Hong Kong’s M+ museum shelves Ai Weiwei artwork amid political pressure

Published (HKT): 2021.03.24 13:34

Hong Kong’s new museum of contemporary art has announced that it has no plans to show a controversial artwork by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, after receiving a barrage of criticism from pro-Beijing politicians and newspapers.

Ai’s photograph, titled “Study in Perspective: Tian’anmen,” showed a raised middle finger against the background of the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing. It was donated to the M+ museum by Uli Sigg, a world-leading collector of contemporary Chinese art.

M+ said in a statement to Apple Daily that there were no plans to display the photo in its opening exhibition. The new art venue is slated to open later this year.

Only a portion of the museum’s nearly 8,000 items would be shown at the opening exhibition, and in selecting the works, the curatorial team would “fully consider the work and its relationship with the exhibition’s theme and background,” a spokesperson said.

M+ had a curatorial policy in line with international standards, and was governed by a stringent process set up by the museum’s board of directors, the statement continued.

The museum responded to the furore after pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao on Tuesday continued its attacks with articles on its first two pages.

“[Ai’s photograph] is either a sign of vulgar entertainment or of strong political inclinations. It’s far from what people consider to be refined art,” the paper said in an editorial titled “Art must be in service to the public. M+ needs to reflect deeply.”

The paper also criticized the acquisition of “The Kiyotomo Sushi Bar,” an artwork by Shiro Kuramata that reportedly cost HK$15 million (US$1.93 million). The Hong Kong public had no interest in such creations, the paper said, quoting an anonymous artist.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam repeated her stance that cultural work in Hong Kong must comply with national security laws.

“Hong Kong is a place that acts in accordance with the law. Last year we enacted the national security law. If there is any cultural work that is in conflict with the national security law or violates its provisions, then of course we must deal with it seriously,” Lam said at a press briefing.

The chief executive also expressed full confidence in Henry Tang, chairperson of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, which oversees the museum.

Tang said in response that the authority would “definitely uphold the law and comply with the Basic Law, local laws and the national security law.” Curators of the M+ museum would take an objective approach and conduct their work professionally, he added.

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