Monday, 23 September 2013

Hong Kong stepping up its game as South East Asia's art hub - Interview with Dr. Lars Nittve

Ever heard of the West Kowloon Cultural District? – If you haven’t yet, it is about time you do! The WKCD is located in Hong Kong and one of the most ambitious large-scale art projects worldwide that is currently in its first realisation stages.

Hong Kong and art, you are wondering? Well, there might not be much at the moment but once this project is in a mature stage, we are pretty confident that there will be a lot of talk in the art world and a lot to explore and talk about for art aficionados.

The project dates back to 2006, when a consultative committee was founded by the Hong Kong government to analyse the HK art scene and facilitate the long-term development of the city as an international arts and cultural metropolis. After 15 months of consultation and close examination, what they came up with, naturally goes way beyond dusty museums with creaking wooden floors. Within the next decade, under the project name “West Kowloon Cultural District”, 15 performing arts venues and at least 3 hectares of piazza areas, as well as a cultural institution with museum functions (temporarily called the M+) focusing on 20th to 21st century visual culture, and an Exhibition Centre with focus on arts and culture and creative industry will be constructed. 
The entire district located in prime location at Kowloon’s west harbour was designated as a low-density development with ample open space embracing a vibrant harbour front for public enjoyment and closely connected with neighbourhood community. This major infrastructure project was approved in 2008 by the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

Executive Director, M+

Dr Nittve was appointed Executive Director, M+ of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in June 2010 and he took up his post in January 2011. Dr Nittve has over 30 years of experience as a director, curator and educator of the arts. In the following interview, he gives insight into the unprecedented project, current challenges and his opinion and outlook about Hong Kong as an art hub:

In Hong Kong, space is one of the most precious resources. A huge space in a prime location was made available to the West Kowloon Cultural District. How does that make you feel? Does it have any meaning to you that the space dedicated to this extraordinary art project is built on reclaimed land?

The generous space given to culture and its audiences in West Kowloon is first and foremost a strong signal of the importance culture is given in contemporary Hong Kong. This sense of generosity is also fundamental for the spirit we want to achieve in the M+ project – a welcoming, open and democratic institution. Big parts of urban Hong Kong – especially on Hong Kong Island, are built on reclaimed land – this sense of artificiality is in a way central to Hong Kong urbanity. I hope that both the M+ architecture as well as the park design will take this into account and even thematise it.

How do you think/hope this project will influence the population of Hong Kong and beyond?

It will first and foremost give the people who live and work in Hong Kong a new level of access to world class visual culture – art, design, architecture and moving image. The consequences from this will of course be deeply individual– some will see their lives changed – others will be happy to have learned something new. For our first Mobile M+ event ‘Yau Ma Tei’ in 2012, we found that over 40% of the visitors were first-time exhibition goers. But the consequences for people of a cultural project can never really be predicted – beyond its economic impact. We hope that M+ will set a new standard for how museums operate in our part of the world – and how we meet our audiences and talk about and present our content.

What to your opinion is the biggest challenge of your project?

The possibility of M+ being benchmarked against other institutions in the region.  What we hope to do is set a new standard for how museums operate in our part of the world – and how we meet our audiences and talk about and present our content.

What qualifies Hong Kong to become the No. 1 art location in Asia?

I could never say that it is definitively “the No 1 art location in Asia”… But Hong Kong has some advantages, such as freedom of speech, an open, international climate with its “double” cultural identity, a great location in the region and comparatively good finances.

What impact does such a project have in the global art scene? Is the impact foreseeable? What factors does it depend upon?

To a large extent is this not something you can predict. But already now can we sense that the major museums in the West – and elsewhere – are interested in M+ as a potential future collaboration partner, representing a growing global recognition for the project as well as for Hong Kong’s art scene.

Do you think it is a challenge to prepare Hong Kong's peoples' mindsets for such a gigantic art project after having lived in an urban environment that put crudely was a vacuum for arts accessible to the wide public.

