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West Kowloon Cultural District

Appreciate Palace Museum treasures and put politics aside, top Hong Kong art expert urges

Former chief curator of city’s Museum of Art calls controversy over building local version of Beijing institution in West Kowloon unfortunate

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 10:17pm

Relics from the Palace Museum are exquisite treasures of humanity that should be appreciated from all angles except politics, a top Hong Kong art expert has urged.

Tang Hoi-chiu, who was the Museum of Art’s chief curator until he retired in 2014, felt it was unfortunate the valuable objects became a subject of controversy last year when a Hong Kong version of the Beijing institution was announced for the fledgling West Kowloon Cultural District.

“They are priceless treasures that are sought after around the world and deserve to be appreciated on their own cultural and aesthetic value,” said Tang, whose translation work on a book series for the Palace Museum published last month.

Politics should not enter into one’s appreciation of the treasures
Tang Hoi-chiu, ex-curator of Museum of Art

“Those who are for or against the Palace Museum being in Hong Kong may have their points, but politics should not enter into one’s appreciation of the treasures.”

The decision-making process for the museum site in West Kowloon, which critics chastised for a lack of transparency and consultation, “does not alter the fact that they are national treasures and their presence in Hong Kong is a positive thing for the city,” he added.

Tang cited as a case in point Along the River During the Qingming Festival, a famous scroll among the 1.8 million-strong collection at the Palace Museum in Beijing. It was brought to Hong Kong for the 10th anniversary of the city’s handover to Chinese sovereignty in 2007.

“It was the first time for the five-metre scroll to be taken outside the mainland,” the former curator recalled. “Even with the State Council’s authorisation, there were last-minute hiccups such as whether it should be transported by plane or train to get to Hong Kong.”

The exhibition did not materialise in Macau, he added, and the scroll was returned to Beijing immediately after its one month in Hong Kong.

Tang, prominent in the local art scene for over 40 years, held high hopes for the city to serve as an agent of modernity in bringing a fresh appreciation of the Palace Museum’s historical treasures.

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“It is an international trend now to give traditional relics a modern interpretation and that I think is Hong Kong’s forte, to jam things old and new, East and West, producing an impact that will be different from Beijing’s,” he said.

“The Palace Museum project will further boost the art market in Hong Kong, which is the world’s third largest after New York and London, and its interplay with [planned visual culture museum] M+ and the shops on Hollywood Road that have been distributing Chinese relics would be interesting.”

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As for his recent translation work for the Palace Museum – titled Essential Collections and based on an original set of 60 in Chinese – Tang described the project as about more than producing an English guide for the 10-volume series.

“It allows me to come to know those gems from a cultural context in English, which I hope will bring about a different appreciation for those who think negatively about the Palace Museum as a symbol of an old regime,” he said.