O n a sunny day in the western end of harbour-front reclaimed land in the new US$3 billion West Kowloon Cultural District, the modernist new Hong Kong Palace Museum building’s matte-bronze skin glimmers discreetly. The ambitious institution's inauguration is one of the most anticipated museum projects in Asia.
“We aspire to connect the past to the present,” says Hong Kong Palace Museum director Louis Ng. The state-of-the-art US$450 million structure boasts 30,000 sq m over seven storeys, where an impressive 1,600 sq m will be for education activities, and 7,800 sq m dedicated to exhibitions. The programme will primarily showcase a range of artworks on special loan from the former Imperial collections of China, held by the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The inaugural exhibition will include some 900 objects loaned by Beijing, including 166 classified as grade one national treasures, many of which have never left mainland China before. While some galleries will display objects for several months, other exhibitions will go on for mere weeks owing to the fragility of the works.
“We are very fortunate,” says Ng, of the trove. Of the 1.8 million items in the Palace Museum’s holdings, only about 0.35% are ranked grade one. The Hong Kong show will include paintings, jades, metalware, ceramics, and textiles that once belonged to the royal households. These works – which include, for example, an unusual official seal for an empress, with a double-headed dragon – are regarded as some of the finest and rarest examples of their kinds.
While the Forbidden City complex has the advantage of displaying treasures within the historical compound where emperors and their families lived from the early 1400s until the 1920s, Hong Kong’s contemporary approach embraces the advantages of technology and modern infrastructure. “We want a museum that is inclusive,” says Ng. “While we will emphasise scholarly research, we want to provide a new angle. We want to provide new ways to learn about Chinese culture.” The Hong Kong museum will invest in multimedia as a way of providing visitors with a richer experience of the history and objects with interactive services, art technology and other experiences.
“We want to be inclusive and while we emphasise scholarly research, we want to provide new ways to learn about Chinese culture”
Ng was formerly deputy director of the leisure and cultural services department, which manages the Hong Kong government’s museums. In the past decade, the institutions have hosted exhibitions in collaboration with the Palace Museum, popular with local visitors and tourists. The shows were enhanced with multimedia technologies, videos and other interfaces, customised for Hong Kong audiences.
Complementing the centuries-old treasures from the Beijing collections, Hong Kong – which has the world’s second-largest auction market – will include programmes that spotlight the territory’s connoisseurship culture, with selected objects from private Hong Kong collections.
The museum predicts about 65% of its estimated two million visitors a year to be local. In comparison, Beijing’s Palace Museum welcomes some 15 million people a year, and Taiwan’s National Palace Museum about three million.
Works from Beijing will be featured alongside 13 items on loan from the Louvre in Paris and the French national collections – such as a European tapestry of knights on horseback – and finely embroidered Chinese imperial riding outfits from Beijing.
Going forward, the general programme will include exhibitions with objects from museums in the US and Europe. “Hong Kong is global,” says Ng. “We want to be a major cultural attraction.”
The Hong Kong Palace Museum is due to open in July 2022.
Cover photo: The Hong Kong Palace Museum. Photos: Hong Kong Palace Museum, The Palace Museum