Written by Stephy Chung, CNN
A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.For the last three months, Hong Kong’s art galleries have been closed to the public as part of failed efforts to curtail the Omicron variant’s charge through the city. But as restrictions eased Thursday, visitors returned to one museum to find some works from its contemporary Chinese art collection conspicuously absent.Among the items removed from display at M+, a major new arts institution, was the provocative oil painting “New Beijing” by Chinese artist Wang Xingwei. Created in 2001, the satirical work depicts bloodied emperor penguins lying on a bicycle cart — a thinly veiled allusion to the deaths of pro-democracy protesters, most of whom were students, during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The painting references an image by Hong Kong photographer Liu Heung Shing, who documented the protests for The Associated Press. The penguins take the place of two injured young men that Liu had captured in the original photograph.
Images published by local media outlet Hong Kong Free Press on Thursday show a different painting in the spot where Wang’s work had previously hung. Both Liu’s original image and Wang’s parody are owned by M+ and remain listed in the museum’s online archive.
Eight other artworks were also removed from view, including the painter Wang Guangyi’s depiction of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong covered with a grid of red lines. Not all of the withdrawn works contained explicitly political content. In a statement emailed to CNN, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, the organization that oversees M+, said that paintings’ removal was part of a routine “rotation” of exhibited art.
“It has always been M+’s plan to rotate over 200 artworks in the first year after its opening,” the statement read, citing maintenance related…