The archives of English architecture collective Archigram are headed to Hong Kong. After Archigram sold its archives to the not-quite-open-yet visual culture museum M+ for $2.37 million in March of last year, the archive was packed into shipping containers—where they sat for nearly a year while the museum waited for permission to export the collection. That’s all changed, as U.K. Culture secretary Jeremy Wright has approved an export permit. At the time of the sale, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, under UK's Arts Council, blocked the export of the archive. After hearing testimony from museum officials, the committee placed a temporary block on the archive’s export in the hopes that a U.K.-based buyer could be found instead. In the last review of the archives, the Reviewing Committee ruled that Archigram’s archives, while a precedent-setting work for contemporary architects, met the body’s three “Waverly criteria” standards. Those criteria are used to determine whether an object has enough national importance for the body to block its export. The archive spans over 10,000 images, half of which have being digitized and made available to the public for free by the University of Westminster in 2010. Ultimately, Secretary Wright made the decision to release the archives to M+, noting the difficulty in finding a buyer who would keep the collection together. M+’s purchase came at the direction of the museum’s curator-at-large Aric Chen. It’s expected that the collection of renderings, technical drawings, collages, drawings, models, ephemera will be accessible to the public, rather than shunted into a research archive. “We'd been working on this acquisition for a long time,” said Chen, “only to have this export issue throw us for a loop. On the bright side, I was happy for Archigram to see their importance reaffirmed in the U.K.—but I'm of course even happier the archive is coming to M+, where it will be equally appreciated, and where we'll work to shed new light on Archigram, from their interactions with the Metabolists of 1960s Japan to their resonance with Hong Kong's urban landscape and the work of many leading Chinese architects working today.” AN has reached out to Archigram members Michael Webb and Peter Cook for comment and will update this story as needed. Although the M+ purchase is a heady one, the museum’s physical headquarters in the West Kowloon Cultural District is still under construction. The 700,000-square-foot, Herzog & de Meuron–designed arts center is expected to open next year.
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Architecture curator and former AN columnist Aric Chen has stepped down from his role as the lead curator for design and Architecture at M+ in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District and has taken on the title of curator-at-large at the museum. In addition to M+, Chen will be focusing on other curatorial projects as well as teaching, including guest curating the 2018 Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition at London’s Design Museum, from his new base in Shanghai. M+, first proposed in 2007 but currently without a permanent home, is focused mainly on the visual culture of Asia, in a global context, throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The museum’s collection includes a wide variety of pieces including paintings, architectural models, furniture, digital art, performance art, and more. Following an international design competition in 2013, Herzog & de Meuron were chosen to design M+’s permanent home in West Kowloon. The 700,000-square-foot waterfront museum will resemble a ceramic-and-glass-clad, upside down “T” once complete and will hold over 180,000 square feet of exhibition space, performance spaces, cafes, offices, three theaters, and a rooftop terrace. Construction has been fraught with delays, and there have been fears of cost overruns as the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority fired its main contractor earlier this month. While construction has been put on pause for six weeks as the authority searches for a replacement, the managing body has maintained that the museum will still open in 2020 as previously promised. Chen, who had served as M+’s lead curator since 2012, oversaw the formation of the museum’s design and architecture department and its acquisitions. He also led the establishment of the department’s programming and curatorial team. Chen also served as the first creative director for Beijing Design Week from 2010 to 2012. His online exhibition NEONSIGNS.HK, an interactive catalog of Hong Kong’s vibrant neon sign ecosystem, won Chen praise when it was released in 2013, and it won a Webby. Chen’s most recent book, Brazil Modern: The Rediscovery of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Furniture, is available now.