The latest exhibition in the Mobile M+ programme sees BEAU Architects turn ArtisTree into a powerful showcase for four decades of Chinese art. JJ Acuna reports.
Hertzog & de Meuron’s M+ museum for visual culture is set to open in Hong Kong in 2019; until then, its art- and design-focused curators have to make do with staging exhibitions in pop-up locations around the city. Dubbed the Mobile M+ initiative, these pop-ups are intended to allow the Museum to host public programmes while displaying local design stories around contemporary themes.
Among the shows so far have been exhibitions by celebrated, Asia-based artists, such as Song Dong and Lee Kit, and expositions on Yau Ma Tei’s urbanisation, Hong Kong’s moving images culture, and the city’s famous neon signs heritage. Pop-ups like these allow the public to get a feel for the future M+ brand and perspective, while also enabling the museum to test-drive its curatorial position years before the permanent museum opens its doors.
This month, the tenth and largest of the mobile exhibitions comes in the form of a show titled M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art. The space was designed by Hong Kong-based French designers, Gilles Vanderstocken and Charlotte Lafont-Hugo, of BEAU Architects, a studio that specialises in formulating cultural and art spaces in both the private and public context. The exhibit is staged within ArtisTree in Taikoo Place, a 20,000-square-foot flexi-space owned by Swire Properties.
It’s not the first time BEAU has worked with this particular site. In late 2015, Vanderstocken and Lafont-Hugo designed the visual communications for a retrospective of CL3 Founder William Lim’s works.
The M+ Sigg Collection exhibition as a whole offers audiences multiple entry points via the works amassed by Swiss private collector, Dr. Uli Sigg, and it spans over four decades of Chinese contemporary art history. This sneak peek showcases 80 selected pieces from an acquisition of over 1,510 works that Sigg donated to the museum. The collection includes pieces by Ai Weiwei, Cao Fei, Zhang Peili, Huang Rui, and Zhang Xiaogang, among others.
BEAU made various diagrammatic attempts to plan the space in drawing and modelling, working with M+ Senior Curator Dr. Pi Li as a design collaborator. The designers’ main goal was to help tell a seamless linear narrative of China’s contemporary art movements over 40 years via a series of small design moves that respect the works displayed.
Telling this story spatially, while having to highlight and cater to art of various sizes, differing importance and narrative, is why BEAU’s subtle design insertion is one of the highlights of the exhibition. The site’s 10 massive square columns – located right in the middle of the space – just disappear: they are wrapped in monumental, fine, white wall surfaces that are used to display each art work. This white surface also defines the space’s periphery, pulling, pushing, and shifting, out and in, to frame and define works by various artists. The manipulation of the wall as a functional datum further highlights each work’s importance.
Part of the brilliance of this quiet planning is the way it enables the viewer to read the works chronologically and undisturbed by the environment. At the same time, the viewer is able to jump across timelines, either physically or by site; it is the whiteness of the space that provides a point of reference despite the various eras presented. Visitors can infer their own perspectives based on an open and free-flow juxtaposition of works, despite the linear narrative.
The M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art exhibition runs from 23 February to 5 April 2016. Admission is free. ArtisTree, 1/F Cornwall House, Taikoo Place, 979 King’s Road, Quarry Bay.