In some way it is. Compared to performing arts, the Hong Kong public has had more limited exposure to visual culture – at least to contemporary art. But there is a great curiosity – which can be seen from the extraordinary visitor numbers from both Art Basel and our own Mobile M+ projects. Inflation! received over 150,000 visitors during its run – which I believe shows a remarkable hunger for contemporary art in the city. In a way we are in the same position as those who started to create a museum scene in Los Angeles in the 1960-s – with the only difference that due to a number of factors the situation in Hong Kong will develop so much faster.

You have been founding and directing several of the most influencial art museums of Modern and Contemporary Art worldwide. To what extend is the WKCD/ M+ project different from what you have been doing previously? How does the fact that this is the first major art/museum project that you are directing in Asia influence you in your work?

It is extremely exciting, because I have to constantly challenge the existing models that I have been part of developing. I have to listen to my staff (who is 75% Asian) perhaps even more than ever before, and to the artists and collectors here in Hong Kong and be very humble. When working in Europe it was about tweaking the existing models – here we try to create something new while remembering best practice from the West.

During the press conference before the opening of Art Basel Hong Kong you implied that it was crucial not to force an already existing museum or cultural space concept upon the WKCD/ M+ but to "look at the world from an Hong Kong perspective". How will you ensure that your approach is new and original and suitable for Hong Kong?

There is no true answer. All we can do is to be as open-minded as possible, have big ears and constantly question our own trains of thought.

The M+ approach is about a very strong public service ethos. Is that a new approach to museum culture? Do you think this will make museums/art/culture more approachable? Is this your proposition for museums of the future or do you think the M+ is unique in that respect?

No it is not a new approach – but it is not developed in all parts of the world, or even of the West, and definitely in all museums. The U.K. for example have a more public service oriented museum culture than generally in the Germanic world. But in the museums I have lead I have always underlined the importance of remembering that what you do in a museum is basically to try to optimize the meeting between the content (art, design etc) and the public – you have to make two very different parties “happy”. A museum is about excellence and access – and both are equally important. It should be a proposition for all – or at least most – museums in the future.

How do you assess the momentum Hong Kong gains as an art hub through the establishment of Art Basel Hong Kong? Will Art Basel Hong Kong influence your project?

The establishment of Art Basel in Hong Kong is of course both a consequence of a process that has been going on for a number of years while at the same time giving further momentum to this development. What it does for M+ and West Kowloon is to both help bring contemporary culture to the attention of media and a wider public in Hong Kong. The arrival of a new fair also underlines the importance of the establishment of major non-commercial institutions as a counter balance to the commercial development in culture.

Interview conducted by Dorit Papenheim

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Louis Vuitton - Marc Jacobs - Exhibition at Musée des Arts Décoratifs

It appears fashion exhibits become increasingly popular and attract more and more visitors. A trend that has received yet another boost by "Alexander McQueen - Savage Beauty", which was displayed at the MET in 2011, but surely reflects also the zeitgeist of people acknowledging fashion as a mean of expression and  significant component of pop culture.
Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, which frequently hosts fashion related exhibitions, is currently showing "Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs" from the 9th of March until the 16th of September 2012.

A comparison - or should I say confrontation - of two individuals, who at very different epochs could establish themselves as designers and innovators who contributed to the world of fashion and who helped build up the brand Louis Vuitton at each of their eras and both in their own right.
Could Louis Vuitton (1821 - 1892), founder of his namesake company, which has grown to become one of the globally best known fashion brands and integral part of the world's biggest fashion & luxury conglomerate LVMH have dreamt of the role his company and name would still play in today's fashion circus? What do those two men have in  common? Where lie their differences? Which role did they play for the brand Louis Vuitton? And how have those two men contributed to Louis Vuitton still being significant today?
These are just a few questions, this exhibit seeks to elaborate.

