Hong Kong opens new modern art museum under the shadow of national security

Photo Thursday of Wang Xingwei’s “New Beijing” at the “M +” museum in Hong Kong, China. Nov 11, 2021. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

Por James Pomfret

HONG KONG, Nov 11 (Reuters) – A Hong Kong cultural official declared on Thursday that freedom of expression does not take precedence over a national security law imposed by China, on the eve of the opening of a contemporary art museum it claims place the city on the world cultural map.

The billionaire M +, featuring contemporary art by prominent Chinese, Asian and Western artists, is Hong Kong’s bid to match museums like London’s Tate Modern, New York’s MoMA, and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

However, last year’s imposition by China of a sweeping national security law in what was its freest city is overshadowing the opening, as curators and artists struggle to find a balance between artistic expression and creativity. political censorship.

Earlier this year, pro-Beijing politicians and media criticized some M + works for violating national security law and inciting “hatred” against China, including a photograph of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei making an offensive gesture on Tiananmen Square.

“The opening of M + does not mean that artistic expression is above the law. It is not,” Henry Tang, director of the West Kowloon Cultural District, a new cultural center that includes the M +, told reporters.

Tang stressed that all exhibits must “comply” with national security law and that some works in his collection, including Ai’s photograph, would not be exhibited.

“I have no doubt that MoMA in New York probably has artwork in its archives that would not be exhibited today because it would not be politically acceptable in today’s environment,” Tang said.

The M + museum’s collection includes paintings, ceramics, videos and installations by artists such as the Chinese Zhang Xiaogang and the British Antony Gormley. A work by Wang Xingwei, showing a man in Beijing pedaling a bicycle cart loaded with two dead penguins, has echoes of the 1989 Tiananmen massacres.

Also on display is one of Ai’s installations, “Whitewash”, with ancient Chinese clay jugs. Despite this, Ai was critical.

“The museum is clearly censored,” Ai told Reuters by phone from Cambridge. “When you have a museum that cannot or is incapable of defending its own integrity on freedom of expression, then that raises a question. And of course, the museum cannot function well in terms of contemporary culture,” he noted.

(Additional reporting by Aleksander Solum; edited in Spanish by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)


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