Oct 17 2012

Hong Kong Art Community Lambasts Venice Decision

by Noelle Bodick

Speakers at the public forum called “We Want the Truth” at the Fringe Club, Hong Kong, on October 3. Courtesy forum organizers.

The Fringe Club’s Underground Theatre, in Central, was an all too appropriate venue for the scalding drama staged earlier this month by members of the Hong Kong art community.

Dozens of concerned curators and artists attended the public forum, “We Want the Truth,” which addressed the Hong Kong Arts Development Council’s (ADC) partnering with the West Kowloon art museum M+ to curate the national pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious art event.

Since the announcement of the cooperative effort in June, the ADC has been criticized for bypassing existing protocol that openly invited curators to submit proposals. Attendees of the forum cited the M+ collaboration as a case of procedural injustice and professional elitism in which the elected ADC board made decisions in “a black box.”

In his opening statement, Wilfred Wong, chairman of the ADC, stressed that M+’s curatorial role was a trial and would in the future be subject to the same evaluation procedures as previous Biennales. 

Wong considered this collaborative experiment entirely worthwhile given the international art world experience Lars Nittve, director of M+, offers the curitorial team. The Swedish Nittve, who has directed modern art museums in Stockholm, London and Copenhagen, will act as head curator of the Hong Kong pavilion.

“We shall not confuse our longing for political democracy with artistic democracy,” Nittve said in his opening presentation. He asked the community to trust international art experts to successfully execute this international event.

After Nittve’s address, the forum quickly descended into an ill-mannered affair. A man seated in the back of the room stamped his patent leather shoes to express disagreement with Wong. While Nittve fielded a question, another attendee clapped his hands for long, awkward minutes on end. 

The forum’s tone became increasingly vicious when an individual issued the churlish complaint that M+ bought its way in with the ADC, as the museum’s cooperation doubled the pavilion budget. Even Nittve’s foreign nationality was subject to criticism. Between answers, audience members spewed insults in Cantonese at the English-speaking Nittve who remained composed despite the biting censure.

The event mediator concluded the evening abruptly when it became all too evident that the forum would not assuage the crowd’s discontent.