Friday 4 April 2014

M+, plus what?

“The significance of the 20th and 21st century Japanese design is undisputed, both in the East Asia region and globally. As such, design from Japan will necessarily assume an important place in M+’s design collection. Shiro Kuramata (1934-91) was regarded as the most influential and widely-known Japanese furniture and interior designer of the late 20th century. Out of more than one hundred architecture interiors designed by Shiro Kuramata, only three still exist today and the work in question is one of them. The acquisition of “Kiyotomo Sushi Bar” is an important milestone for M+ in collecting and studying Asian designs.”#1

M+ responded to a query from a member of the Legislative Council after the acquisition controversy was leaked by the local media.

Shiro Kuramata leaning against his Dinah chiffonier

Kuramata’s industrial works: Cabinet de Curiosite (left) 
and Miss Blanche (right)

Sofa with Arms (left) and Copacabana (right)

Shiro Kuramata was a member of the Memphis Group, which influenced much of his industrial design approach in the 1980s. His furniture pieces are visually striking and those with limited production are still sought after in auctions. Many design museums are eager to keep them as novel gems. Kuramata’s works like the ones by Michael Graves or Ettore Sottsass, expanding possibilities whilst representing a post-modern movement of reactionary forces against functionalist dogmas, are radiance in the spectrum of design fads of recent times.

The sushi bar (gross area of 75 sq m) and shop front will become a major permanent exhibit in M+.
(All Kiyomoto Sushi Bar drawings and photosEditoriale Domus)

Contrary to his product designs, Kuramata’s interiors are invariably restrained with hints of Japanese aesthetics. To the right, Ya Ya Ho lightings by Ingo Maurer and Ko-Ko bar stools by the architect himself are present.

It was Oriental Daily which made headlines by revealing that the museum committee had decided to transplant Kiyotomo Sushi Bar in Hong Kong as a major permanent exhibit, come M+’s opening in 2017. The Tokyo restaurant had already ceased business in recent years and the price tag of fifteen million HKD is definitely the biggest cheque the owner receives in its entire history of operation. The museum is expected to dish out another two million at least for its ‘take-away’ operation of dismantling, shipping and re-assembly. Kuramata probably had never imagined such outcome, nor did we. Between gasps of breath, there are a few questions we’d like to throw in.

Entrance sliding door guarded by curved blue wall.

Floor plan showing the tiny restaurant space.

What is Kiyotomo Sushi Bar?

Not perturbed by my own ignorance on the interior project, I tried very hard to find something, or anything, on it in the Hong Kong University Library. Without turning every single page on the bookshelves, my attempts though persistent by most standards only yielded to an emotional tribute by Sottsass in the February issue of Domus, 1996.

In parallel, this research was developed into a game of luck through search engines in English, Chinese and Japanese (which was stretching my ability), the result was dismal. Even Kuramata’s official website offers no information - in fact none of his interior works are shown. It leads to a thought that the case of oversight across the board on an ‘important milestone’ as M+ describes, in reality presents a huge gap.

In case of doubt, it is always worth going back to first principles:

“You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces: that is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good. I am happy and I say: This is beautiful. That is architecture.”#2

Based on Le Corbusier’s yardstick of excellence and other thoughts, I am not affected despite repeated studies on the work. With ambivalence of concept, furtive expressions and proprietary finishing, this is, in my view, not an interior architecture worthy of museum collection. Its fateful escape from demolition does not warrant a reason to preserve. In short, I have all but reservation on its standing in the 20th century art and design. If any reader has any insight on this work attaining in typically Sottsassian expression - ‘sweet metaphysical dreams’#3, I am all ears.

Finn Juhl’s interior and house revived as part of 
the Ordrupgaard Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Shröder’s House by Gerrit Rietveld in Utrecht, Holland – 
it surpasses the role as a museum to become 
a synonym for the De Stijl movement.

Why buy a contemporary interior?

The precedence of re-locating interiors to become museum pieces is not unheard of. For historical collections, they are plentiful and citing is unnecessary. For interests in mid-century works, the interiors are seldom separated from the shells that contain them. The interior of Finn Juhl’s house preserved for appreciation makes sense when the building that houses it is intact, same case for the Shröder’s House. The reason being so arranged, their complementary existence would be at a lost otherwise.

In quasi-preservation settings, the Geffrye Museum makes up the drawbacks by devoting itself to the theme of domestic designs of the past 400 years. The series of historical interiors transplanted in the Met achieves similar effect. But a recent interior exhibit preserved out of context and in isolation is a challenge to the audiences and curators alike. With limited references to other contemporary paradigms in the museum, what meaning can the sushi bar convey to our city?

Section across the restaurant.

Axonometric view from the entrance.

View from the chefs’ side towards the same direction.

How to handle an artefact of contemporary interior design?

When the interior is taken down and re-constructed in M+, there are a series of issues to be considered. Assuming that every piece of the finished materials is salvaged and preserved in a meticulous manner, otherwise the business of buying the restaurant fitting-out as a ‘genuine article’ would be pointless. After all, the museum opines that the work is ranked among the “most important and major work of art”#4. As such, meddling with its authenticity is profanity to the curators.

