Cover The terrace that wraps around the M+ museum has panoramic views over Victoria Harbour. (Photo: © Virgile Simon Bertrand. Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)

The lead curator of design and architecture at M+ discusses how Asian design has been left out of the canon—and explains why the museum has collected a sushi bar

“Times have changed,” says Ikko Yokoyama. “The world has finally recognised the glaring gap left by the exclusion of non-western styles in mainstream art.”

M+, she says, will fill that gap.

Yokoyama is the lead curator of design and architecture at M+, Hong Kong’s sprawling new museum of visual culture, which opens to the public on November 12. On top of collecting art and moving images—such as digital animations and video works—M+ is also committed to preserving, studying and exhibiting works of architecture and design, particularly those from around Asia. Below, Yokoyama discusses why it is so important that design and architecture is being collected by the museum, how Asian design and architecture has historically been excluded from the canon and what visitors can expect from the museum's first exhibition dedicated to architecture and design. 

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How will M+’s architecture and design collection make the museum stand out on the global stage?

At this moment, no other museum in Asia is building a public architecture collection and design archive, especially one curated from a transnational and visual cultural lens. In fact, most prominent design and architecture collections currently in display are privately owned by collectors or companies. While there are many great art museums in Asia, none has the disciplinary diversity displayed in M+. Therefore, I truly believe that our design and architecture collection will contribute greatly towards the museum’s reputation as an exceptional institution.

Furthermore, interdisciplinary thinking has laid the foundations for M+ since day one, making it one of our institution’s greatest strengths. When we collect objects and curate exhibitions, design and architecture are perceived in tandem with visual art and moving images. We actively seek intersecting ideas and boundary-breaking strategies; we highly value concepts that criss-cross and overlap. We are as a brand-new museum conceived from scratch, free from traditional expectations and constraints—these are all exciting advantages that makes M+ stand out from the rest.

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Why is it important for design and architecture to be collected, shown and studied in the context of a museum?

Design and architecture are pervasive and fundamental to our being: they define the things we use, create the spaces we inhabit, and ultimately inform the way we see and live in this world. But when they are buried and neglected in our everyday lives, people no longer recognise its importance and all-encompassing influences. We rarely consider the story behind each tile and column, the stunning innovations and unprecedented trajectories they represent; we forget that we have the power to uncover monumental histories hidden underneath the surface of ordinary architectural objects.

Moreover, design and architecture play vital roles in our economic and political exchanges; they surround us, shelter us, directly impacting and participating in our everyday lives. By bringing architecture into the context of a museum, we offer different ways of looking to help widen appreciation, but also encourage visitors to learn about its tragedies and historical consequences. Therefore, our collection defines our contemporary world, past and present, and shapes us to strive for a better future.

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One of M+’s opening exhibitions, Things, Spaces, Interactions, is dedicated to design and architecture. What questions, ideas and themes are going to be explored in that show?

Things, Spaces, Interactions will present the pervasiveness of design and architecture through seen and unseen narratives of significance in Asia. This exhibition includes approximately 500 works of profound influence in Asia and across the globe, primarily from the last 70 years. The exhibition is divided into five sections; it reveals the larger forces at play in this region, including social and economic changes of a global scale. It illustrates how design and architecture can give us a window into questions that are deeply relevant to our everyday lives.

The first theme of the exhibition is “Hong Kong as Lens”. This section looks at the conditions of Hong Kong as a unique and nodal city; it informs our perspective, encouraging us to look at the exhibition and our world through a transnational framework. This is closely followed by “Designing for a National Identity”, which looks closely at how design and architecture in Asia has played a pivotal role in crafting local and national identities. During the post-war and post-colonial urban and economic reconstruction, architecture reflects significant moments of rupture in East, South, and Southeast Asia, but also functioned as a unifying force that has brought together and empowered communities.

