Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District Authority announced today that, in January, Lars Nittve will step down from his position as executive director at M+, the hotly anticipated museum slated to open officially in 2019. Nittve has been with M+ since 2011 and has, in his five-year tenure, seen the museum’s collection and staff expand.
In a profile earlier this year in the South China Morning Post, Nittve hinted that he might leave M+ as the museum moves into the construction process of its main building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and shaped like an upside-down T. “I’ve always said that I am not going to run a museum again. I spent 25 years doing that in three different countries. By 2018, I’ll be too old anyway,” Nittve, who was 61 years old at that time, said in that profile. (The expected opening date has since been pushed back one more year.)
As Nittve explained in a statement, “My decision to leave at this point has of course not been an easy one to take. It has been an extraordinary privilege to be part of this journey, and I am proud to say that we have reached a point when we can say with certainty that we have a truly world-class museum underway, with an excellent team in place, a collection of growing significance and an extraordinary museum building under construction. But I have to accept that after five years here, there are still another four years of very hard work remaining until the opening of M+.”
Nittve has become adept at leaving museums on a high. In 1998, Nittve became the founding director of London’s Tate Modern, only to leave three years later. Under his leadership, Tate Modern opened to the public in 2000 to critical acclaim. In another successful directorship stint, Nittve, who hails from Sweden, headed up Stockholm’s Moderna Museet for nine years, from 2001 to 2010—the maximum length of a term possible for a director at that museum. Nittve has also directed the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in Denmark, and the Rooseum, in Sweden.
Nittve’s decision to step down comes during a period of growth for M+. Although the museum won’t open its main building for another four years, Nittve has already begun slating exhibitions for M+’s Arts Pavilion, which will act as a temporary home for M+’s collections starting next year. With a collection of more than 4,000 works, M+ is already expected to be one of the world’s most important museums (Nittve has said M+ is the most complex museum since the Centre Pompidou), and the first of its kind to have such a strong focus on local art. More than 1,500 works in the museum’s collection come from Uli Sigg, who is known for buying Chinese and Hong Kong art.
Duncan Pescod, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s CEO, said in a statement that Nittve would continue as an external advisor to the museum. “After finishing the foundations in early September, we recently signed the main contract for the construction of the extraordinary museum building by Herzog & de Meuron,” Pescod said. “The M+ collection is rapidly growing, not least thanks to generous support from so many donors in Hong Kong, Mainland China, and overseas, with the total value of all donations to date approaching an astonishing HKD 1.4 billion,” or about $181.2 million. “All this has been achieved under Dr Nittve’s strong leadership in the past five years.”