Nittve will leave M+ in January 2016, four years before the museum’s grand opening in 2019.

The chief of museum’s premature departure amounts to the third loss of senior staff this year for Hong Kong’s emerging flagship cultural hub. Art Radar charts local reactions. 

Left to right: Lars Nittve, Caroline Collier, Yongwoo Lee and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, in the panel discussion "The Museum in the City" on 22 November 2013, Asia Society Arts and Museum Summit. Image courtesy Asia Society.

Left to right: Lars Nittve, Caroline Collier, Yongwoo Lee and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, in the panel discussion “The Museum in the City” on 22 November 2013, Asia Society Arts and Museum Summit. Image courtesy Asia Society.

A premature departure

Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) announced on Monday 5 October that Dr. Lars Nittve, current Executive Director of WKCDA’s M+ museum, will not renew his contract upon its expiration in January 2016.

A key player in the art world, Nittve was founding director of Tate Modern (1998-2001) and director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm (2001-2010). After joining WKCDA’s M+ in 2011, Nittve has built a 47-strong team, amassed a collection of over 4,300 works, and chose Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron to design the flagship museum during his five-year tenure. He has also managed to secure donations valued at an astonishing HKD1.4 billion. 

Duncan Pescod, CEO of WKCDA, commented on Nittve’s departure:

While we are very sorry to see Lars go, we have to respect his decision to leave after spending five years in Hong Kong. He has made an immense contribution to the Authority and we have ensured he will continue to be available to provide advice and support in the role of External Advisor.

A city left stunned

As local newspaper Ming Pao highlights, no explanation was given for Nittve’s departure. According to the article, 62-year-old Nittve had previously hinted that he might not stay with M+ long term due to his age, but had never before expressed a desire to leave prior to the museum’s opening. Nittve stated in the press release that the decision was “not an easy one to take”, further stating:

It has been an extraordinary privilege to be part of this journey, and I am proud to say that we have reached a point when we can say with certainty that we have a truly world-class museum underway […] But I have to accept that after five years here, there are still another four years of very hard work remaining until the opening of M+. I believe I should either commit to all those years – or accept that this is the right time to hand over to someone else. After much consideration I have decided to do the latter.

According to the press release, construction of M+’s main superstructure begins in early October 2015 with the museum set to open in 2019. Nittve’s departure means that he will not see the grand opening of the museum he “built from scratch”, as the South China Morning Post writes. Carrie Lam, Board Chairman of WKCDA, said in the press release:

We are sorry [Nittve] will not be with us for the next stage of a most exciting journey that will bring Hong Kong a world class contemporary arts museum […] I appreciate the hard work he has done and have every confidence that the M+ team he has built will ensure that vision will become reality. 

"The M+ Sigg Collection – Chinese Art from the 1970s to Now" at Whitworth, Manchester. Background: Wang Xingwei, 'New Beijing', 2001. Foreground: Zhan Wang, 'Artificial Rock No. 31', 2001. Exhibition organised by M+, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Hong Kong in collaboration with Whitworth Art Gallery. Photography: Michael Pollard 2015. Image courtesy the Whitworth.

“The M+ Sigg Collection – Chinese Art from the 1970s to Now” at Whitworth, Manchester. Background: Wang Xingwei, ‘New Beijing’, 2001. Foreground: Zhan Wang, ‘Artificial Rock No. 31’, 2001. Exhibition organised by M+, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Hong Kong in collaboration with Whitworth Art Gallery. Photography: Michael Pollard 2015. Image courtesy the Whitworth.

Third loss for WKCDA

Art Asia Pacific notes that Nittve’s departure marks the “third loss of senior staff for WKCDA this year”, following CEO Michael Lynch’s resignation in February and visual culture curator Tobias Berger‘s premature departure in April. Art Asia Pacific goes on to track earlier resignations:

From the outset, WKCDA has been plagued by leadership resignations. In 2009, Graham Sheffield, former artistic director of London’s Barbican Centre, departed after just five months into his appointment as CEO, and his replacement Angus Cheng Siu-chuen, a former Disney executive, stepped down just ten days into the job.

As the South China Morning Post writes, the latest departure has “trigger[ed] fresh questions as to why world-renowned cultural leaders would leave the mega project one after another”. Art critic John Batten told the Post that political pressure was a likely main reason for such developments. The Post quotes Batten as saying, “it is a political job under the spotlight.”

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Museums, directors, news, contemporary art in Hong Kong

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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