Almost a decade ago, I had visited the HK Museum of Art, and been overwhelmed with Chinese ink paintings, calligraphy and vases. Nothing against them, but because my knowledge is scarce and the information provided by the museum then was even scarcer, I came away with a slight headache.
The museum underwent an extensive renovation and recently reopened. And what a breath of fresh air!
Mimi and I landed up there after I mixed up the dates for another event we were supposed to go to. I had been hearing good things about the museum and been meaning to go. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure I wanted to go with the kids because it didn’t seem like there was anything specifically for them. But Mimi is an art lover and since we were at a loose end and I couldn’t find anything more interactive, we headed there.
I was attracted by an exhibition that had contemporary Hong Kong artists responding to older work from the museum’s permanent collection, but when we landed there, I also realised there was an exhibition of British landscape painters – including Gainsborough, Turner and Constable – on loan from the Tate so we bought tickets for that (the rest of the museum is free).
My recommendation is to start with the Ordinary to Extrordinary: Stories from the Museum exhibition on the first floor first. This is a beautiful spotlight on selected works – possibly some of those that gave me a headache last time. To my surprise, Mimi was very into the older works, like scroll paintings, trade paintings and artifacts like cups.
The counterpoint to this is Classics Remix on the fifth floor, in which contemporary artists respond to specific works largely from the Stories from the Museum collection. We actually broke for lunch before taking in this one, and I asked Mimi if she’d rather go home, but she was up for it. There were some really interesting pieces up there – the highlight for me was installation and canvases from renowned Hong Kong street artist who goes by the name Frog King; a friend loved Rosanna Li’s take on quirky Hong Kong street names with her signature fat figures.
I just asked Mimi what her favourite piece was and she said Luis Chan’s very long, surrealist take on the Chinese scroll.
I suddenly realised that the tickets for the landscape exhibition listed an admission time, so we kind of had to rush through it. The Turners were stunning, but Mimi was not impressed. She tended to be more into the hyper-realistic Constables. She could pretty much identify what the more abstract Turners were – “boat”, “water” – but perhaps the muted tones were not her cup of tea (hawww!).
One of the things that was a hit with Mimi was the stamp machine. You download an app, and then on each floor, you answer a question and if you get it right, you can get a stamp on your phone from this digital machine (if you get it wrong, you just answer another question). The stamps were super pretty and if you collect all five, you can get a souvenir, which turned out to be this really lovely Wilson Shieh painting of iconic Hong Kong buildings on a microfibre cloth.
Another activity for kids was a series of screens on which kids could create their own artwork and then have it projected on a bigger screen.
We almost missed – but didn’t, thanks to the need to get a stamp there – the interactive installations on the theme of landscapes by local artists (The Breath of Landscape). We particularly liked Rick Lam’s Shape the Water, in which the artwork reacts to your pulse or your facial expression, and Move the Mountain, in which you can use objects provided to create a landscape of shadows.
In all, we spent around 4 hours at the museum and there’s still lots left to see. I would particularly revisit for the Hong Kong Experience collection.
Very unusually for Hong Kong, the museum has lots of seating space – even racks of chairs you can just take for sitting on – unusual in Hong Kong. The earlier building had been criticised for being almost windowless while taking up harbour sidespace. This is amply remedied in the renovation.
We broke for lunch at the restaurant in the adjoining Space Museum complex, which has a very reasonable and wide selection of food. To get there we walked through the art museum bookshop, which I would recommend for Hong Kong souvenirs/gifts.
We criticise our government a lot, but in this instance, they really got it right.
We crowned our visit with a stroll down the harbourfront, where we identified the buildings depicted on the souvenir towel, and a slow ride down to Hong Kong island on the Star Ferry.