轉播: "The Art of Compromise: Louis Vuitton", by Kevin Kwong, SCMP, May 24, 2009

A collaborative exhibition between the Museum of Art and Louis Vuitton shows that getting business on board doesn't mean caving in to commercial pressures, writes Kevin Kwong

Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation is the biggest museum exhibition this year - and potentially the most problematic. A collaboration between a luxury fashion label and a public museum, it has raised many questions, not least should the government be involved in what some may consider a commercial activity and will the 18-year-old venue be able to showcase contemporary art it's not built for.

Co-presented by Louis Vuitton and the Hong Kong Museum of Art (under the auspices of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department), A Passion for Creation opened on Friday as part of this year's Le French May.

On show are more than 100 works by some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world, including Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Pierre Huyghe, Takashi Murakami and Yang Fudong. There is also a section featuring works by seven Hong Kong artists.

Piggybacking on the art is a large model of the Foundation Louis Vuitton pour la Cr嶧tion, a US$200 million project in Paris designed by architect Frank Gehry that, upon completion in 2012, will house the company's permanent collections and stage temporary exhibitions.

While it is difficult to put a figure on the cost of this exclusive show for Hong Kong, the government budgeted HK$5.9 million for mounting the artworks and promoting the event - a pittance for a contemporary art exhibition of this quality and scale.

A government spokesman emphasises that A Passion for Creation is an art exhibition, and a source involved in the publicity confirms that the museum has gone the extra mile to keep the commercial aspect of the show to a minimum. Security during the mounting phase was stringent, with site access limited to curatorial personnel only. Requests to film the work, even from Louis Vuitton's own crew, were rejected by the museum.

Herve Mikaeloff, who advises and curates for LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) and who is in charge of a part of the show named Louis Vuitton and Art, says he wants to show works and studies created by the company and its collaborating artists "but not product- or marketing-centred".

"This is what could be difficult for [some people] to understand," he says. "We are doing an exhibition with Louis Vuitton {hellip} but we are not going to show products, we will show some of them, which will be prototypes {hellip} but the focus is on the art and the artworks."

There is no denying, however, that the decision to stage the exhibition in Hong Kong is a strategic one. When Louis Vuitton learned, more than a year ago, that the Museum of Art had a three-month gap in its programme this summer, the brand's chairman and chief executive, Yves Carcelle, was keen to grab it to showcase the company's art collection, says Mikaeloff.

"Hong Kong is a very important place for Louis Vuitton and for Asia-Pacific, so instead of doing a preview in London or New York, which are perhaps the easiest places for contemporary art, [we thought] it would be good for LV and for the Foundation to show that this collection is really international, and to do it here in Hong Kong," he says.

But given that the Museum of Art is built to house more traditional art forms such as paintings, the curatorial team in Paris initially had reservations. Mikaeloff says that when he first visited the museum, he thought it was a "strange place for contemporary art because of its architecture". However, architect Jean-Francois Bodin was hired to design the interior and, with the team, to select pieces that blend into the museum.

And other than a few glass panels and mannequins that needed replacing a week before the opening, the preparations for the show went without any major hitch, he says.

"I am surprised, but in the good sense, because the museum prepared everything that we asked for," says Mikaeloff.

"Even if they are not very contemporary art-focused, they tried to understand what we want, and they are trying to do their best, and so far we are very happy about everything."

Assistant curator Mimi Cho Wan-man says the Foundation has also been thorough in providing the museum team, headed by curator Ivy Lin Mei-kiu, with all the necessary instructions and, literally, nuts and bolts to mount the artworks.

The biggest challenge was putting together a triptych by British artists Gilbert and George called Class War, Militant, Gateway (1986). In vibrant colours, each of the three compositions is divided into black grids of rectangles, with Class War the largest, measuring 3.63 metres by 10.1 metres and made up of 120 pieces. The other two are 3.63 metres by 7.58 metres, comprising 90 pieces each.

"They sent us a very simple instruction manual and with it there should be a sample, a rectangular board, that helps us measure the exact distance between each piece. But we couldn't find that," says Cho. "We had to produce our own, and it took a day to get the measurements right. Even a millimetre difference means the shape of the work will end up looking distorted. It has to be precise."

But the size of the museum's galleries has meant compromises have been necessary. When Yang Fudong's five-part video series His Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007, the work was installed in five screening cubicles spread out across the big exhibition venue. Here, it is being shown in two screening rooms next to one another. A Passion for Creation, in general, feels a little cramped.

The seven Hong Kong artists - Nadim Abbas, Lee Kit, Leung Chi-wo, Pak Sheung-chuen, Tsang Kin-wah, Adrian Wong and Doris Wong Wai-yin - have a gallery to themselves, curated by mainland-based art critic Phil Tinari.

Adrian Wong has created a well-researched and fun installation that looks at links between pioneering local filmmakers Liang Shaobo and Lai Man-wai and the movement to overthrow the Qing dynasty at the beginning of the 20th century. The artist says the piece, which focuses on a film called Stealing a Roasted Duck, also explores the idea of historical deletions.

"[We are] talking about a film that, in all reality, may not have ever been made, but which still has very potent resonance and significance within Hong Kong history," he says.

"For the past couple of years my research revolved around Hong Kong and this being the Hong Kong section of the LV show, it seems very appropriate to put forward something that does, for me at least, resonate some 'Hongkongness'."

Hong Kong Museum of Art, 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, until Aug 9. Daily, 10am-6pm, Sat, 10am-8pm, closed Thu except public holidays. HK$30 (no free admission on Wed). Inquiries: 2721 0116