Hong Kong opens new modern art museum under national security cloud

HONG KONG, Nov 11 (Reuters) – A senior Hong Kong cultural official said on Thursday that freedom of speech was not above a national security law imposed by China on the eve of the opening of a contemporary art museum intended to put the city on the world cultural map.

The multibillion-dollar M+, showcasing contemporary artwork by leading Chinese, Asian and Western artists, is Hong Kong’s bid to match museums like the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York and the Center Pompidou in Paris.

But China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law last year on its once-freest city casts a veil over openness, as conservatives and artists struggle to balance the artistic expression and political censorship.

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Earlier this year, pro-Beijing politicians and media slammed some M+ artwork for violating national security law and inciting ‘hate’ against China, including a photograph by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei , doing the middle finger in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

“The opening of M+ does not mean that artistic expression is above the law. It is not,” Henry Tang, the head of West Kowloon’s cultural district, a new hub, told reporters. cultural which includes M+.

Tang stressed that all exhibits must “comply” with national security law and that some works from their collection, including the disputed photograph of Ai, would not be displayed.

“I have no doubt that New York’s MoMA probably has artwork in its archives that wouldn’t be on display today because it wouldn’t be politically acceptable in the current environment,” Tang said.

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

One of Ai’s installations, “Whitewash”, is also on display, featuring ancient Chinese terracotta jars.

Despite this, Ai remained critical.

“The museum is clearly under censorship,” Ai told Reuters by phone from Cambridge, where he is now based.

“When you have a museum that can’t or is unable to stand up for its own integrity when it comes to freedom of expression, that raises a question. And certainly the museum can’t perform well in terms of contemporary culture,” he said. -he declares.

Kacey Wong, a Hong Kong artist who moved to Taiwan to escape an intense political crackdown that saw democracy activists jailed and civil society crushed, says he was forced to leave to keep his “critical blade sharpened”.

Two of his works are exhibited at M+ including “Paddling Home”, an art installation of a boat with an integrated “micro house”. A white naval officer’s uniform he once wore now hangs alongside, serving as a metaphor for his exile, he said.

“A museum can be, of course, a celebratory platform for the arts,” Wong told Reuters from Taiwan. “But it can also be a tool for authorities to bury the art forever.”

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Additional reporting by Aleksander Solum; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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Mildred D. Field