Hong Kong’s new M+ museum of visual culture, which is scheduled to officially opens its doors in 2017, is currently in the midst of building a collection of authentic neon signs originally displayed on the city’s famously lit streets. The museum’s curator for design and architecture, Aric Chen, revealed to China Daily that M+ is actively looking for old signs to add to its collection, and will soon acquire the iconic Sammy’s Kitchen neon cow which has served as a landmark in Sai Ying Pun for over three decades. The owners of the sign were dismayed when the government forced the removal of the sign due to safety concerns, but are relieved their famous glowing cow is destined for the museum rather than the landfill. M+ is also currently in negotiations to acquire another vintage neon sign found in a closed mahjong parlor in Kwun Tong.
M+ has also announced plans for its first major showing of neon signs in its inaugural online exhibition “Mobile M+: The Neon Project,” which will debut in late February 2014.
While M+’s move to preserve doomed neon signage is a wonderful thing, one cannot help but wonder if the art world’s interest in vintage neon signs will hasten their removal from the Hong Kong cityscape. Let’s hope some basic order can be enacted to preserve Hong Kong’s precious heritage as it exists in situ and discourage selling the city’s visual identity to the highest bidding private collectors. It seems as awareness grows of the cultural importance of neon signs, so will their value and the amount of people seeking to buy such works– which could further endanger this symbol of the financial hub.
As a resident of the Mid-levels West neighborhood, this writer will particularly miss the quirky, familiar sight of the Sammy’s Kitchen sign, yet is excited to see its next incarnation within the M+ collection. Hopefully, Hong Kong’s culturally significant neon signage can find the support to remain outdoors in situ for the enjoyment of the public.