Palace of Year: One year in, the Hong Kong Palace Museum has forged its own identity as a world-class cultural landmark

Enchanting and enriching 1.3 million visitors in its first year, Hong Kong Palace Museum is an unmissable addition to the Kowloon cityscape. From afar, the grandeur of its distinguished façade draws the eye. Inside its breathtaking space, 12 outstanding exhibitions have held court in as many months, each displaying a wealth of multimedia components, an innovative approach to curating, and a distinctive cultural perspective.

Also Read: Colour Harmony: Andrew Yuen’s Evolution From Boyhood Treasure Hunter To Guardian Of Culture

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On the occasion of its first anniversary, the HKPM is well into its stride and looking confidently to the future. Since it opened its doors to the public on 3 July 2022, the museum has cultivated strong partnerships in the areas of academic and cultural exchange, in addition to showcasing some of the finest artefacts from its namesake in Beijing and other significant cultural institutions around the globe. Its presence has strengthened the dialogue between world civilisations and Hong Kong’s status as an East-meets-West cultural hub.

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We are delighted to celebrate this important milestone. In the past year, the museum has brought moments of delight and amazement to the viewing public. We would like to express our deep gratitude to the Palace Museum for loaning such precious objects for display in Hong Kong, and to our donours and patrons for their generous donations and support. Kudos must go to our curatorial and operational teams for their professionalism and dedication. The museum has been empowered by the overwhelming support of the general public and visitors from around the world,” says Winnie Tam Wan-chi, Chairman of the Hong Kong Palace Museum Board. “We vow to continue to present exceptional exhibitions and programmes at the HKPM with the aim of promoting Chinese culture to a global audience, in accordance with the National 14th Five-Year Plan to develop Hong Kong into an East-meets-West centre for international cultural exchange.”

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Beijing Assistance

The Palace Museum in Beijing, which houses an immense collection of classical Chinese art and artefacts, and the West Kowloon Cultural District joined hands to create the Hong Kong Palace Museum in 2015-16. The cooperation was announced in December 2016 and billed as a gift from the central government to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China.

As a result of the partnership, the Beijing museum lends items to the Hong Kong museum for both long- and short-term exhibitions. For those counting, a total of 914 items from the former’s 1.86-million-strong collection were secured for the HKPM’s inaugural shows.

The loan is the biggest granted by the Beijing institution since its founding in 1925 and features pottery, jade, bronze, costumes, jewellery, paintings, calligraphy and other national treasures – the majority showing in Hong Kong for the first time. The most priceless pieces appear for three months before being returned home to rest in accordance with established exhibition practice.
Hong Kong Exclusive

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Despite the connection between the two organisations, the Hong Kong museum has forged its own identity. The HKPM team arranges loans from other esteemed institutions besides the Palace Museum. Upon its opening in July last year – one day later than planned due to a typhoon – more than 100 works borrowed from other museums and institutions in Hong Kong, as well as 13 pieces on loan from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, were invitingly in situ.

Multimedia creations from six local contemporary artists were also presented in its first exhibition, and ongoing efforts have been made to attract young people and foster an understanding of Chinese culture on a global scale.

The HKPM’s 84,000 square feet of exhibition space are spread across nine galleries over the seven-storey building designed by local architect Rocco Yim. Each gallery has a different topic, such as life, architecture, design, or art in the Forbidden City, where its Beijing counterpart is housed.

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Now Showing

In the fifth three-month rotation of treasures on loan from the Palace Museum, 51 splendid works will be exhibited in Galleries 1, 2 and 5 until September 2023. Most pieces in this impressive display have not been seen in Hong Kong before and they aptly mark the HKPM’s first-anniversary milestone. They include two Grade One national treasures: a Ming-dynasty ewer resembling a pine tree and a Qing-dynasty brush pot shaped like a Chinese cabbage by renowned bamboo carvers Pu Cheng and Feng Xijue respectively. These extraordinary works headline the must-see show ‘The Quest for Originality: Contemporary Design and Traditional Craft in Dialogue’ in Gallery 5.

A recently acquired scene from The Grand Imperial Wedding of the Guangxu Emperor called “Presenting the Empress’s Investiture Book and Seal at the Hall of Union” is one of the highlights of ‘Entering the Forbidden City: Collection, Architecture and Heritage’, the presentation in Gallery 1. It is joined by the only surviving gold seal of an empress in the Palace Museum collection.

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In Gallery 2, ‘From Dawn to Dusk: Life in the Forbidden City’ includes “The Maze”, a print from the Twenty Views of European-style Mansions in the Garden of Perfect Brightness series that showcases the magnificent scenery at Yuanmingyuan Park (the Old Summer Palace). This set of Qing-dynasty prints of the famed imperial garden reflects the integration of European and Chinese painting styles and landscaping features at the time.

A Gift that Keeps on Giving

A portion of China’s imperial treasures is housed at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, having been removed from the mainland during the civil war in the 1940s. The HKPM has been looking into potential collaborations with the Taiwan museum, but due to the latter’s rigorous policies regarding the loan of artworks and artefacts abroad, there are presently no plans to share collections.

However, for the recently minted Director of the HKPM Board, Andrew Yuen, introducing Chinese arts and culture to a wider audience fits his broader vision. “My hope for the Hong Kong Palace Museum still is to be the bridge between the other two ‘Palace-tinians’, between China and Taiwan,” he says.

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Alluding to the museum’s genesis as an anniversary present to Hong Kong, Yuen adds: “I hope that Hong Kongers can make time to appreciate our rich Chinese culture. After all, the HKPM is built as a gift for us here in Hong Kong, so we should treasure it and feel special about having such a venue.

“From the moment you step foot in the museum, you will feel its grandeur and importance. This is really one of a kind. The plan, after all, is not to be a branch of the one in Beijing. The Hong Kong Palace Museum is really distinct from its namesake and we plan to keep it that way.”

Ultimately, the Hong Kong Palace Museum is a public venue that aims to incorporate art into everyday life rather than only being a place for those who study art and culture. It goes beyond.

Click here to visit the museum.