Lars Nittve Steps Down as Director of Hong Kong’s M+ Museum

News of his resignation has shocked the Asian art scene.

Lars Nittve
Photo: via Vebidoo

The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong has announced that Lars Nittve, the executive director of M+ museum, will be stepping down on January 9, 2016, when his current contract ends.

Nittve has been at the helm of the 47-strong team overseeing the construction and launch of M+ since 2011. In that time, the institution’s collection has grown to encompass over 4,300 works of modern and contemporary art. In 2013, the reputed Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron won the competition to design the museum, whose construction began in 2014.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride, with resignations from the core team, including the museum’s senior curator Tobias Berger, and delayed opening dates plaguing the development of the project. Initially scheduled to open in 2017, the launch of the museum is now slated for 2019.

Already in May, Nittve stated that he had no plans to continue in the role after the opening. But his early departure in just a few months suggests that he might have lost heart with the project as a whole.

“My decision to leave at this point has of course not been an easy one to take,” Nittve said in a statement. “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,” he added.

“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+. I believe I should either commit to all those years—or accept that this is the right time to hand over to someone else. After much consideration I have decided to do the latter.”

Rendering of Hong Kong's M+ museum<br>Photo: West Kowloon Cultural District

Rendering of Hong Kong’s M+ museum
Photo: West Kowloon Cultural District

The news that Nittve will resign from the ambitious project that can be considered his brainchild has shocked the Asian art scene.

“It’s disastrous,” the gallerist Pearl Lam told South China Morning Post. “Why does Lars want to leave? Is there such an inherent problem in Hong Kong that we don’t know how to keep these cultural leaders?”

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong-based critic John Batten told the same newspaper that Nittve’s departure could have been motivated by the pressures that the government is putting on the West Kowloon project. “It is a political job under the spotlight … dealing with [the Legislative Council] and some people are not very supportive,” he said.

Nittve took up the role at M+ after a successful 9-year directorship at Moderna Museet, in his native Stockholm. During his tenure, Nittve managed to fundraise $70 million to expand the museum and bolster its permanent collection. In 2008, the museum opened the Renzo Piano-designed Pontus Hultén Study Gallery. In 2009, a branch of the Moderna Museet was launched in the Swedish city of Malmö.

“While we are very sorry to see Lars go, we have to respect his decision to leave after spending five years in Hong Kong,” Duncan Pescod, CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, said in a statement. “[Nittve] has made an immense contribution to the Authority and we have ensured he will continue to be available to provide advice and support in the role of External Advisor.”

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