The following is one of several extended looks into figures and institutions selected for “The Deciders,” a list of art-world figures pointing the way forward developed by ARTnews and special guest editor Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean. See the full list in the Winter 2020 issue of the magazine and online here.
When it opens in late 2020, M+, the new Herzog and de Meuron–designed institution in Hong Kong, will be much more than a contemporary art museum. Situated in the heart of the $2.79 billion West Kowloon Cultural District, it will outsize the Museum of Modern Art, and will have as great an impact in Asia as that institution has in New York. As the dramatic $645 million, inverted-T, glass facade building has taken shape over the last eight years, the biggest question has been: what will go inside? The man with the answer is Doryun Chong, deputy director and chief curator.
Chong, who had previously been associate curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, arrived in Hong Kong in 2013, just one year after Swiss collector Uli Sigg donated 1,463 works of Chinese contemporary art to M+, plus an additional 47 pieces as a partial gift with a price of $22.7 million. The M+ Sigg Collection may be the heart of M+’s holdings, but according to Chong, the total collection now exceeds 6,500 artworks and 30,000 archival materials. Considering suggestions from his staff of 70 curators, he has vetted each and every one before passing the works on for final approval to museum director Suhanya Raffel, the acquisitions committee, and the board of trustees.
M+ will concentrate on the disciplines of design and architecture, moving image, and visual art. Some exhibitions at the museum will take the theme of Hong Kong visual culture from the 1950s to the present. “It is my vision, but it is also the natural consequence of the work we are doing that this is going to be a … multidisciplinary contemporary collection like no other in Asia,” says Chong. “No institution has come up with this sort of vision with the policy, resources, and infrastructure that is already there.” Comparing M+ to encyclopedic modern art museums in the West, Chong says, “we will look very different from all of them because we start from literally the other side of the world and our vantage point is totally different than New York or London or Paris.”
Though Chong is quick to credit the entire M+ team, there are a couple of artworks entering the collection because of his personal intervention. One is a collection of 10 parts of Vietnamese-born Danish conceptual artist Danh Vo’s mammoth installation, We the People. The other is a maquette of the late artist Huang Yong Ping’s all-consuming installation, Empires. Chong was an assistant curator at the beginning of his career when he worked on the artist’s retrospective at the Walker Art Center in 2005, and believes his long-standing relationship with Huang convinced the artist to part with the much smaller maquette.
Chong has not stopped curating even though M+ has been an institution without a building for some time. Exhibitions he has recently co-curated include “Mobile M+: Live Art” (2015) in Hong Kong, and “Tsang Kin-Wah: The Infinite Nothing,” Hong Kong’s contribution to the Venice Biennale of 2015; he was also consulting curator for “Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief” at the 2017 Venice Biennale.