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M+ Museum Unveils Design Collection

Aric Chen, the lead curator of design and architecture at M+, gives us a preview of the design collection that the museum has amassed over the last four years. Christie Lee writes.

M+ Aric Chen

BY Janice Seow

November 10th, 2016

Remember the plastic watermelon ball that you used to throw around as a child? Well, that would not have materialised if not for the resolve of Hong Kong industrialist Chiang Chen, whose invention of a two-colour extrusion blow moulding machine in 1959 allowed coloured plastics to be joined together without individual colours melting into one another. This cultural and historic object will be on display at an upcoming exhibition held at the M+ Pavilion in the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Featuring 120 design and architectural objects from the M+ collection, Shifting Objectives: Design from the M+ Collection marks the museum’s inaugural design collection showcase. After all, discussions on M+ have heavily revolved around visual and performing arts.

Red A Plastic Crystal lamp fixture, no. 1616, Star Industrial Co., Ltd., 1960s–80s. Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

“People are generally aware that design is around them. What has been missing in this part of the world is a boarder discussion about design – how it affects our lives and how it embodies meaning,” explains Aric Chen, the lead curator of design and architecture at M+. “In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a resurgence in interest in design, with the proliferation of international design weeks and design fairs,” he shares.

Miss Blanche, designed 1988; made 2013, Kuramata Shiro. Image courtesy of Kuramata Design Studio

In the last four years, M+ has amassed 2500 design and architectural objects, with the majority produced from the mid-20th century. “The second half of the 20th century was a very different period than the one that preceded it. There was an explosion of new designs,” Chen says.

However, he notes of the museum’s collecting philosophy, “it doesn’t mean we won’t go beyond that. In fact, we’re collecting art deco works from 1920s and 1930s.”

Rattan chair, designed circa 1954; made 1950s–60s, Kowloon Rattan Ware Co. Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

Serving as a ‘testing ground’ of sorts, the exhibition will provide various samplings of the curating approaches that Chen and his team are taking, with ‘interconnectedness’, be it between places, people or ideas, being an underlying theme. The exhibition will be divided into two sections. ‘Histories’ will “draw out some of the ways in which M+ is telling, constructing, and revisiting the historical narratives of design in Asia within a global, transnational context”, while ‘Constellations’ aim to “invite audiences to form their own connections and interpretations of the 40 objects on display”.

Design sketch, Nam Wah Neon Co. neon sign, 1950s–60s, Nam Wah Neonlight and Electrical Mfy, Ltd. Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

Amongst the highlights is a mid-20th century neon sign sketch from Nam Wah Neonlight and Electrical Mfy. “It shows how much artistry and ingenuity [goes into the production of neon signs],” notes Chen.

I AM A MONUMENT – CCTV Wardrobe, Li Naihan, designed 2012; made 2016, Image courtesy of Gallery ALL and Li Naihan

Created on a scale of 1:100 to the infamous CCTV tower that looms over the Beijing cityscape, Chinese designer Li Nailan ’s CCTV wardrobe-slash-storage cabinet illuminates the different ways we experience space in relation to the objects around us.

Reading more like conceptual art than design, Tuur Van Balen and Revital Cohen’s 75 Watt re-appropriates the human body as a machine that performs calculated and fragmented movements.

Materialised Sketch of a Chandelier, 2005, Front. Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong

Meanwhile, fervent texters will delight in the 16 emojis on display. M+ has acquired the complete set of the first two emoji editions.

Perhaps Chen and his team aim to put together an exhibit that remains accessible to all, despite the ambitious intertwining of aesthetics, geographical and time periods within the collection. “I hope it [the exhibition] will delight, intrigue and maybe even make people feel uncomfortable,” Chen concludes.

Shifting Objectives: Design from the M+ Collection will run from 30 November 2016 to 5 February 2017, 11am–6pm, Wednesday to Sunday and on public holidays at the M+ Pavilion. The exhibition will be closed on 25 December, 2016, 1 January, 28 January and 29 January, 2017. Admission is free.