"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"After two hours I’d covered about 60 percent of the exhibits. There is a lot to take in. I’ll be back."
M+ offers executed penguins, plump naked ladies, a talking crucifix and a trip down memory lane.
Hong Kong's new M+ visual arts museum is proving a roaring success. Part of the much delayed and massive West Kowloon Cultural District, the museum opened to the public on 12th November.
Intended to rival the Tate Modern, New York's MoMA and the Centre Pompidou, M+ has made a cracking start. The first two days saw over 50,000 people visit, with crowd marshalling needed to prevent a crush.
The project was scheduled for completion in 2017, so the over-run put a dent in Hong Kong's reputation for delivering such ventures on time. Erecting a large structure atop two underground rail lines is an ambitious undertaking and would never be easy. A mega-truss was necessary to hold up one side of the building, which proved tricky to install. In addition, frequent management changes, accusations of incompetence and shoddy work marred the project.
Along the way, a few reputations suffered. While M+ is open and other parts of the project, several key elements remain undelivered. In response, many commentators portrayed the West Kowloon Cultural District endeavour as an illustration of slipping standards of governance.
The setting of M+ on the southern tip of the Kowloon peninsular facing Hong Kong Island is magnificent. The juxtaposition of the harbour, park and cafes add to the package, although there is still much to be done to exploit the potential for outdoor dining.
Sadly, I regret to say that the M+ building doesn't grab me as exciting or innovative. Externally it's an inverted T, with false bamboo cladding. The adjacent Lyric Theatre construction site doesn’t help the vibe. The one redeeming feature is the massive LED system on the harbour-facing facade that makes the site visible from Hong Kong side.
Inside, the initial impression is nuclear bunker - all drab grey straight concrete lines. Do I detect a 'brutalist architecture' ambience that scarred so many 1960s new towns in the UK? Looks like it.
Yes, it is functional but not aesthetically pleasing. Because looking at it, I can't detect any special features. And before you take issue with my comments, as a taxpayer I get to rant.
After all, I helped pay for this concrete box. The initial budget was HK$5.9bn although that sum has grown considerably. Nobody is saying by how much. On a more positive note, some outer galleries use natural light to excellent effect.
Admittedly the building is a secondary consideration, and fortunately, the art is far more exhilarating. Yes, some of it wasn't to my taste; nonetheless, the range is ambitious and engaging.
Also, set aside all the nonsense around censorship since the NSL was enacted. Many in the media focused on allegations of prohibitions against anything too sensitive. Well, for starters the dead penguins reference the 1989 Tiananmen killings, and several exhibits depict the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, Mao is shown behind bars.
I’m only aware of items by Ai Weiwei that faced removal. A group of local politicians accused these pieces of "spreading hatred".
Pictures of nudity also attracted objections, although the principal prudish complainant admitted she'd not seen the exhibit. The items remain on display.
There is a variety of multi-media material. Some pieces document Hong Kong's development with intriguing contrasting clips using animation and live footage. Several of the works reflect the city’s urbanisation, with artistic interpretations of Hong Kong’s housing conditions.
A black and white film from the 1960s Beijing underground movement caught my eye. It records ordinary people's experiences of the cultural revolution without commentary. The abundance of posters and pamphlets to spread messages, sits in distinct contrast to our social media world.
I didn't get to see Antony Gormley's 'Asian Field' exhibit. This piece is an installation of tens of thousands of clay figurines created by the artist together with over 300 villagers from a Guangdong village in 2003. A 45-minute queue spoke to the popularity of this gallery.
After two hours I’d covered about 60 percent of the exhibits. There is a lot to take in. I’ll be back.
It's still early days, but I reckon M+ will prove a winner once it matures. With 17,000 m² of exhibition space the possibilities are endless. I give it a B+.
Access is easy with a 10-minute walk from Kowloon Station. But, that time should shorten once the connecting footbridge opens. In any case, there are plenty of signs to guide visitors. At the moment entry is free with an internet booking. This keeps the numbers in check otherwise I suspect the place would be swamped.
Below is a small sample of some of the art and use of space.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.