The news that Hong Kong’s M+ Museum would not display Ai Weiwei’s photograph of Tiananmen Square in its inaugural exhibition made international headlines earlier this year. Now, the institution has taken another step, removing the image from its newly launched website while it is under review by the authorities, Midnight Publishing Group News has learned.
Pro-Beijing politicians had accused Ai’s Study of Perspective: Tian’anmen (1997)—which depicts the Chinese dissident artist raising a middle finger at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square—of “spreading hatred against China” under the country’s national security law, which went into effect in Hong Kong last June.
Another work by Ai, Map of China (2003), has also been censored online. That sculpture, a 3D map of the country made of wood salvaged from demolished Qing Dynasty temples, aims to celebrate China’s cultural and ethnic diversity. The sculpture and photograph are part of the M+ Sigg Collection, a major Chinese art trove donated to the museum by Swiss entrepreneur Uli Sigg.
Both images could be seen on the beta version of the M+ collection website, but were no longer available when the final site went live on August 10.
“M+ is reviewing the treatment of certain images of works having regard to the advice obtained from relevant authorities including the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration,” a spokesperson for the museum told Midnight Publishing Group News. “The images concerned are not uploaded pending completion of the review.”
Many images of works by Ai are accessible on the website, including Still Life, an installation comprising thousands of axes from the Stone Age that was exhibited when the M+ Sigg Collection was first unveiled in Hong Kong in 2016, as well as other pieces from the “Study of Perspective” series, including Bundeshaus Bern (1999) and White House (1995).
Ai questioned the inconsistent treatment of the series. “Why is M+ not showing Tian’anmen but keeping White House?” the artist told Midnight Publishing Group News. (Ai recently wrote an op ed for Midnight Publishing Group News about M+’s decision not to show the work in its opening show.)
Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration is responsible for “enforcing the film classification system under the Film Censorship Ordinance,” “controlling the publication of obscene and indecent articles,” and the registration of local newspapers. The government proposed in August to amend the Film Censorship Ordinance, giving the chief secretary, the city’s number two executive, power to revoke any approval given to a film should its exhibition “be contrary to the interests of national security.”
In addition to the two works by Ai, a number of other objects in the M+ collection are not shown on the website, including some of those by Kacey Wong, who is known for his political art and recently left Hong Kong for Taiwan in “self-imposed exile.” However, some works that might be considered politically sensitive, such as Liu Heung-Shing’s photographic series “China After Mao” and images depicting the summer of 1989 in Beijing following the Tiananmen crackdown, are accessible.
The soon-to-open museum stated that digitization of its 8,000-object-strong collection “is an ongoing effort” and that the collection “will be updated periodically as new works, information and intellectual property rights become available.”
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