One man growing up amidst the exciting times of industrial revolution, witnessing increasing urbanization, technical inventions, profound changes in the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times.
A contemporary of Gustave Eiffel, famous architect who built the Tour Eiffel for the Exposition Universelle in 1889 and Charles Frederic Worth, the Englishman who historically has been credited as founder of Haute Couture and the first big Parisian fashion house in the 19th century.
Louis Vuitton, a craftsman with a vision and a great business instinct, who offered his product range - customized luggage for fashion- to the affluent bourgeoisie of Paris. His product innovations included compartmentalized suitcases, a folding bed that could be transported in a suitcase as well as his probably most important invention: a water- and airproof coat, which made his suitcases extremely durable and therefore highly requested by the wealthy social class who could afford to travel. As Louis Vuitton was very far sighted, he patented several of his inventions in order to be able to maintain his position as an innovator and market leader and to be able to avoid his competitors from copying his products.
After his death in 1892, his son George took over the family business, continued with its international expansion and amongst other things introduced the world renown, highly coveted (and most counterfeited)  LV- signet in 1896.


On the other side, Marc Jacobs who has been holding the creative reign at Louis Vuitton for 15 years. The American designer, who in 1984 graduated from Parson's School of Design in New York City, who worked several years for Perry Ellis, where he was dismissed after his controversially received (yet, up until today famed) collection "Grunge" in 1993. Marc Jacobs - together with his business partner Robert Duffy - returned to his namesake brand, which only took off after Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH agreed to finance Marc Jacob's eponymous brand and helped opening his first store on Mercer Street in NYC after he signed a contract to design for one of the big brands of his group.

In January 1997, Marc Jacobs took over the position of creative director at Louis Vuitton, a brand, which despite its great success with bags and leather goods up until then did not even have a ready-to-wear line. What followed was a victory parade of RTW collections and a number of design collaborations with the likes of Stephen Sprousse, Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami, which helped to define the image of Louis Vuitton and turn the brand from a classic French brand for bags and luggage into one the world's most widespread, well-known and profitable luxury fashion brands.

In this exhibition, two worlds collide - the best way to wrap it up in a few words is to say it encompasses snapshots in the history of a brand throughout two world-changing eras (industrialization on the one hand side and globalization on the other). Each of those men accompanied and led the brand Louis Vuitton forward as a creator and innovator, who embraced the challenges of his time.
Thankfully each of the sections dedicated to one of its subjects is located on a different floor. The stairs escalating from the Louis Vuitton section to the Marc Jacobs one hardly suffice for the mental switch one has to flip in order to readjust ones brain from the lifestyle of the 19th century to the challenges of the 21st century.
(The Marc Jacobs section is started with Marc's World, where the spectator gets a peek into the designer's colorful world of inspiration through numerous film clippings displayed on computer screens ranging from J.S. Bach to Spongebob, a nude Vivien Westwood, Liz Taylor and many more...).

An exhibition definitely worth visiting, however, the cohesion of the two sections dedicated to each of the designers are few and are mostly to be found in the way, both Vuitton and Jacobs understood and worked the zeitgeist and requirements of their customers for novelty and lifestyle throughout their challenging times.


Picture Sources:, 

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Must see of the moment: l’exposition "Madame Grès, la couture à l'oeuvre"

What is it that makes the setting of the exhibit "Madame Grès, la couture à l’œuvre" in the Bourdelle museum in Paris so perfect? Or what do Germaine Émilie Krebs and Antoine Bourdelle have in common? It is the fact that both Germaine Émilie Krebs and Antoine Bourdelle were sculpturors? One worked with stone, whereas the other one worked with fabrics.
 At first glance, it might be a challenge to depict similarities. Among the mighty statues of Antoine Bourdelle, Madame Grès' rather filigrane gowns appear very delicate and abstract. Yet, the formally trained sculptress, whose signature was the sensual austerity, felt that several analogies could be drawn between her haute couture designs and classic sculpturing.
“I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, it’s the same thing to work the fabric or the stone” she is famously quoted.

