M+ Museum Acquires Entire Archigram Archive
By Julee WJ Chung
On January 28, Hong Kong’s M+ Museum announced its acquisition of the entire archive of seminal British architecture collective Archigram. Twenty thousand items representing some 200 projects from the 1960s and ’70s will be moved from storage in the United Kingdom to Hong Kong.
The collection was acquired for GBP 1.8 million (USD 2.36 million) from the surviving members of the group—Peter Cook, Michael Webb, David Greene and Dennis Crompton—as well as the personal representatives of deceased members Warren Chalk and Ron Herron. The involved parties confirmed the transaction in March 2018.
Initially, the sale was met with opposition from the Arts Council England Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest due to the archive’s “outstanding significance in relation to architectural history.” According to Architects Journal (AJ), only cultural items over 50 years old can be blocked from export and the archive straddles the line. The committee recommended a deferral of the acquisition in order to continue the search for a buyer who would be able to secure the collection in the UK. The archive, which was valued at GBP 2.7 million (USD 3.53 million) in 2016, has attracted worldwide interest, including from the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. However, none were willing to purchase the entirety of the archive. Cook, Webb, Greene and Crompton were willing to take a lower price from an institution that would guarantee the conservation of the archive and would provide a platform for the archive to be made accessible to the public. The UK’s culture secretary Jeremy Wright concluded that an export license should be granted to M+, “on the basis that the issue of overriding importance was that the Archive should remain intact.”
Archigram member Peter Cook told AJ that he was relieved by the minister’s decision. Crompton added that he had previously been keeping the group’s works “under various beds and in cupboards [. . .] Now it will be all together in a place which is young and enthusiastic.”
Formed in the early 1960s, Archigram was an avant-garde group composed of six radical British designers and architects who sought to reimagine architecture and the city. Their designs, although never built, proposed new approaches to urbanism.
Aric Chen, M+ curator-at-large and former design and architecture lead curator, noted of the acquisition: “Archigram’s influence is broadly well known, but the group’s interactions and resonance with Asia, from the Metabolists of 1960s Japan through to contemporary Chinese architects, are less explored. We are confident that having the archive at M+ will prompt new frameworks for seeing Hong Kong.” Deputy director and chief curator Doryun Chong added: “The acquisition of the Archigram Archive will greatly enhance M+’s position as a leading voice in the discussion on contemporary architecture, and more broadly, global visual culture, and will also provide a key resource for our ongoing work on architecture in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Japan, South and Southeast Asia, and beyond.”
Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.