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New/Alternative Art Space

- Tai Kwun

Lack of Articulation
at 0:00am on 6th March 2011


The recent resignation of Graham Sheffield, the West Kowloon Cultural District’s inaugural Chief Executive Officer, offered sceptics some justification for their ambivalence about the project – and, yes, I am sure he did resign due to sickness: he was sick of it.

Giving clear design parameters and an articulate brief to the contracted architects is essential for this massive construction project to progress smoothly. Unfortunately, these parameters are not final. I am told the site’s museum, M+, will have an art collection, but that decision has not been formally announced. Why not? A collection requires art storage areas and will influence the museum’s design.

Sheffield’s resignation offers an opportunity for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s cumbersome governing Board, its committees and consultants to be streamlined and supported by a flatter management structure. The fantasy that the project is the only solution for Hong Kong’s art and cultural future needs dispelling and decision-makers must decide what it is, give a realistic brief for architects to design a master plan and allow the design of individual facilities. The Authority’s new leader should be passionate and decisive with a love of the arts and, importantly, have project management experience. West Kowloon is currently a building project and visual and performing arts professionals will simultaneously fulfil their vital preparatory work. But truthfully, this project does not – yet - need a leader with expertise in the operations of a cultural centre. Let’s build it first.

The renovation of the Central Police Station Complex and managed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club had a similar hiccup after the original Herzog & de Meuron design was scrapped. The project has now evolved, correctly, with a heritage and visual art focus and has its own challenges: providing practical art spaces alongside those that retain the original prison ambience.

Recently, I came across a room in the prison that evoked the simple act of contemplation and provides a moral for decision-makers involved in building Hong Kong’s cultural projects. The room was completely bare, except for its carefully painted yellow shelves. I imagined the painter, most probably one of the inmates, being asked to paint this room, and with quiet careful concentration painting those shelves and then deciding to also paint the box that disappears out the window.

Originally published in “Perspective” magazine, March 2011.

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