Friday, October 12, 2007

More on WKCD. Laissez-faire...HK style

Hong Kong was known as a place thriving on laissez-faire principles. Though I doubt this was ever fully true, the Hong Kong Government to a large extent facilitates big business and grants privileges to powerful lobbies, while adopting a truly laissez-faire approach on issues such as environmental protection, the minimum wage and the very unequal distribution of wealth.
The WKCD seems to arise from the same philosophy, with government conceiving a large project the realization of which will mainly benefit developers and vested interests.
In a city where arthouse cinemas had to close down because of poor attendance, concert halls are half empty, and museums are not doing much better, one can only question the agenda of those who support the WKCD. If they defend the government intervention on cultural matters, how can they stick to neo-liberalist, laissez-faire policies on welfare and environmental matters without falling into contradiction?

According to government plans for the WKCD, its 'crown jewel' will be a huge M+ art museum (the size of the Tate Gallery in London) that will mainly show modern and contemporary art. While there is little doubt that artworks have become a commodity - they are traded, bought and sold by collectors and speculators, and the value of such works rise according to where they are shown, which collections they are part of, etc.- one wonders why HK taxpayers should foot the bill. If the market system is so perfect, can't we just wait until galleries, collectors, and other art aficionados reach deep into their pockets and set up a private museum? From what i can tell, public and private museums show exactly the same artists.

Let art collectors open their collections to the public, if they wish to do so, but build a museum for them? Let artists showcase art works in their studios. Let galleries do their job of selling art, but i hate the idea that my money is spent to facilitate them rather than being used to build and staff hospitals, improve the quality of education by paying teachers a decent salary, help the elderly and the unemployed live with dignity, protect the environment, improve public transport. In short, benefit the community as a whole, not a particular group.

The government is not building churches, and rightly so. Christians make donations to build their places of worship, and so do Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. Museums are places for art worshippers. But not everyone worships the same kind of art. What i regard as art, another person might regard as rubbish, and viceversa. There is no canon for contemporary art, its measurable value is determined by market to its intrinsic value, well... that is just a matter of taste. Truly subjective, like religion.

HK taxpayers are asked to contribute to a sector of the economy that generates huge profits for a minority of wealthy investors. What next? A public museum where local tycoons can show off their old Bentleys and Rolls Royces? Some might argue that cars too are cultural artefacts. And following this logic, why not a museum where fashion designers can show their collections? Where do we draw the line?

Fashion designers, artists, designers etc. are professionals who have embraced the market economy the same way dentists, lawyers, fortune tellers, architects, etc. have. So, why should taxpayers' money be spent on them? They certainly don't need more venues to showcase their work....they have art fairs and galleries. Art lovers can walk into a gallery if they like to see original works, or browse the Internet, art books and magazines for images. As to the few artists who have turned their back to the market economy, and have a genuine political and social agenda, they can install their works in public spaces and reach a much wider audience by doing so. Site-specific art doesn't need museums. If anything, it has always been very critical of this institution and looked for alternative spaces. This is the art i like, and don't expect to find it in a museum.

How can a museum showcasing the commodified works of millionaire artists (and shrewd businessmen) contribute to the cultural development of HK residents and visitors? How do we define culture?


foreign body said...
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Martin said...

Very good point.

WKCD will become another white elephant for the simple reason that HK has never been on the art world map and adding a new ambitious museum will make no difference. Very good artists have come out of China in the last ten years, and none of them received government grants. On the other hand, the HK Arts Development Council has spent millions to support the local visual arts, and what did we get? Nada. Not even one HK artist has achieved international status. No HK artist was ever selected by international curators. The ADC had to rent an exhibition space in Venice to showcase local "talents" during the Venice Bienniale. Those artists were not part of the official selection, just self-invited guests who had to pay for their own little space and attracted almost no attention. Pathetic.