I never got his last name right by his standard of pronunciation.
And I never really understood his world, but he could be something of a rock star.
I’m sure I prefer expatriates like him who have spent years in Hong Kong and have made a difference.
So it’s hard to describe the feeling when I learned that Lars Nittve would not renew his contract with the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority come January.
That means he will leave behind his M+ museum project, billed as the future of modern art in Hong Kong, where he has invested five years of his life.
Despite having worked with the M+ executive director for two years, I can’t say I know him.
That is not a problem for financial journalists like me who usually don’t need to be schooled in the fine art of art.
But Nittve made me want to go back to art class and start over.
It’s not difficult to notice how charismatic and likable he is.
We may have the same pot belly but he is six inches taller and that makes all the difference.
He has charmed everyone I know, except for a few oil painters and perhaps a few powerful women who can’t figure him out.
When he speaks, he does so from the heart.
He is the type of interviewee who makes reporters look good, which is why he gets super coverage.
This, to me, is like doing a magic trick but he just makes it look spontaneous and easy.
Perhaps that’s why Tate Modern is what it is today.
Lars was its first non-British director in the 1990s before he left to become a museum curator and scholar in Sweden.
He must be a national hero.
I remember him once telling me that his video was broadcast in Sweden’s airport to welcome tourists.
This perhaps is also the reason Lars would not be comfortable in a bureaucracy, with its constant battle for funding and projects dogged by endless delays.
Under Lars, M+ sought autonomy in order to achieve its full creative potential.
Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific about that, lest I’m accused of bias.
But I do remember Lars protesting the West Kowloon Cultural District (a mouthful, I must say) being abbreviated into an arts “hub”.
Sometimes, he would politely remind me about my art deficiencies.
On my last day, he came to my desk, looked me in the eye and bade farewell. I have not seen him since.
It might be a stretch to suggest Lars and his former boss, Michael Lynch, are victims of the ongoing “decolonization” like old postboxes.
But it would be hard to imagine how his successor will take M+ forward without the original brains behind it, let alone fill Nittve’s shoes.
(Nittve was committed to defending artists such as Ai Weiwei.)
One thing is clear: without mentioning his achievement, Lars is worth every penny he was paid.
I wish him all the best in his next venture.
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