After much controversy, a delay which has counted in years and a budget which has soared, M +, the immense museum of contemporary visual arts in Hong Kong, designed and built by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, has ended up opening in mid-November. Some 76,000 people flocked on the first day, more than 1% of the local population. And the museum, which dominates the seafront with its impressive tower covered with terracotta tiles and its giant screen on the southern facade, has just recorded 250,000 admissions in one month.
This popular success is all the more remarkable as the “international city of Asia” (« Asia’s World City ») has been completely cut off from the world by the pandemic for more than a year, with crippling quarantine conditions imposed on everyone who arrives. As a result, Hong Kong people have M + to themselves. And they appreciate it. Even during the week, columns of rather young visitors throng, in tight rows, at the entrance to the museum. The new establishment had to make an online reservation, and it is exclusively by presenting a QR code received on his mobile that one can enter the immense hall, which has the air of a modern airport with its large escalators, open terraces, mezzanine floors and a view of Hong Kong Bay.
« Until now, you had to fly to see such works », Says Nina Lam, a retired civil servant, enthusiastic on the evening of her second visit, of a whole day. She did not expect to be taken by this feeling of drunkenness offered by the abundance of collections. With 65,000 m2 exhibition and around 8,000 works, M + had, from its inception, the ambition to establish itself among the largest museums in the world. The establishment wanted to be the benchmark contemporary art museum in Asia, with an Asian focus on the works and artists exhibited and a sweep of all the visual arts: paintings, installations, sculptures, photographs, videos, but also architecture, design. etc. The exceptional donation in 2012 by Swiss collector Uli Sigg of nearly 1,500 works by 350 contemporary Chinese artists has given M + enormous credibility.
The art of criticism
It must be said that the museum comes at a strange moment in the history of the Small Special Administrative Region of China. Times have changed dramatically not only since the project was conceived in 1996, but also since the appointment, just five years ago, of the current director of the museum, the Australian of Sri Lankan origin Suhanya Raffel. Hong Kong is indeed experiencing the most virulent security tightening in its history. The entry into force, eighteen months ago, of a law on national security, which stands above all local laws guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, especially of expression, is a challenge for all citizens, and in particular artists. With a nagging question: will M + have the freedom essential to the development of a true cultural project?
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In Hong Kong, the huge M + contemporary arts museum finally opened