High Expectations for the Hong Kong Palace Museum

After the opening of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, which aims to bring a new local perspective to China’s greatest treasures, its director, Dr. Louis Ng, now faces the task of establishing its international reputation as a plaque turning point of intercultural exchanges.

With the opening of M+ and the Hong Kong Palace Museum (HKPM), a long-held vision for West Kowloon’s cultural district is finally becoming a reality. If this city was once known primarily as a global financial center, it now has the kind of cultural credentials that could transform its international image in one fell swoop.

Museum director Dr. Louis Ng offers a possible itinerary for full-day visitors to West Kowloon. “A morning at M+, followed by a lazy lunch on the Great Lawn of the Art Park, then spend the rest of the day at the Palace Museum of Hong Kong,” he says. “In the evening you can catch a show at Xiqu Center or Freespace.” It’s an exciting proposition that even I, a local born and bred, would happily participate in.

Director of the Palace Museum of Hong Kong, Dr. Louis Ng

And clearly, I’m not the only one. Since its opening in June, the HKPM has seen a surge in visitors, with around 140,000 admission tickets for the first four weeks of the museum’s opening quickly purchased. “Our daily attendance over the past six weeks is around 5,000 and that’s a controlled number,” says Ng. “I think we can easily get past that. Eventually, I think we can have 1.5 to 2.2 million visitors per year.

This is a big difference from just 30 years ago, when Ng first worked in public museums in Hong Kong. “I was at the Hong Kong museum in the late 1980s, and the annual attendance was around 100,000 or 200,000,” he recalls. But the change in Hong Kong’s cultural landscape over the past three decades, along with bigger and more modern facilities, and more importantly, better content, has also brought greater appreciation among locals and tourists.

“I am convinced that Hong Kong can become a cultural city,” Ng tells me. “Especially with the opening of two major museums in West Kowloon’s cultural district – M+ and the Hong Kong Palace Museum. I can confidently say that these two museums are now the finest in Asia. there is no argument.

West Kowloon’s cultural district is now home to the Hong Kong Palace Museum and M+

From concept to completion, the HKPM took just five years. “The project was officially launched in 2017 during the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the handover in Hong Kong, and despite the challenges posed by social unrest in 2019 and Covid since 2020, we have managed to carry out the project and open according to the schedule,” Ng says.

Designed by Hong Kong-based Rocco Design Architects Associates, HKPM’s distinctive exterior recalls the essence of Chinese artifacts. The seven-story building covers an area of ​​13,000 square meters with a total floor area of ​​30,000 square meters and houses nine galleries for thematic and special exhibitions.

Among the main architectural highlights is the vertical central axis, which draws on the concept of connected courtyards but translates vertically, using a series of atriums to connect the floors of the museum, each opening onto a different panoramic view of Hong Kong, from the city skyline to the outer islands.

Atrium on the ground floor

Ng, who was involved in the planning from the start, worked closely with lead architect Rocco Yim on the design. “We had come to a consensus that we didn’t want to make a replica or reproduction of the existing museum, because first of all, we’re not a subsidiary of the Palace Museum. And second, I believe we should have our own identity, demonstrating our uniqueness and also reflecting our local history and culture.

Among the elements reminiscent of the Forbidden City are the large red doors at the entrance and the beautiful aluminum ceiling fixtures that allow light to filter wonderful shadows through the atrium. Looking up, you almost feel like you’re peeking towards the original’s yellow-tiled roofs.

Then there is the uniqueness: beautiful bespoke furniture, including three by architect and designer André Fu – a tapestry at the entrance to the auditorium, a carpet used in a VIP room and an installation of modular seating called Eternal Links for use in public space, which Fu says evokes the silhouette of traditional Chinese tile. Called The Convergence, the tapestry and rug are made by local manufacturer Tai Ping Carpets.

A special exhibition on the making of masterpieces

Giving a Hong Kong touch to the exhibits was also important to Ng, who needed to balance a local identity with that of the Palace Museum as a whole. “People who come here want to appreciate national treasures and understand 5,000 years of Chinese history. But at the same time, we don’t want to be a copy of the Beijing or Taipei museums. So how do we do this? We had to define our position – to relate these historical art objects to the current life of people in Hong Kong. We have adopted a modern interpretation to connect the story of the past to the present.

The Palace Museum is a repository of more than 1.86 million Imperial Family treasures that offer a comprehensive insight into thousands of years of Chinese history and culture. Housed in the Forbidden City, the imperial palace grounds that housed 24 emperors during two dynasties – Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) – the collection includes sacrificial vessels and artifacts that date back to the earliest dynasties , 7th-century CE paintings and calligraphy, Song and Yuan porcelain, gold and silver ornaments, bamboo, wood, horn and calabash, enamel and lacquer antiquities, as well as imperial clothing, books, textiles and furniture.

Imperial ceramics and porcelain are exhibited

Its collections are so vast that it is impossible to discover them in their entirety. Even Ng, who was able to visit parts of the museum closed to the public, says he only experienced a tiny part of it. “I have visited the Palace Museum many, many times since 1981, when I was still studying at university,” says Ng. “And then I was able to make regular visits when I worked in the Recreation and Culture Department, because I was involved in the planning of several major exhibitions. But I think I was only able to discover 20-30% of the palace museum, because there are about 9,000 pieces in total.

For the nine opening exhibits, the HKPM and the Palace Museum are joint curators, displaying 914 artifacts in total. Seven of the nine galleries tell the story of the museum through artifacts from its imperial collection, including calligraphy and ink paintings, and creations in clay and porcelain. Gallery 2, in particular, has already proven itself to museum-goers. Titled From Dawn to Dusk: Life in the Forbidden City, the gallery blends into the story of Emperor Qianlong and how he spends his day, displaying various objects and artifacts used in daily court life during the dynasty. Qing.

A local artist's interpretation of Palace Museum culture
A local artist’s interpretation of Palace Museum culture

Ng says that for the opening of the Palace Museum, the team was able to tap into the vast archives of the Beijing museum to their heart’s content. Even the pieces currently on display were not banned, which speaks volumes about the importance of this Sino-Hong Kong collaboration. In addition to the loans from the Palace Museum, Gallery 9 also houses 13 important works on loan from the Louvre Museum in Paris, which testifies to the depth of cultural exchanges between the Palace Museum and those of other countries.

The most interesting collaboration, however, is No Boundaries: Reinterpreting the Palace Museum Culture, a presentation of the work of six local multimedia and interdisciplinary artists, who use an exciting mix of art and technology to put a new spin on the Forbidden City. .

Future plans for the HKPM see the museum as an intercultural center linking China and the rest of the world. They include next year’s exhibition with Cartier and a display of treasures from the small European Grand Duchy of Liechtenstein. “The year Liechtenstein was established is almost the same period as the Forbidden City in the Ming Dynasty,” Ng explains. “It is very interesting to explore this connection because this ruling family also has a 600-year history of collecting objects. It will be interesting to see the differences in taste, appreciation and culture between China and the countries Westerners.

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