It is therefore expected that the water stains on the skirting, the worn-off timber veneer on the walls, the chipped granite flooring and every bit of scratch mark anywhere would be faithfully re-assembled to match its existing conditions in Tokyo. Is it feasible in reality? Will there be new and unsightly sealant joints or finishes deviating from the originals? These are some of the nagging questions. Unlike ancient interior preservations we are accustomed to, the transposition of this aged contemporary interior might transcend its re-birth with cryptic nuances.

Having absorbed on this mental picture, the restaurant interior faithfully re-constructed is still not the restaurant envisaged. The absence of waiting staff, food and tableware would render this re-construction incomplete and sterile in appearance. Would we see barrier ropes and people freely roam about in this tiny space of alternative spectacle?

View from the entrance.

Beside the M+ architectural model are some members of the Museum Committee. The governing body is basically made up of bureaucrats who invariably endorse the recommendations by the Interim Acquisition Committee comprised of professionals.
(ImageWest Kowloon Cultural District Authority)

More questions than answers

The task of filling up M+ with its own collection is daunting, considering the ambitious museum has a net area of 26000 sq m exhibition space to start with. As far as information made public, this building of visual culture has amassed a variety of visual art, moving images, architectural materials, popular designs, and the list is expending. Eschewed from elitist tendency, Sundial believes that a museum of mixed directions should maintain a very rigorous selection policy.

The reason is simple: Art and design serve different needs in a society, any attempt to blur the two would be detrimental to all. Its damage is gradual but caustic, reverting the course is extremely difficult. To illustrate with examples, just imagine a pair of trainers is conceived like an artwork to the extent that the basic performances are compromised. Or any hyped-up poster that is no better than a picture illustration is celebrated along with serious art.

For every plus, there is privation in return. Populist intents embraced by M+ are no substitute for lax acquisition policies. Hence, an art museum proper would not incorporate a design gallery and a house of fine art should not mix with applied arts. Before all of us are confused, would M+ let us know what you are up to? Is this ‘plus’ a liberal inclusion of visual culture – a boundary-free confine that defies calls for focus, or a leverage of authority to squander on public coffers?

#1 and #4 Official response from M+ to Hon Christopher Chung, member of the Legislative Council based on his letter dated February, 25, 2014. Link here:

#2 Le Corbusier: Towards a New Architecture (France 1923)

#3 Ettore Sottsass: Kiyomoto Sushi Restaurant in Tokyo (pp58-62, No. 779 Domus, February 1996)

M+,是加還是減?    〈中文翻譯〉

史朗(1934-91)在上世紀八○年代是曼菲斯團隊(Memphis Group) 之一員並深受運動影響工業設計他的家具作品尤奪目限量生產之作迄今一直得到拍賣行的不少設計博物館還爭相擁有他的設計為收藏亮點猶如米高.紀(Michael Graves, 1934 -  ) 或埃托索薩斯(Ettore Sottsass, 1917-2007) 的創作史朗的貢獻在於擴闊設計框架之餘 還推動抗衡狹隘的功能主義,以當代反動之派別潤澤設計風尚的光譜



面對這作品筆者沒有被自己的無知而卻步 反之我去了香港大學圖書館意圖尋找多少資料沒有翻箱倒籠的情況下縱使自己多麽堅持不懈,只能找到索薩斯(Sottsass)Domus期刋一九九六年二月第七七九號裡發表的一篇充滿感性的頌文

與此同時我在互聯網的搜尋無論中文英文甚至日文,盡寄望運氣的,最終零星的線亦欠奉我更想不到的網站亦掏個空裡面連一個室內設計項目沒有從多方面觀察 M+所說的“重要里程碑”, 蒼海遺珠的狀况,現實上暴露了一大鴻溝。



筆者用柯布西耶 (Le Corbusier) 對建築藝術的尺度及自己的準則套用在這作品上,可惜反復思量仍未受感動。可以說,作品含糊的概念、幽秘的表現手法及行貨般的工藝並非博物館應收藏的貨色。它沒有被拆掉,只表示命運的使然,但絕非是保育的契機。就M+辯稱它是二十世紀重要設計並擁藝術價值,本人絕對有所保留。如果讀者持不同角度,甚至同意索薩斯以〝甜美及形而上的夢想〞來描述,筆者在此聳耳聆聽。


博物館重構室內建築的先例並不罕見。富歷史價值的收藏品更是多不枚舉。然而以上世紀為例,室內的構建甚少與它們的建築外殼分離。比如說,Finn Juhl的室內佈置與他的房子一併保存,體會意義豐厚;同理,Shröder’s House亦然。考其原因,這兩個相互依靠之體若遭分割,它們的獨立存在則黯然失色。

另外,Geffrye Museum的家居場展嚴格來說不正統,但它以搜羅近四百年的佈置為題,倚多為勝,彌補不足。Met的系列式歷史居住內景亦得以廻避上述問題,廣為接受。但近代單一及脫離脈絡的室內建築展品絕對是對觀眾及策展人的挑戰。在同場有限的參考及對比下,試問這個壽司吧在香港能發揮什麼意義呢?








查每一個增加背後不無減耗。M+擁抱民粹之餘亦不應寬鬆收購策略。因此,一所合度的藝術館不會涵盖設計展廳,而美術館亦無須與應用美術混為一體。在大家還未感困惑不解前,M+可否告訢我們你究竟在搞什麼?你的「加號」是否任意包涵的諸色視覺文化 - 就是說,一個無彊無界拒絕聚焦的準則?還是一個浪費公帑,帶槓桿式的權責把玩?

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