Opening of M+ museum in cultural district delayed until 2019

Visual culture museum at West Kowloon Cultural District now likely to open in 2019, two years behind original schedule, after design wrangles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 3:21am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2015, 4:33am

The West Kowloon Cultural District's visual culture museum, M+, faces more setbacks after the opening date for the venue was pushed back once again and a key member of the curatorial team resigned.

The building that will house the museum is now scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018, with a public opening of the venue set for late 2019, some two years later than originally scheduled.

But despite the delays, museum head Lars Nittve says that at the end of it all, Hong Kong will have a cultural institution to rival the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, which houses the largest modern-art gallery in Europe.

"It's taking longer than originally planned. Taking everything we know into account, this is a realistic timetable," said Nittve, the museum's executive director, in Venice. A team from M+ is presenting a solo exhibition by Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-wah at the city's Biennale.

The museum, one of the first facilities at the long-awaited culture hub, will house 60,000 square metres of floor space and is expected to cost HK$5 billion by completion. After a delay in funding due to filibustering by lawmakers, and wrangling over the final design, the new timetable had been set by construction managers, Nittve said.

A 21-member curatorial team is researching and building a collection for the museum consisting of visual art, architecture, design and moving images, while also working on exhibition programmes. The museum has staged pre-opening exhibitions at venues around Hong Kong. A Mobile M+ exhibition was expected to take place in the fourth quarter of this year, said Doryun Chong, M+'s chief curator.

Nittve, an internationally known museum director who has worked for the Tate Modern in London and Moderna Museet in Stockholm, said M+ was the most difficult project he ever worked on.

Alfred Pacquement, the former director of Centre Georges Pompidou, has also described M+ as being "the most ambitious, complex and challenging museum project since the Centre Pompidou", according to Nittve.

"Pompidou opened in 1977. It was not only big, it also tried to push the envelope of what a museum should be," said Nittve, who has been in charge of M+ for four-and-a-half years.

Speaking about M+, Nittve said: "Conceptually it is quite groundbreaking, and it's very complex and challenging." He said developing the Tate Modern, where he was director, was easier, as it was founded by an organisation with a long history.

"In Hong Kong, you have to prove your case with everything you do because there are very few models of reference except the [Leisure and Cultural Services Department] model," he said.

West Kowloon Cultural District Authority chief executive Michael Lynch resigned in February and will step down in August. Nittve said the M+ project is fairly self-contained and that he did not expect Lynch's departure to have dramatic consequences for its development.

"But you don't know who's going to come afterwards and what consequences it will have."

A senior curator on the team, Tobias Berger, has also left the project - the first curator to leave M+ - to become the head of art for the Central Police Station revitalisation project. Nittve said Berger's departure was a loss for the museum but a plus for Hong Kong, as the police station project would play a key role in Hong Kong's cultural landscape.

He said he would not be surprised to see some junior curators moving on to work for other organisations in Hong Kong in the future after working with the experienced team at M+.

"That's part of our job - to grow the capacity for the arts in Hong Kong," he said.

Nittve also discussed whether he would remain in his job until the museum's opening in 2019.

"I make no promises. My intention is to stay. I have no plans to stay after the opening. When the museum opens, I will just stay a couple of months to hand it over to someone. I have no intention of running it."