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Lars Nittve to leave M+ just as building work in Hong Kong begins

Swedish director steps down having laid firm foundations for museum in West Kowloon

Lars Nittve, the executive director of Hong Kong's much-awaited M+ museum, will leave his post in January 2016, after completing his second three-year contract.

The museum of 20th and 21st century visual culture, a flagship project of the West Kowloon Cultural District, is not expected to open its doors to the public until winter 2019 at the earliest.

Nittve said in a statement: “I am proud to say that we have reached a point when we can say with certainty that we have a truly world-class museum underway, with an excellent team in place, a collection of growing significance and an extraordinary museum building under construction. But I have to accept that after five years here, there are still another four years of very hard work remaining until the opening of M+. I believe I should either commit to all those years—or accept that this is the right time to hand over to someone else. After much consideration I have decided to do the latter.”

Widely respected and well-liked by Hong Kong's contemporary art community, Nittve's resignation, which was announced today, 5 October, came as a surprise to most. He had successfully weathered several public battles with various interest groups. On social media, the immediate reaction by many to the announcement was that it was “bad news”.

A global search for Nittve’s successor will begin immediately. He had been expected to be at M+ at least until after its spring 2016 exhibition of works from the collection of Swiss collector and former Beijing-based diplomat Uli Sigg. Among Nittve’s achievements was acquiring Sigg's Chinese contemporary art collection, which many believe to be one of the world's finest as it includes many works from the desirable early 1990s period. Under Nittve the M+ collection grew to nearly 4,500 works.

Nittve also presided over M+ Mobile, a series of pop-up art exhibitions designed to pave the way and build an audience for the museum. He also shepherded the 2013 selection of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron to design the M+ building, the construction of which is due to begin this month.

Victor Lo, a West Kowloon Cultural District Authority board member and Museum Committee chairman, says: “Lars has been a hugely influential driving force in the development of M+ and I am sorry to see him leave; however he leaves behind a lasting legacy in the form of a great team, a growing collection and a beautiful yet practical museum design that will add immeasurably to Hong Kong’s cultural landscape.”

Nittve moved to Hong Kong to lead M+ in 2011 from his native Sweden, where he was director of Stockholm's Moderna Museet. He had also been director of Denmark's Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, as well as founding director of London's Tate Modern.