Moving onwards, ​“Future Cities” showcases how architects picture society at large—how they envision our future through reimagining the way we live. Whether completed or not, these projects have largely influenced how our modern cities are built today, and will continue to navigate us through changing environments and ecologies. The next section, “Postmodern Design”, looks at the global context of postmodernism, exploring how the movement has impacted the fundamentals of design in Asia and its lasting influence. Finally, “Questions for Design” encourages us to look at design and architecture from our very own eyes, prompted by a set of carefully curated questions. It invites us to reconsider the role of the designer, question our region’s historical past, and reflect on the way we choose to live now.

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M+ is committed to telling stories from an Asia perspective, or from the perspective of Asia, and collecting and exhibiting work from around the region. Why is this so important, on both a local level and a global level?

It is vital to tell stories from an Asian perspective because the right time has finally come, with a clamant need for changes to be made. In design and architecture, the local and regional contemporary history that is widely taught and articulated in silos applies predominantly to western theories and discourses. For instance, when I was studying design and art history in Japan, I learned about the Arts and Craft movement, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Pop-Art, Fluxus amongst other important moments in western design history, but only had the chance to study Japanese artistic movements and styles merely as a point of comparison to the West.

In fact, we rarely even touched upon the artistic theories, concepts and cultural values of other Asian countries, despite how cultural production under numerous social, political and economic contexts have always been developing in parallel to the “western canon”.

However, times have changed; the world has finally recognised the glaring gap left by the exclusion of transnational, non-western styles in mainstream art, making our museum’s all the more important. As Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture, M+ serves as a multidisciplinary hub to address these needs. We want M+ to be an international platform for regional and global makers to exchange ideas and develop new ones together. We hope that our transnational collection, excellent resources and exceptional exhibition research will help stimulate these transcendent discussions, to pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive canon.

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Can you introduce three pieces of architecture and design that you are especially excited to have represented in the M+ collection?

1. Kiyotomo sushi bar (1988, reinstalled 2021) by Kuramata Shiro

This unique acquisition features a dismantled sushi bar from Tokyo, now reinstalled and preserved in Hong Kong as an important piece of interior design. The sushi restaurant was a one-of-a-kind design at the time, as Kuramata prioritised creating a memorable spatial experience. By installing this restaurant space as an object in our gallery, visitors are encouraged to view the interior space on its own, detached from its ascribed functions and implications. Through this, visitors may start to perceive and appreciate the spaces they occupy on a daily basis from a completely new and different light.

2. Chair (ca.1971-1973) by Minnie Boga

Minnie Boga is a female designer and entrepreneur from India. Boga started her own furniture design company, Taaru when post-independent India was undergoing a large-scale urban transformation. Boga was inspired by the styles and forms utilised by French architects and Scandinavian manufacturers, and quickly identified an unoccupied niche in the modern industry. She adopted the methods of local manufacturers and created a distinct design that befitted the houses and public spaces of India, contributing to the country’s modern structural and spatial formation. Boga’s works are an excellent example of how M+ can acknowledge and reappraise works are that are historically important, but have long been underrepresented.

3. The Archigram Archive

In the 1960s, [architecture studio] Archigram took on mainstream architecture with a countercultural approach to futuristic urbanism, expressed through their publications, teachings and otherworldly exhibitions. They considered architecture to be a living system that can adapt to the behaviours of a city and its people. Around the same time, the Japanese Metabolists created a manifesto that shared similar ideas with Archigram; while both ideas were largely left undeveloped, it has undoubtedly made a significant intellectual impact on many aspiring architects. Almost 80 years later, the generative architecture ideas conceived by Archigram are still highly relevant, and even more possible given our rapid technological advancement. With the current population challenges seen in Asia, thoughtful urban renewal is an acutely topical subject. I am thrilled to see how this archive will inspire the next generations of architects, designers and cosmopolitan citizens.

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Looking to the future, when people talk about M+ in ten years, how do you hope they will describe the museum?

For the people of Hong Kong, I hope that M+ will be a place that they will be proud to have in the city. I hope that they will utilise it as a toolbox for fresh ideas and plentiful creative inspirations.

For the people from outside of Hong Kong, I hope that M+ will be the reason they choose to travel to this wonderful city, to visit spectacular exhibitions that they will not be able to find anywhere else and see with their own eyes the best of what Asia’s contemporary visual culture has to offer.


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