European Registrars Conference 2016 – Exhibition and Collection Specialists in Asia
Veronica Castilla, Head of Collections and Exhibition Services, M+, Hong Kong
At the last day of the Conference in Vienna we received a brief but inspiring presentation of the museums and art galleries sector in Asia by Veronica Castillo.
Veronica was a former registrar at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid from 2001 to 2011 and since 2012 she became Head of Collection and Exhibition Services at M+.
M+ is the new museum for visual culture in Hong Kong focusing on 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture and time based media. The museum will open in 2019 and is part of the exciting new project of the West Kowloon Cultural District which will be one of the World’s largest cultural quarters, blending art, education and public space. If, like me, you cannot resist in discovering more about it, you can find further information on their website.
Veronica wished to tell us her experience and difficulties in Asia from the perspective of a former European registrar. Moving from an established and collection rich museum such as the Museo Reina Sofia to a young one which built its own collection of approximately 5,000 items in the past 4 years would have been a big change for all of us. The major difference that Veronica experienced was the lack of clear museum roles, not just at M+ but in the rest of Hong Kong and Asia. The profession of a registrar was completely unknown and she soon found out museums and also the government in Hong Kong was not willing to change their highly hierarchical and bureaucratic system.
All people working in public museums are civil servants on a rotation service. This means everyone in museums enjoy playing different roles switching from security guard to curator, administrator or conservator without having any relevant qualifications or work experience. Also, believe it or not, it seems that everybody working in museums is addressed as curator!
After the first shock, Veronica has been working in the past four years trying to spread the understanding of the importance of specialised museum roles across Asia. She met with lots of other museum professionals in Hong Kong, China and South-East Asia and again she saw that the term “registrar” and its tasks were alien to them. Most of a registrar’s duties were carried out by administrators with no training or special requirements.
The situation for collections care was not much better but luckily in Hong Kong the university has now started providing courses for conservators to support museums.
New associations have been created in the past years to provide training, network opportunities and professional standards in museums such as: