Wednesday. 19/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Art Basel

Opinion / James Chambers

Creative control

My abiding memory of the 2019 edition of Art Central in Hong Kong is of an interactive installation by Ko Siu Lan called New Territories, Old Territories. Visitors could turn various Tibetan prayer wheels to spell out the words “Hong Kong is China” or “Hong Kong isn’t China”. At the time, the artwork grabbed headlines. Today it’s not even listed on the artist’s website.

Few galleries will want to push the envelope as the mega fairs Art Basel Hong Kong and its fringe event Art Central get underway today, after being cancelled last year as a result of the pandemic. This will be the first time that either event has taken place under the new security legislation so there’s likely to be even closer scrutiny on what is and isn’t on display. Now that the city’s political opposition has been all but silenced, some underemployed legislators have turned their attention to culture: attacking artworks, questioning acquisitions and calling for institutional heads to roll. Exhibitions have been cancelled by nervous venue heads, film screenings at independent cinemas pulled and foreign talent nudged out of the door.

If Beijing genuinely wants Hong Kong to remain an international cultural hub, it needs to draw a clear line under this patriotic point-scoring before it gets out of control. Hong Kong is still a global art player but other cities could knock it off its pedestal. This week, Frieze picked Seoul for its debut Asian art fair next year. Foreign media titles are already moving to the South Korean capital. Could the art crowd be next? I just hope that politicians from the pro-Beijing camp get a chance to wander the exhibition halls and see the shows for what they are: a huge win for Hong Kong rather than a potential threat to national security.

Image: Alamy

Defence / Kosovo

Forces the issue

The 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia might be history but ongoing tensions between western Balkan neighbours suggest that it’s too early for the international community to take its eye off the region. This week, Serbia voiced concerns over a plan for additional Croatian troops to join a Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, whose claims to independence are not recognised by Belgrade. This prompted the alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, to make clear following a meeting with Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vucic on Monday that Croatian forces would abide by the same rules as any other Nato member. Stoltenberg (who spoke to Monocle for the May issue) also reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to the region and denied recent speculation that some Nato members were pushing for an exit strategy. If international peacekeepers are ever to leave Kosovo, trust between Balkan neighbours must be established.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Venezuela

Route cause

Venezuelan carrier Conviasa has launched fortnightly flights to Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, the first of which touched down last Friday. The political nature of this new route is evidenced by the fact that it was Russia’s embassy in Caracas, rather than the airline itself, that announced it.

With Venezuelan airliners banned from US airspace due to sanctions targeting the regime of president Nicolás Maduro, Conviasa has already focused on allies including Mexico, Bolivia and Iran. And while the new route is unlikely to bring quick profits, it might be based on a longer-term strategy: Venezuela’s tourism minister Alí Ernesto Padrón Paredes said that he hopes the new route will create stronger ties with Russia in the next two or three years. With both nations marginalised by the West, it’s little wonder that Caracas and Moscow are tying the aviation knot.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Middle of the road

If there’s one political issue Americans can agree on, it’s that the country’s creaking roads, bridges, trains and tunnels need an upgrade. That’s why a major bipartisan plan to improve them is gathering pace in Washington. Last month, Joe Biden proposed a sweeping $2trn (€1.6trn) spending package that included more than $600bn (€490bn) for transportation-infrastructure upgrades, along with money for other Democratic priorities on the environment, healthcare and housing. Now Republicans in the Senate are set to unveil their own slimmed-down counterproposal for an infrastructure-only package reportedly also worth about $600bn; a separate bipartisan effort runs closer to $1trn (€820bn). Significantly, a group of Republican senators met with transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg and other Biden administration officials yesterday. “We would all like to see a big infrastructure package,” said Roy Blunt, a Republican senator from Missouri. Such cross-party consensus is increasingly rare but welcome in Washington – and a sign of just how underfunded US infrastructure truly is.

Culture / Venice

Crowd ready

This week’s Venice Biennale preview coincides with a reawakening of cultural offerings in the city. Galleries and museums with top-notch exhibitions are reopening just in time to catch the highbrow crowds. Among the highlights is the Fondazione Prada’s Stop Painting exhibition, which is dedicated to the enduring appeal of brushstrokes on canvas. The revival of these institutions will also play an important part in the future of tourism in Venice. “We’re not just an attraction; we are a place of culture,” says Karole Vail (pictured), director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the city’s premier museums. “Through our exhibitions, public programmes and collaborations, we have to look at the world in a new way and really take care of it.” For visitors, spending more time inside this museum’s courtyard and less in the crowded St Mark’s Square could be a good way to encourage them to rethink their priorities.

Image: Jorge Franganillo/FLICKR

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 257: Vienna’s amusement parks

Monocle’s Alexei Korolyov investigates the enduring appeal of Vienna’s amusement parks – and the likelihood that they’ll last through the pandemic.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: May issue, 2021

Monocle’s May issue lifts the lid on our picks of the world’s best-designed buildings and products in our inaugural Design Awards. From big names such as David Chipperfield to small pleasures like electric switches, we celebrate the makers refining our lives. Elsewhere, there’s custom dog food and glamorous grannies – what more could you want? Available now at The Monocle Shop

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