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  • Oct 05, 2015

Lars Nittve To Leave M+ in January 2016

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On October 5, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) made the surprise announcement that the executive director of M+, Lars Nittve, has chosen not to renew his contract when it expires in January 2016.

Duncan Pescod, CEO of WKCDA, made an official statement, “While we are very sorry to see Lars go, we have to respect his decision to leave after spending five years in Hong Kong.” Pescod added, “He has made an immense contribution to the Authority and we have ensured he will continue to be available to provide advice and support in the role of External Advisor.”

This is the third loss of senior staff for WKCDA this year. In February, Michael Lynch resigned as CEO of WKCDA stating he wanted to spend more time with his family. Two months later, Tobias Berger, curator of visual culture, ended his tenure prematurely to join the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Central Police Station head of art. 

From the outset, WKCDA has been plagued by leadership resignations. In 2009, Graham Sheffield, former artistic director of London’s Barbican Centre, departed after just five months into his appointment as CEO, and his replacement Angus Cheng Siu-chuen, a former Disney executive, stepped down just ten days into the job. Nittve was appointed executive director of M+ in June 2010 and began his post in January 2011.

Previously founding director of Tate Modern (1998-2001) and later director of Moderna Museet in Copenhagen (2001-2010), Nittve gave M+ the stability, leadership and vision that was needed to the steer the contemporary art museum, which is just one component of the enormous arts hub with an earmarked budget of HKD 21.6 billion (USD 2.78 billion).

During his five years at M+, Nittve managed to instill a professional museum culture for an institution that is not due to open officially until 2019—although its curators have produced exhibitions and events since 2011. Among his many accomplishments, Nittve grew an impressive curatorial team, which attracted talent from major international museums and institutions around the world.

He also managed to secure major donations valued in the range of HKD 1.4 billion (USD 180 million), including the majority of Swiss collector Uli Sigg’s comprehensive collection of contemporary Chinese art. The entire collection of M+ has grown to over 4,300 works during his tenure.

Nittve reflected to ArtAsiaPacific that, “among an amazing number of memorable moments, the day in 2012 when Uli Sigg decided to trust the M+ project to such an extent [that] he donated almost his entire collection of Chinese contemporary art to us must come out on top!”

In an email to friends and colleagues, Nittve began, “It is with a heavy heart I am sending you the enclosed press release regarding my decision not to extend my contract with M+ after it ends in January 2016.” It remains to be seen if M+ will endure more departures with the loss of its visionary director.

Nittve further shared with AAP: "My wish for M+ is that it will be ‘the museum that Asia does not have’ to quote the first Chairman of WKCDA. A museum with the same standing in the international museum world one day, as MoMA or Tate enjoys today—and having that position thanks to its unique perspective: looking at the world from a Hong Kong, China and Asia perspective."