Hong Kong’s M+ museum, touted as “Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture,” has finally set its opening date for November 12, after years of delays and concerns over shrinking artistic freedoms in the city in the wake of the national security law.

Images of some works by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, including one featuring a middle finger pointed at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, have not been uploaded to the M+ website pending a government review.

M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: GovHK.

The contemporary arts museum in the West Cultural Kowloon District will launch with six exhibitions, the museum announced on Thursday.

M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: GovHK.

These include galleries detailing the evolution of Hong Kong’s visual arts history and one of the largest collections of Chinese contemporary art donated by Swiss collector Uli Sigg.

‘Fragments of History’ (2012) by Manuel Salvisberg. Photo: M+ Sigg Collection.

Entry to the museum for Hong Kong residents will be free for one year, subject to “further review.”

M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: GovHK.

The museum’s initial exhibits will feature around 1,500 works to be displayed across 33 different galleries and spaces covering 17,000 square metres.

M+ is one project in the government’s HK$20 billion-plus development intended to create Asia’s leading arts hub in the West Kowloon reclamation area.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District, Henry Tang, hailed the museum as an “iconic new landmark” for Hong Kong.

“The official opening of M+ marks a major milestone in delivering the vision for the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District as a vital contribution to the future of Hong Kong, building on its reputation as one of the world’s leading arts and cultural hubs,” he said in a statement.

M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: GovHK.

“We will make M+ a must-visit destination for local, regional, and international visitors.”

The museum, first planned around a decade ago, has been repeatedly delayed by problems with construction since 2016 and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Disappointing’

Local art critic Lau Kin-wai told HKFP he was disappointed by the design of the museum’s exterior and by the long delay to its launch. “It’s very disappointing… We don’t know why it’s taken them over 20 years to build the West Kowloon Cultural District,” he said.

M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: GovHK.

He said that, although he had not seen the museum’s interior, the exterior of the buildings in the cultural district, including the already-open Xiqu Centre for performing arts and the upcoming Hong Kong Palace Museum, fell short of expectations.

“We had such high hopes, because it was such a big space and so much funding, that there would at least be one or two very distinct buildings,” he said. “But there’s nothing unique to really attract visitors.”

“It’s at an important location near the harbour, they could have built something that added to the city’s skyline. It’s a shame they couldn’t achieve this.”

Censorship concerns

The museum’s launch comes amid concerns of censorship under the Beijing-imposed national security law, which critics say has been designed to quell all dissent. The government says it restored stability after the sometimes violent 2019 protests.

Photo: M+ website screenshot.

Earlier this year, pro-Beijing voices called on the government to protect the city’s public artistic spaces from any work that may “endanger national security.” The city’s leader Carrie Lam has vowed to be on “full alert.”

Last month, a prominent satirical performance artist fled the city, citing diminishing artistic freedoms under the new legislation. Three members of the government-funded Arts Development Council resigned following Chinese state-media attacks.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.