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Hong Kong’s M+ museum opened after multiple delays on November 12. Photo: M+/West Kowloon Cultural District.
Hong Kong’s M+ museum opened after multiple delays on November 12. Photo: M+/West Kowloon Cultural District.

Hong Kong’s M+ Museum Opens Its Doors as Beijing Tightens Its Grip

Hong Kong’s eagerly awaited M+ contemporary art museum opened today, amid a very different climate than the one in which it was conceived over a decade ago. More than 76,000 people had reserved tickets to the museum in advance of its opening, according to the New York Times. Visitors to the museum, which was meant to establish firmly Hong Kong as a major arts center, were greeted by more than 1,500 works, a large number of them donated by Swiss collector Uli Sigg, whose trove of Chinese contemporary art is one of the most comprehensive in the world.

The opening of the 70,000-square-foot Herzog & de Meuron–designed institution was delayed multiple times, most recently pushed from the beginning of 2021 to June before the November 12 date was arrived at. After Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam in Mach promised to enforce China’s national security law in regard to art deemed to be a threat to the government, M+ officials, who had originally said they would not bow to Beijing’s censorship, did just that. Scrubbed from its website before the opening were Ai Weiwei’s iconic Study of Perspective: Tian’anmen, 1997, depicting the artist’s middle finger raised in close-up before Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, along with an image of Ai’s 2003 Map of China, a sculpture made from wood salvaged from Quing-dynasty temples and meant to celebrate the country’s ethnic diversity. The museum additionally announced that it would not show the former work in its inaugural exhibition.

Visitor interest in the museum points to the possibility of the hoped-for success in elevating Hong Kong’s international art-world profile, and this is supported by the recent emergence of the the city as a contemporary art capital second only to New York. Given the rapidly chilling effect of censorship, however, its status and the succcess of the museum—whose core collection features a number of works by exiled dissidents as well as works with politically provocative themes—remain in question.

“The opening of M+ does not mean that artistic expression is above the law,” Henry Tang, chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which oversees M+, told journalists at a media preview of the institution on November 11. “It is not.”

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