The retrospective dedicated to Germaine Émilie Krebs - Madame Grès and Alix Barton were her alias names - is showcasing 80 pieces, which make the spectator travel through 50 years of her life's work starting from 1934 (her "Alix" period) until her last gowns from 1989, which at that time had been commissioned by Hubert de Givenchy. To round off the mise-en-scène of the sculptures of fabric, a large number of drawings and original photographs of her garments have found its way in the exhibit and stress the unbelievable timelessness of her evening dresses.
All made of jersey, the elaborate robes endure through time without appearing anyhow outdated or old-fashioned. Quite the opposite even: Somehow, the draping and folding techniques complement the natural silhouette to an extend where the fluidity of the jersey merges with the movements of the body. None of the components is dominating the other - neither the dress nor its wearer is in the foreground - it is the blending of the body's characteristics with the natural properties of the jersey fabric that makes the overall appearance so coherent and everlasting.

Following a very modern approach for her times, Madame Grès refrained from the use of confining corsets and constricting materials. Instead, she created coats and dresses that followed natural shapes and worked out particular features and volumes through braiding, draping and billowing of the fabrics. Folding of cloth played a major part in her designs - the “pli Grès”, a folding technique that made upper parts of dresses fit like a glove and resulted in dozens of layers of fabric cascading into elegantly voluminous skirts. 

Daring cut-outs, assymetrical necklines, columnar evening gowns that are referencing Greek or Roman godesses and draped capes with hoodies; due to her immaculate draping skills, the perfect balance between exposing and covering of skin, every item in this exhibit is breathing and testifying elegance, savoir-faire, couture, precision, minimalism and sophistication. 

Her appointment as "Honorary President for Life of France’s Chambre Syndicale", the governing body of the French fashion industry shows the influence she had on French couture. Also, she had dressed important society ladies like the  Duchess of Windsor and Jacky Kennedy as well as actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. Yet, despite being the no less reknown contemporary of Gabrielle Chanel Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli, Madame Grès' name has sadly faded in their comparison.

Madame Grès died in solitude 1993.Only one year later, her passing was announced in Le Monde. She had turned her back on the fashion industry after she had to sell her brand and name rights in the late 80ies.

The exhibit “L’exposition Madame Grès, la couture à l’œuvre" is a beautifully staged tribute to her talent, artistic contribution to the fashion industry and to her strikingly timeless designs, which deserve to be acknowledged way beyond her death.

“Madame Grès: Couture at Work”
Through July 24.
Musée Bourdelle
16 rue Antoine Bourdelle, 75015 Paris


Picture Sources: Sneha Meghe aka Yang Chen jun. (Merci, cherie!!!)
Special thanks: Merci for that beautiful day!!!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bittersweet symphony - MET honors Alexander Lee McQueen with a retrospective

Last night, May 2nd 2011, the annual Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was all about a bittersweet farewell. The gala was the opening event to the annual exhibition of the Costume Institute, which this year is dedicated to Alexander Lee McQueen. From May 4 until July 31st, the MET will be hosting "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" - a tribute to the late designer extraordinaire and his prolific career.
From his graduation from Central Saint Martins in 1992, where his long lasting confidante Isabelle Blow bought his entire first collection to his final one, which was shown posthumously in March 2010, the exhibition shows a careful selection of his magnum opus.

The exhibits were primarily selected from the Alexander McQueen archives in London and complemented by pieces of private collections and the Givenchy archive in Paris. Two production designers of his fashion shows - namely Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett - have been serving as creative director and production designer for the exhibit, which clearly suggests that the setting of the exposition will not only display the remarkable garments but also the poetic narrative behind every collection.

Also, the setting of the Costume Institute gala was fit for McQueen. Scottish bagpipes paid tribute to the designer's Scottish origin, while a replica of an oak tree in the Great Hall of the MET referenced to the ones on McQueen's property in Sussex, England.

