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martedì 8 gennaio 2019

Reawakening Hong Kong's Art Scene: an Interview with Tobias Berger, Head of Arts at Tai Kwun

My Art Guides, Jan 8, 2019



Reawakening Hong Kong's Art Scene: an Interview with Tobias Berger, Head of Arts at Tai Kwun

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My Art Guides: Tai Kwun is the biggest restoration project ever undertaken in Hong Kong, with more than 1500 square metres of exhibition space. How has it been since the opening? And how does Tai Kwun position itself in the institutional art field of Hong Kong? What news Tai Kwun will bring to the city's art scene?

Tobias Berger: I think the most important thing to underline is that Tai Kwun is a revitalisation project rather than a restoration one, which really means that we have to enliven this amazing space. This was an Old Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. We have 16 old buildings and 2 new buildings. The Visual Arts part which we call Tai Kwun Contemporary is concentred in two of these buildings. We opened in May 2018 and the reaction has been super positive from both sides: the visitor numbers are through the roof, Tai Kwun welcomed the first million visitors in October 2018 but more importantly we care about the reaction from the people of Hong Kong as Tai Kwun was specifically made to engage the local community. I mean, we do love tourists and people from all over the world but you know, but 80% of visitors are from Hong Kong. In regards to galleries it's the same for Tai Kwun, with around 250 thousands visitors. Actually, I don't know any other art project that has these kind of numbers but again, it's more important to receive a good reaction from professionals as well as amateurs and artists. We have a really cutting-edge programme which involves several Hong Kong institutions and we mostly feature Hong Kong, Chinese and Asian artists which is wonderful!

My Art Guides: Before undertaking your role as Head of Arts at Tai Kwun you were the executive director of Para Site and curator of the future M+ Museum for Visual Culture. What do these positions mean to you and how do these experiences infiltrate into your new role?

Tobias Berger: Well, for all these places, the general and common idea runs on the concept of how you create a valid art space for that location and how do you develop a valid programme for the local community or for the Hong Kong discourse. Neither M+ nor Tai Kwun Contemporary is there for the global art audience especially in these years. It's here for Hong Kong art community, the artists and the people. That was the same reasoning we had at M+: it is a Hong Kong Museum, where we look at Hong Kong from the outside and I think this is the only way to give a place a certain identity and connection to where we are. I've worked in Hong Kong for such a long time and you know it's really hard to establish an institution like that without any knowledge or appreciation of where you are and the environment you live in.

My Art Guides: The artists you have showcased since the opening include Wing Po So, Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong, Nadim Abbas, Cao Fei… As this is not a permanent collection but rather a sort of Kunsthalle, how do you select the artists?

Tobias Berger: First of all, as you said, we are non-profit, we have no entrance, we do not collect but we also do not exhibit our own exhibitions as we collaborate with other institutions both locally and internationally to basically produce tailor-made exhibitions for Hong Kong. So we are not just a pit stop for travelling exhibitions but we are working with partners together to create something for the city. Our first exhibition, "Dismantling the Scaffold", was produced with Spring Workshop and curated by Christina Li, and to me it was really important to work both with a local institution and curator. And we had Wing Po So, a Hong Kong artist curated by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. We are not so much in the business of curating the artists. The selection is by the curators and by the presenting institutions. We basically help them to produce the exhibitions, that's what is important here. Cao Fei's exhibition for example was officially curated by UCCA and for this show we had to work a lot here, in Tai Kwun since we know the spaces better. So it's a cooperation between Tai Kwun and the guests.


Above image: Tobias Berger, Head of Arts, Tai Kwun, Courtesy of Tai Kwun


Read the full interview on My Art Guides.


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