My European Journey – 60,000 miles in 600 words

Dr Lars Nittve, M+ Executive Director

exhibitionSometimes I have a feeling that the job of a Museum Director can seem totally enigmatic to an outsider such as the editor of this newsletter.

During my last stop in Basel, his email arrived. "Can you write something for the Newsletter about your trip to Europe – I understand that you went to nine cities in 18 days."

To me it was of course the most natural thing in the world. I went to the Venice Biennale as I always have done since 1980. To see the world's most important and also probably largest exhibition of contemporary art from all over the world. And to meet literally thousands of colleagues at the exhibitions, the openings, dinners, breakfasts and what not all over the city. And now, after having moved further away from Europe and the US, to have concrete meetings with other directors, curators, artists and collectors that I cannot just "pop over" to, see for the day.

Of special importance was of course to be present for the opening and celebration of Frog King's retrospective and the same time very new exhibition in the Hong Kong pavilion at the Biennale. A profoundly fun and festive affair! Another occasion of importance was the celebration of Swedish painter Andreas Eriksson's diametrically different, very quiet and somber, installation in his national pavilion, which I in my earlier, Nordic life had been responsible for.

That was the beginning of the trip. The end was the commercial equivalent of the Venice Biennale – Art Basel. This is where the world's greatest galleries come to present their artists. And just like in Venice it is an event that in equal part is a social gathering for the world's art professionals, as much a meeting place, as it is an art exhibition.

In between I travelled with M+ curator Tobias Berger to Vienna, Munich, Paris, Metz, Karlsruhe, Zurich and Luzerne. We saw museums and exhibitions, met directors and curators and learned a lot. To summarize I think that the trip – including Venice and Basel was all about the various aspects of where we are in the planning and preparation of M+ right now. It was about:

  • Seeing other museum buildings, studying not only their galleries, but also their "back of house", loading bays, storage and workshops. 23%
  • Studying a number of museums that with various successes integrate visual art, design, architecture and other aspects of visual culture – as we plan in M+. 18%
  • Spreading the word about M+ and West Kowloon – in literally thousands of conversations, but also on talks and panel discussions 33%
  • Doing magazine and newspaper interviews about M+ 9%
  • Seeing artists, museum directors and collectors and initiating discussions about future relations and collaborations 17%= 100% M+!

And then it was of course just about looking at art, discovering new artists, being moved, touched, amused, and annoyed… Some of the highlights to me were American artist Walter De Maria's new permanent installation on the museum area in Munich and Prada Foundation's new exhibition space in Venice. But there were of course masses of great exhibitions along the way – in Venice the artists in the Swiss and UK pavilions, while not forgetting Singapore, Israel and of course Hong Kong and Sweden… And architect Shigeru Ban's now one year old building for Centre Pompidou Metz is one of the most successful new buildings for an art museum in many years.

What came out of a trip like this? Some is long-term – relations, possible collaborations or perhaps donations. Other is concrete and is being fed directly in to our ongoing work with the architectural programme for M+. The awareness of what West Kowloon and indeed M+ is all about has risen considerably, no doubt, as well.

So 600 words, my editor said. Nine cities, 18 days, 26 museums and thousands of art works… 6000 words would not have been enough… But it was, as always great. And dead hard work. Nice to be back in Hong Kong!