In 2003, as the Sars epidemic plunged Hong Kong into a deep depression, William and Lavina Lim found respite in contemporary art. Back then, the Lims were occasional collectors of Chinese antiques, but they became fascinated with young artists’ responses to the times. Over the next few years, they bought hundreds of paintings, sculptures and installations.
Now, as another virus has turned the world upside down, the Lims are giving much of that art away. “We always felt that these works should belong to a museum and that they should be seen by the public,” says William, who is the founder of CL3 Architects and also an artist. Lavina is an interior designer who gravitated towards corporate projects and has extensive experience in the finance sector. “Now felt like the right time.”
The Lims are donating 90 pieces from their holdings, which they call the Living Collection, to M+, the contemporary art and design museum scheduled to open in late 2021 at the West Kowloon Cultural District. Measuring in at nearly 700,000 sq ft, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed M+ will be one of the largest art museums in the world and is already being compared to London’s Tate Modern and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “I really hope M+ will be a place to put children and the general public in closer touch with art,” says William. “I love it when you’re in a museum that feels welcoming and not intimidating, when people are sitting on the ground, people are sketching, people are talking about art. That’s what we hope M+ will be.”
Doryun Chong, chief curator of M+, is delighted by the Lims’ donation. “The Living Collection is widely regarded as the most significant private collection of contemporary Hong Kong art, and this donation includes works by 26 Hong Kong artists from the last two decades, more than 20 of whom are now represented in the M+ Collections for the first time,” says Chong. “The donation of these works supports M+’s ambition to transform Hong Kong’s cultural landscape.”
When the Lims began collecting, international interest in art from mainland China was booming, with museums and collectors clamouring to buy pieces by the country’s leading artists. But the couple was dismayed that this enthusiasm did not extend to artists from Hong Kong. “We felt Hong Kong artists needed support,” says William.
In the years since, while the Lims have been avidly collecting, Hong Kong’s star has risen. In 2008, the annual Art HK fair was launched, which brought international collectors, curators and critics to the city. In 2013, that fair was rebranded as Art Basel in Hong Kong, giving it an even greater international profile. The following year, construction began on M+. Today, there is a buzzing local art scene, with a handful of galleries supporting local talents. And internationally, Hong Kong art has never been in greater demand: artists such as Samson Young, Lee Kit and Tsang Kin-wah, all of whom were supported by the Lims in the early stages of their careers, have had their work exhibited at leading global museums.