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Meet the Curator who is Celebrating Asian Design


Meet the Curator who is Celebrating Asian Design
Mr Aric Chen, Curator of Design & Architecture at M+ Museum


Curator of Design & Architecture for M+, Aric Chen, has been a heavy weight within the design scene in Asia having previously been the Creative Director of Beijing Design Week, as well as a regular curator for exhibitions for museums and biennales, and a writer for major publications such as The New York Times, Wallpaper* and Harvard Design Magazine. This year, he was the first winner of the Design Curator and Design Critic award at this year’s inagural edition of the prize in Milan, Italy. Having just curated his first design show for M+, ‘Shifting Objectives: Design from the M+ Collection’, we speak to him about the vision for the collection, and where the major challenges for design in Asia lies.

M+ Pavilion, Aerial view
Image courtesy of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and M+, Hong Kong 


First, could you share a little bit about M+? There have been over 6000 works acquired and being considered for acquisition, what is the collection like?

M+ is a museum that looks at 20th and 21st century visual culture, including art, design and architecture, and moving image. We do so from our vantage point in Hong Kong, China, Asia--and the world at large. As such, we try not to box ourselves in by discipline, genre, or geography, and I think the collection reflects this. We've acquired everything from contemporary Chinese art and post-World War II Japanese design to Hong Kong neon signs, post-Independence Indian architecture, Korean Dansaekhwa art, and Southeast Asian moving image--often in dialogue with each other and with work from the rest of the world, up until the present day. I realize this sounds a bit broad, and maybe even messy, but it will suffice to say that M+ will be a big museum, and I think there will be lots of room to explore complexity.

Exhibition View of product design from post-war Japan
Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong


M+ is one of the first museums in Asia to focus so heavily on design and earlier year you had your first design exhibition ’Shifting Objectives: Design from the M+ Collection’, at the M+ Pavilion. Could you tell us a bit about the curation behind it?

Your point is spot-on: because there aren't many museums focusing on design in Asia, we wanted to test some of the approaches we're taking. So we laid some historical stakes, whether by re-centering the modernist canon via Japan or framing 1970s Hong Kong plastics through the lens of design--from masterpieces to mass, if you will--while spotlighting contemporary practices ranging from digital fabrication and reappropriations of craft to copying (which we don't see as being necessarily a bad thing). It was a big show for a not-so-big space, but we wanted to give a sense of design's vastness and intricacies.

Exhibition View of ‘Shifting Objectives: Design from the M+ Collection’ ’Histories’ Section
Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong 


Could you tell us briefly what the landscape of the architecture and design scene in Asia is like right now?

I'll answer your question with another question that people always ask us: How do you define Asia? The design and architecture landscape in Asia is as diverse as Asia itself, with everyone having their own challenges and possibilities. That being said, we're living in a time and place of incredible dynamism, and that applies to design and architecture, too.

Exhibition View, Attributed to Chiang Chen, "Watermelon ball" designed circa 1959; made 1970s–80s
Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong


What are some of the biggest challenges you think design in Asia faces at the moment? In your opinion, how do you think they can be overcome?

Outside of the state, institutions in Asia tend to be weak. In design and architecture, this means that we don't have enough strong, independent voices--whether coming from schools, media, or, yes, museums--to formulate, support, and guide the discussions that design and architecture usually need to develop and thrive. Of course, the authority and power of institutions is eroding around the world. In this sense, Asia, without strong institutions to begin with, might somehow be ahead of the game.

Hong Kong Design Institute by Coldefy & Associates (CAAU)
Image courtesy of eVolo


What sort of programming can we expect from M+ in terms of design and architecture once the main museum is completed?

Our aim is to shed light on the lesser-known narratives of design and architecture in Asia, while revisiting familiar, global ones from Asian perspectives. That's the foundation we're building, at least, and we'll continue to expand, add, refine, and revise.

nterior of the M+ building, showing the lobby and the ‘Found Space’ © Herzog & de Meuron
Image courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority 


Who is one Asian designer or architect that really inspires you and why?

I give credit to any designer who believes in what he or she does, and has the skills and tenacity to carry it through. It's not easy.

"Hotbed" by Lin Yilin, Steel frame bunk bed, bricks, six-channel video (colour, sound) M+, Hong Kong
Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong


What else is coming up in the calendar for M+?

At the M+ Pavilion, we're currently showing "Canton Express," which restages a groundbreaking installation that in 2003 brought contemporary art from the Pearl River Delta to the international stage. That will be followed by an exhibition that examines the expanding and evolving field of ink art. For design and architecture, we're contributing to "REORIENT," a cross-disciplinary symposium on South and Southeast Asia later this year, and organizing a two-part symposium, with Harvard and the University of Hong Kong, on IM Pei. He just turned 100 this year.



Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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