Artscience Museum and Christies Hong Kong: An unholy union between an institution of ‘integrity’ and a business for ‘profit’n

As mentioned in my previous blogs, I have reservations about the use of the word ‘Museum’ in ‘Artscience Museum’. All my doubts have been cleared up – I officially petition for them to drop ‘Museum’ from their name.

Why? Click here, and you will see that the ‘museum’ is going to host an auction preview by auction house Christies Hong Kong this weekend. Any museum worth its salt would say a loud ‘NO’ to such an exhibition, no matter how long it is for, because

1) a bone fide museum is NOT in the business of ‘selling’ artefacts (as museums are there to protect artefacts for posterity). By allowing, Chrisites to use its space for a pre-sale preview blurs the line between a museum that ‘protects’ artefacts, and one that helps in ‘hawking’ them.

2) there are many legal issues. A museum’s reputation is as good as ‘authenticity’ of their artefacts. A museum who is even rumoured to be displaying fakes will not stand the test of time. So, hypothetically, if some of the Christies artefacts on display at Artscience this weekend are enventually sold AND later proven to be fakes, the reputation of Artscience as the museum who had displayed these fakes will also go downhill. Another legal issue is ‘false association’: Christies HK may benefit from this exhibition at the Artscience if its potential bidders feel that the lots, having been displayed at a ‘reputable’ museum, have some kind of ‘unquestionable’ authenticity and therefore bid with confidence (even if the ‘true’ authenticity of some objects may be questionable).

So, the question arising is ‘why does Artscience want to host this preview?’. I don’t know for sure, but it must be a mixture of money (both from the fees Chrisities will pay Artscience for rental and money collected from more visitors), increase in museum visitorship, international publicity, prestige of being associated with an international auction house etc.

I have also previously blogged about the National Museum of Singapore being too close to ‘commercial’ exhibitions like the one featuring watches solely from Vacheron. But I’ve got to say of all the unholy unions between our Singapore museums and external parties, this one between Artscience Museum and Christies Hong Kong tops them all. I hope some juicy controversies come out of this union, so we can all learn all about its unholiness.


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2 responses to “Artscience Museum and Christies Hong Kong: An unholy union between an institution of ‘integrity’ and a business for ‘profit’n

  1. Anonymous

    This post of yours really got me thinking. I get the general drift of your argument. Perhaps the museums are doing a lot more programmes nowadays, and on a larger scale which might in part explain the outsourcing? I don’t know how much of the museums’ programmes are outsourced so I can’t comment. However, this post of yours links up with the point you made in other posts about outsourcing -not only programs but also exhibition and content work. Does this mean that most of the expertise are external, not within the museums and not within the NHB?

    The NHB started out very much as a museum effort and still seems to be an umbrella organisation for museums rather than heritage as a whole, and especially since the archives was hived off to the National Library.

    As the museums seek to be more prolific in the themes they present, it is not unexpected that expertise will be sought from outside of NHB. Surely, NHB and the museums have staff who can work with the core themes though.

    Anyway, “… the museum-staff, who are the ones with the inside knowledge and passion for ‘heritage’ (and presumably not these external staff who must be in it for the money only)… might not be a fair assumption. Just as I wouldn’t assume that all the museum staff have a passion for heritage, I wouldn’t assume that all external staff are in it for the money only.

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