Art Insight #8: Lars Nittve
Executive Director of M+, West Kowloon Cultural District
Matching Overwhelming Sights and Scale
Has Hong Kong ever been out of the international spotlight? Always rich with new inspirations and effulgent images and a bustling harbor-market as a colonial establishment, Hong Kong continues to be the economic hub of Asia, even after transferring sovereignty to China. Innovation seems to be a present progressive form in Hong Kong.
Most recently, Hong Kong has been building quite an impressive reputation as an international platform for art. ‘Art Basel Hong Kong’ is flourishing and the West Kowloon Cultural District nears completion, built on an enormous budget and revolutionary change of perspective. With the slated completion of M+ adding to a roster of heavy-hitting international galleries, including White Cube, Gagosian Gallery, and Galerie Perrotin, there is no doubt Hong Kong is now the art district of the world in every aspect. We sat down with Lars Nittve, a man at the forefront of Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene.
Museums are, in a way, a meeting place where art meets artists and art meets the public. It is the place where it all comes together. So an art museum’s mission is in planning the most productive and positive encounters. -Lars Nittve-
Q. Could you give a brief introduction?
I am the Executive Director of M+ in the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong. M+ is a new museum of visual culture, slated to open in 2018. I have been curating, directing, and generally involved in management of art related affairs for the past three decades. During those 30 years, I have served at Tate Modern, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, and Moderna Museet, the Museum of Modern Art in Sweden.
Q. You are one of the most recognized figures in the art world for museum management and administration. What is art to the modern man, and what role does the art museum fulfill?
Personally speaking, I believe that art provides whoever experiences art with an opportunity that has the possibility to be life-changing. It sounds like a missionary. Some people are affected and touched by art, while some are not. Either way, I think everyone should be given an opportunity to encounter art, and that is ultimately the role of the museum. Museums are, in a way, a meeting place where art meets artists and art meets the public. It is the place where it all comes together. So an art museum’s mission is in planning the most productive and positive encounters.
Q. The distinguished lineup of museum staff and impressively large exhibition space of M+ has already been attracting attention years before the slated opening date. What is your top priority ahead of the opening?
There are quite a few very different things that we are simultaneously moving forward with, but our greatest priority lies in creating a team with a capacity to inexhaustibly present ideas. We have brought together a team composed of 22 curators and highly competent staff members. Their ideas have provided us with a strong foundation to build the collection, which is the museum’s heart. We are now adding greater momentum to hit the slated museum opening date in 2018. We are also closely courting our audience, and as part of that, we have been engaging the Hong Kong public with projects, exhibitions, and lectures on contemporary art and visual culture.
Q. You keep a close eye on the world’s major art events. Was there anything you found particularly interesting at ‘the Venice Biennale’ this year?
The Italian Pavilion was remarkable. Unpredictability really is a virtue of ‘the Venice Biennale.’ Generally speaking, art events are planned and directed by a single curator or a group led by one, so there are a lot of spoilers and giveaways in terms of what they will be presenting, because we already know his or her particular inclinations and interests. The Venice Biennale, however, does its exhibitions at the national pavilion level, so there are always pleasant surprises. Greece, Germany, the UK, China, they all presented something new this year. So for me, the “art Olympics” on the Venetian Lagoon is always a great inspiration. I discover unexpected gems, and receive hints on where our collection ought to go.
Q. “All the World’s Futures” was the title of this Biennale. Based on your keen foresight, what thoughts do you have on the future, and what does that future mean to you?
The future is obviously an extension of the present. I am currently committed to firmly establishing M+, and I have every faith that it will be a new marker for art in Asia. The intention of my colleagues and I is to create an art museum that Asia has not seen before, which in turn will uprate the role of art museums. I see a bright future ahead. As we all know, society is changing rapidly. In fact, so rapidly that language is not developing fast enough or sufficiently enough to keep up with the changes, so the role of art, particularly visual art, is becoming ever more important to fill that gap. Artists are finding original ways, pioneering means to capture moments that words have failed to signify. I am confident that these are the things that will guide us forward, into the future.
Q. How close to completion is M+?
The foundations are being laid as we speak. The main construction work will begin late August. A very important step is just around the corner. We are getting in touch with world-renowned personalities in contemporary art, while simultaneously planning a large-scale secret project. We expect to unveil the secret project to the public by the end of 2015. Together with that, we are also preparing a digital project to virtually reproduce an actual building online. In fact, I have been quite immersed in this virtual reproduction project, which can also be explained with respect to your question on how I perceive the future. When we focus on the fact that our lives are changing faster than our expectations of it, the future is not necessarily a welcome idea. This is because not all developments are conducive of convenience and comfort. Our futures hold both the good and the bad, and they may occur in any order. It’s a mixed bag. That’s the future. So what we are trying to do is plan something unique, uncertain, and unpredictable through our digital project, not unlike what the future holds for us.
Q. In closing, could you summarize contemporary art in a single sentence?
Art is like an early warning system, where the sirens are the people who are ahead of the curve. So in that context, my sentence would be: “Art is the future.” ■ with ARTINPOST
Nam June Paik TV bed 1972/1991 18 channels colour video installation 230×197×121.5cm ⓒ The Estate of Nam June Paik. Courtesy James Cohen Gallery, New York and Shanghai Image courtesy by ARTINPOST
Cao Fei RMB City 2007 Video, photos, computer data, objects Variable Credit: M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. By donation ⓒ Cao Fei Image courtesy by ARTINPOST
Rirkrit Tiravanija Untitled 2001(the magnificent seven, spaghetti western) 2001 Steel plates, gas cookers, gas containers, rubber tubes, arcopal bowls, steel forks, metal trays, wooden cutting boards, recipe Variable ⓒ Rirkrit Tiravanija; photo: Philipp Ottendoerfer Image courtesy by ARTINPOST
Star Industrial Co. Ltd Red A Plastic Crystal Lamp Fixture, No.1613 circa 1975 Polycarbonate plastic 15.5×25.5×25.5 cm ⓒ Star Industrial Co. Ltd; photo: Timon Wehrli
Installation View of <Mobile M+ Moving Images>
Installation View of <Mobile M+ Moving Images>
TSANG Kin-Wah <The Infinite Nothing:0> 2015 Single-channel video and sound installation 6min 20 sec Dimension variable Image courtesy of the artist and ARTINPOST
TSANG Kin-Wah <The Infinite Nothing:Ø> 2015 Multi-channel video and sound installation 6min 19 sec Dimension variable Image courtesy of the artist and ARTINPOST
External view of Hong Kong pavilion in Venice Biennale
Lars Nittve was born in Stockholm in 1953. He obtained M.A. at Stockholm University after studying at the Stockholm School of Economics. From 1986 Nittve was appointed Chief Curator at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where he curated high-profile exhibitions on Walter De Maria and Wassily Kandinsky. From 1990, he served as the founding director of the Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art in Malmö, Sweden, where he organized shows on Sherry Levine, Andreas Gursky, and Susan Rothenberg. In 1995, Nittve was appointed Director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark. Recognized for his outstanding talents, he was named the first Director of Tate Modern in 1998, which opened in 2000 to the anticipation of the art world. He left the London museum a year after its successful debut to return to the Moderna Museet as Director, where he served for nine years. In 2011, Lars Nittve was appointed the Executive Director of M+, Hong Kong’s new innovative museum for visual culture in the West Kowloon Cultural District, where he is currently in charge of a variety of programs. The M+ is slated to open in 2018.