head the art element of the revitalised Central Police Station, the lavishly restored building cluster in the heart of Central. A well-known face in local art circles, Berger was curator for visual arts at M+ for four years until the Jockey Club, which operates the Central Police Station, poached him in April. And before that, he was executive director and curator of Para/Site Art Space.

Read the news story here.

8. Impact of China’s economic woes shows through in auctions

It was inevitable that auction turnover, as well as Macau gaming revenue and luxury spending, would all suffer when the one economy that has fuelled their phenomenal growth in recent years slows down. We saw signs of that in some of the autumn auctions in Hong Kong this year.

But there were exceptions. Local art collector Joseph Lau Luen-hung, the former chairman of Chinese Estates Holdings who is wanted in Macau for bribery, set a new world record for a gemstone sold at auction by paying 48.6 million Swiss francs (US$48.4 million) for the 12.03 carat “Blue Moon Diamond”. He has renamed it after his seven-year-old daughter Josephine.

Read the news story here.

9. New art fairs still popping up

Economic uncertainties will continue to plague the art market in 2016, but a number of indefatigable entrepreneurs still managed to launch a number of art fairs in Hong Kong. Here’s what we wrote about Art Central, and here’s a piece on the revival in ink art that’s prompted the launch of Ink Asia.

10. Yip Wing-sie given top honour from French president

Yip Wing-sie, music director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, became the first local conductor to be awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite, or “Knighthood of the National Order of Merit”. This is an award from the French president to recognise her efforts to promote bilateral cultural exchange over decades.

Here’s the story.