Hong Kong’s M+ modern art museum reopened on Thursday, as the city relaxed some of its Covid-19 social distancing rules.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The HK$5.9 billion complex opened last November at the West Kowloon Cultural District. It aims to showcase 20th and 21st century modern art, design, architecture and moving images from Hong Kong, Asia and beyond.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

HKFP noted on Thursday that Wang Xingwei’s New Beijing – a 2001 parody referencing the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown – had been replaced with another oil painting by the Chinese artist.

Wang Xingwei’s New Beijing replaced with Wang’s St. Thomas. Drag slider left-and-right to view. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

St. Thomas – a 1997 piece by Wang – is now on display instead. It features artists Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys dressed as police officers.

Wang Xingwei’s St. Thomas. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

New Beijing is still available to view online, as is the original Liu Heung-shing photograph from the military crackdown on which it is based.

Most tributes and monuments to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who died have been removed from view across local universities since last year.

Wang Guangyi’s Mao Zedong: Red Grid No. 2 was also taken off display at M+ as it reopened, but other political works – such as Rouge 1992 by Li Shan – were still being shown.

Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism: Chanel. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism: Chanel also remains on view.

Li Shan’s Rouge 1992. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

According to Ming Pao, the new chairperson of the M+ board Bernard Chan said on Thursday that he had “noticed an update in artworks,” but he “did not participate in [the change] and it was handled by a professional team.”

M+ Chair Bernard Chan. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Museum Director Suhanya Raffel was silent when questioned directly about the artworks on Thursday.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The museum has not responded to HKFP’s repeated enquiries ahead of publishing.

Ai Weiwei’s Whitewash. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The museum has several works by Ai Weiwei – China’s most prominent and controversial artist – in its Sigg Collection.

M+. Photo: Kevin Mak/courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron.

However, the institution has not displayed an Ai piece showing the artist flipping a middle finger in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – WKCD chair Henry Tang said last year that “artistic expression” is not above the law.

Established in 2012 but conceived more than two decades ago, M+ has collected 50,000 art pieces in its archives involving 777 artists from 35 countries. Admission is free during the first year.

Interior of ADD+ at M+. Photo: Lai Sun Dining via M+.

Among the new attractions opening this season are a Thames & Hudson pop-up at The Other Shop and new restaurants Mosu Hong Kong and ADD+, as well as the new “M+ Playscape” by Isamu Noguchi on the roof garden.

Covid rules relaxed

Strict social distancing restrictions were enforced in early January at the beginning of the city’s fifth and worst wave of the coronavirus, which has infected almost 1.19 million and resulted in close to 9,000 related deaths.

But on Thursday, the public group gathering limit was doubled to four, dine-in services were extended to 10pm and some sports, entertainment and museum venues were allowed to reopen.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported 668 new Covid-19 infections and 10 related deaths.

Update 16:35: M+ told HKFP on Thursday that it had always planned to rotate artworks. Nine pieces of the 200 it planned to rotate were swapped out before this week’s reopening “in particular those which are in greater need for conservation, they added. “Rotation of the remaining works will be conducted over the coming few months,” the spokesperson said. “Like other world class museums across the globe, curators will handle curatorial matters in a professional manner and all of our exhibitions are in full compliance with relevant laws and regulations.”

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.