Thinking about a Contemporary Art Museum in Hong Kong

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

To find the best suitable typology for a contemporary art museum in Hong Kong seems to be a pretty interesting topic (or at least I’m convincing myself this is). The main reason is that Hong Kong did not have a precedent museum about contemporary art, nothing like MAD (NYC) or New Museum (NYC) or MoMA (NYC) that happened in Hong Kong before. Perhaps when I mix this new programme (contemporary art is actually a concept imported from the west) with the unique Hong Kong culture and context, and do it just right, the alchemy might give something very special.

There are multiple reasons (I think) why contemporary art museum did not happen in Hong Kong. (Or the current one really not as exciting as those mentioned above )

  1. There isn’t much interest in ‘Art’ in the Hong Kong community (even the more elite / well educated group) when compared to NYC for example.
  2. Investment speculation (from mainland and overseas) on art work, and their interest in traditional paintings, dominated part of the creative stage.
  3. Insufficient financial support (by means of grants, awards) to artist. It is difficult to engage with creative development or craft/skill perfection with such financial burden.
  4. Some artist manage to finance themselves by direct sales. Art galleries that represent individual artist are emerging because of the economic advantage. In contrast, museums in Hong Kong are not able to offer similar financial backup to artist.
  5. The general public perceives ‘Art’ with a old preconception, and consider it as an luxury for the rich: Not an object that everyone can enjoy or be placed in the public that enhance the space around them in everyday life.
  6. Lack of famous Artist figure in the city. (Famous in terms of publicity among general citizen)
  7. Many artist are part-time or emerging artist, they do not have a large collection of works for a formal museum exhibition.

The observed effect is that Art Galleries, which are more profitable to the artist, are the more preferred space to display their work than museums. This is not surprising under the context of the economic driven society in Hong Kong, particularly when the government and the councils do not have the vision to promote Art with substantial support.

It is apparent that the role of a museum in Hong Kong is to compensate the monolithic culture by providing an alternative channel of exhibition. Any modern (not to say contemporary) art museum should engage with the society and house works that share the same agenda. It is lucky that the given site locates in the middle of the metropolitan Hong Kong, at a very strategic location. (Being close to the future Government HQ)

As the definition of ‘Art’ is becoming more and more loose with the contemporary interpretation of New Arts. (Despite conflict for art classification is actually become more intense) I would consider craft, design, digital and multimedia and performing arts to be appropriate topics beside traditional painting and sculpture under the realm of Contemporary Art. They should have a dialog with on-going issues in the society, and should be provocative, timely and relevant.

Generally speaking, an art museum should aim to elevate the society’s appreciation of art. This may mean taking into account the eclectic interest of different audience. The ideal result is that, through the museum, art could reach a broader range of people, especially to those who are excluded before. A successful museum in Hong Kong should cover a broad range of topics, because of the eclectic nature of its citizens. The museum should be flexible in selecting its exhibits and is willing to try experimental means of exhibitions. This means that traditional white box typology might not be the desired architectural solution and the substance constituting the exhibitions may no longer be just paintings.

Contemporary art are timely and is closely related to the artist’s personal believe. The space given to individual artist (or group of artists) should allow certain customization to express their individual message, and to distinct themselves from each other. This will create a much more vibrant dialog between different exhibition, especially when the works become more eclectic under the realm of contemporary arts. This is particularly different from a fine arts museum where the author of the art are usually dead. (no offence, but true) Here, we are confronted with the current moment, art that communicate contemporary issues and are closely related to its author. This also means that there is a smaller focus on permanent exhibitions or storage of works in the museum.

New arts in Hong Kong has only been developing in recent years, many artist are still far from their mature period. That is why we could not expect to get the Wow effect similar to an exhibition by artist like Anish Kapoor or Ai Weiwei. I think the museum’s current role in Hong Kong is to support the development of the local artist community by introducing them to the public, rather than to import foreign art. The museum should strive to exhibit works from prominent young artist even whom has not received significant recognition. In response to the fact that many of these artist do not have a large collection, the museum should be flexible to curate smaller exhibitions. The intension is to allow more young artist to gain exposure even without a significant number of works to display.

The museum could serve more than just an exhibition ground for one way communication. Spaces could be designed to encourage discussions and interactions between all parties, especially if the artist could participate in the exhibition, either explaining their own work or in the case of performing arts. The layout should not be isolating people from each other but to allow unexpected confrontation which fosters the experience of exploration with the idea of discovering the unknown (this new contemporary art medium) in a museum.

It is the museum’s role to redefine and present what contemporary art is, through understanding and enhancing the nature of contemporary art, (which is: timely, provocative and society engaged) and presenting them in an appropriate architectural framework. Ultimately destroying the preconception of the general public that museums are only for the elite, by a completely new architectural experience that invoke new attitudes towards the exhibits.


These ideas will be the draft of my design statement in my next project. Which I’m required to propose a design for an art museum in the current Harcourt Garden, Admiralty, in the heart of Hong Kong.

I’m still finding an appropriate architectural style, which I’m tended to showcase my ability in parametric modelling and geometric rationalization. At the same time, I wish to have a solid statement as my design rational, which is carefully thought out to balance various aspects. I want to keep practicality and be construction conscious while pushing the architectural expression to a higher level. At the same time reacting to the context and be socially responsible as an architect.