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Saturday, Jun 03, 2023

Hong Kong’s art week success shows city’s triumphant return as a culture hub

Judging from the appetite and feedback from participants, a bright future awaits the local arts scene and Hong Kong’s ambitions to be an international cultural centre.
Hong Kong Art Week and the plethora of cultural events last month have reaffirmed that the city is back and taking centre stage in the international art world.

Museum directors from some of the world’s most highly regarded institutions, respected gallerists, renowned collectors, leading industry influencers and artists were among the assortment of visitors who travelled here to attend a wide range of public and private events.

I was overwhelmed by feedback throughout the week, with many people reaffirming that they believe Hong Kong has re-emerged on the world stage stronger and better. This is a massive vote of confidence and a strong endorsement of Hong Kong as the major art hub in Asia. And they will be coming back, with friends and family.

For the hardcore, the schedules throughout Hong Kong Art Week were demanding, with presentations, exhibition openings, private dinners, lunches, discussions and, of course, the museum summit.

For M+, it was the first real opportunity to host and welcome some of the most important and influential figures from the art world; for most, it was their first trip here since the pandemic. We were fortunate to welcome many new people to Hong Kong and particularly satisfying was their acknowledgement of M+ as a leading museum of visual culture.

This is borne out by our collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which will exhibit the Yayoi Kusama retrospective from June. Curated by M+, this is the largest Kusama exhibition in Asia outside Japan.

Reassuring, from my perspective, is the focus this attention places on the art and cultural ecosystem, and on local artists. This will lead to more opportunities for emerging artists, and collaborations and commissions.

Art and technology was evident and Hong Kong has been an early adopter of the metaverse, Web3 and blockchain technologies that are changing the interface between artists, gallerists, museums and their audiences. The M+ exhibition of Beeple’s “Human One” is the Asian premiere of a kinetic sculpture of a virtual human in the metaverse.

Arguably the most powerful example of a public digital artist commission is the work displayed on the M+ facade by Swiss experimental installation and video artist Pipilotti Rist, “Hand Me Your Trust”. It will illuminate the Hong Kong skyline every evening until May 21, between 7pm and 9pm, after which it will appear every Saturday and Sunday at the same time until June 17.

Philanthropy plays a particularly important role in the successful evolution of a truly international cultural centre. Its influence percolates throughout the ecosystem, from world-class museums, to young and emerging artists, as well as the education programmes that support creative development. The generosity of the private sector is evident in every major cultural capital.

In the build-up to, and during Hong Kong Art Week, this subject was high on the agenda. There were important forums for philanthropists, corporate donors, recipients and those providing research, advisory, legal or other related support services that enable sector and capacity development.

All of which are well established and well understood in Hong Kong. We are fortunate to have a strong tradition of philanthropy and social investment. It is the generosity of individuals and corporations that sets the example for future generations and enables us to realise the true value that art and culture bring to society.

The exceptional growth in the art market lies at the heart of the recent accelerated progression towards Hong Kong becoming an international cultural hub. But it was the vision of chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and his announcement in the 1998 policy address that brought the ambitious West Kowloon Cultural District to life. Over the years, it has had to overcome many hurdles and few people realised the positive impact, long-term benefit and transformational nature of the project on our society.

Sustained strong support from a diverse local and international base has been a cornerstone. State-of-the-art infrastructure and a complete suite of support services along with the absence of customs duties, value-added or inheritance taxes have elevated Hong Kong to second place in auction sales globally, according to figures published by the Research Office of the Legislative Council Secretariat last year.

Judging from the appetite and feedback from participants at Hong Kong Art Week, we can justifiably be considered the main artery of art and culture where East meet West, and history blends with heritage, with a sophisticated contemporary culture that belies a bright future.
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