Just as the title, which already epitomises the designers inner conflict and his subsequent perception of aesthetics, "Savage Beauty" is an exhibition which displays the omnipresent duality Alexander McQueen has mastered to build his collections around like no other. Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, tells that Lee McQueen sometimes referred to himself as the Edgar Allan Poe of fashion, yet besides the strong narrative, the craftsmanship and creative mind of McQueen are highlighted throughout the exhibition. The exhibition is fragmented into themes - The Romantic Mind, Romantic Gothic, Cabinet of Curiosities, Romantic Nationalism, Romantic Exoticism, Romantic Primitivism and Romantic Naturalism - and takes the visitor through the different stages in the designers career. His different inspirations and fervours like art, painting, history, literature are paid tribute throughout every theme. Also, the staging of the garments is accompanied by footage of his ten most iconic fashion show moments, which again underline his talent as a storyteller, his sense for a grand entrance and his - in the fashion world- unmatched cinematic showmanship.
The MET's blog offers a beautiful selection of video excerpts of Alexander McQueen's fashion shows and a brief illustration of the exhibit by curator Andrew Bolton.

The MET gala - which marked the opening of the exhibit devoted to the British designer usually has a lot of gloriously glamorous fashion moments to offer...this year however, the priviliged attendees excelled by flaunting a ravishing array of Alexander McQueens late designs. Also, some other spectactular robes - i.e. Zac Posen, Givenchy, Pucci & Stella McCartney supplied that extra dose of glamour and drama. My personal favorites - and this time it was truly hard to pick were: Karolina Kurkova in Jean Paul Gaultier, Christina Ricci in Zac Posen, Crystal Renn in Zac Posen, Giselle Bündchen in Alexander McQueen and Salma Hayek in Alexander McQueen.

Quote of the evening: When asked how McQueen would have reacted on a gala and exhibition hosted in his honour, Philip Treacy, one of the designers confidants dryly responded "He would not have come".


Picture Source:,

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Newcomer to watch - Yiquing Yin

Yiquing Yin, French designer with Chinese descent knows how to design collections that dreams are made of. That is one reason that makes her one of the interesting emerging talents to have on the radar for the future.

The garments of the 25-year-old, who graduated of the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in 2009, have the surreal appeal of dreams and feelings shaped into sculptures. They express both the designers technical skills as well as her personal fragility and inner emotional conflicts.
Yinquing Yin manages to instrumentalise movements of the body and combine them with the fluidity of fabrics to an ensemble of texture, volume, structure and proportion that is intricate, elaborate and yet possesses an incredible softness.

Yiquing Yin was one of ten young artists, who annually take part in the Festival International de Mode et de Photographie à Hyères, where the designer reached the finals with her S/S 2011 collection "Exile". The internationally reputed festival gathers once a year under the patronage of an international panel of experts of the likes of Raf Simons, Tim Blanks, Lazaro Hernandez & Jack McCollough, Cathy Horyn, Carla Sozzani (jury cast of 2011) to provide emerging designers with a platform and support.
Also, Yiquing Yin was awarded with the Grand Prix de la Création de la Ville de Paris in the category upcoming designer.

As a special perk during Paris Fashion Week A/W 2011, she was amongst a selection of eight young Parisian designers, which were picked by French Vogue to showcase a selection of their most significant pieces at the first edition of  Petit Salon des Jeunes Créateurs at the Hôtel de Crillon. Selected pieces were also featured in the March issue of French Vogue and footage about the designers was featured on the Vogue website.

The garments Yiquing Yin has presented so far channel her past, which was characterised by her life as a child of refugees, who came to France when she was four years old. "Exile" translates her emotions, identity and self-perception that is dominated by her destiny as a refugee as well as her grief and puts it into the dreamy constructs that her garments are.
Cocoon-shapes and sophisticated flowy drapes accomodate her desire for protection and appear like a soft armour. While fabrics float and caress the silhouette,  the delicate materials enwrap the body like a second skin.

We are surely looking forward to seeing more of Yiquing Yin and very much hope she will be able to keep up the delicate sensuality of her garments and continue to transport her emotions in her collections.


Picture Source: