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Landmark Exhibition Celebrating I.M. Pei's Legacy Set to Debut in Hong Kong this June

Portrait of I. M. Pei taken when he was selected to design the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1965 © John Loengard/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Pei’s high-profile projects were realized over seven decades with an exceptionally wide geographic reach, including the National Gallery of Art East Building in Washington, D.C., the modernization of the Grand Louvre in Paris, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. These landmark projects solidified his legacy and position in architectural history and popular culture. His life and work weave together a tapestry of power dynamics, geopolitical complexities, and cultural traditions around the world. His transcultural vision laid the foundation for the contemporary world.

“This exhibition is the result of years of research into original archival materials documenting Pei’s outstanding career. It follows the trajectory of his work across the world, highlighting his long-lasting impact on architecture today.” 

Doryun Chong, Deputy Director, Curatorial, and Chief Curator, M+

Bank of China, Hong Kong, China

Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China

Centurion, New York, USA

Organized with the support of the Estate of I. M. Pei, PEI Architects, and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the exhibition is curated by Shirley Surya, Curator, Design and Architecture, M+, and Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director, The New Institute, Rotterdam. This retrospective features more than three hundred objects, many of them never exhibited before. These include original drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documentation from institutional and private holdings.

“Though one of the world’s most famous architects, I. M. Pei and his contributions are relatively little understood. We hope this exhibition will further shed light on a figure who influenced countless individuals, cities, and, indeed, the world.”

Shirley Surya and Aric Chen, co-curators of I. M. Pei: Life Is Architecture

IM_Pei_Sandi_Pei-crop

I. M. Pei and Sandi Pei in 2009

The exhibition takes a close look at Pei’s life and work through six areas of focus that not only define his unique practice, but also place his architectural projects in dialogue with social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable. These areas are:

  • • Pei’s Cross-Cultural Foundations shows how Pei’s upbringing and architectural education formed the foundation of his ability to reconcile multiple sources of influence across cultures and between tradition and modernity.
  • • Real Estate and Urban Redevelopment unveils a lesser-known phase of Pei’s career as part of real estate developer Webb & Knapp in New York City. It explores his contributions to mixed-use planning, housing, and urban revitalization projects in the United States in the 1960s, and subsequently beyond American borders.
  • • Art and Civic Form introduces Pei’s museum designs and his frequent collaborations with artists from Henry Moore to Zao Wou-Ki. The section demonstrates his belief in museums as civic spaces, the importance of dialogue between art and architecture, and his deep affinity with the contemporary art of his time.
  • • Power, Politics, and Patronage reveals how Pei—with his technical mastery, ingenious problem-solving, and sensitivity to client needs—became a trusted collaborator in high-profile commissions that drew both immense support and public controversy throughout his career.
  • Material and Structural Innovation illustrates Pei and his team’s consistent inventiveness in the use of materials and construction methods, especially with concrete, stone, glass, and steel.
  • Reinterpreting History as Design Strategy examines Pei’s long-standing interest in making   modern architecture relevant to different histories, traditions, and ways of life, particularly those related to his birthplace. This had largely been demonstrated by Pei’s distilling of the essence of cultural and historical archetypes that could provide formal or spatial strategies for contemporary needs.
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The exhibition also features newly commissioned photographs of eleven of Pei’s built projects by seven international photographers, taken during the pandemic, to reconsider the enduring influence of Pei’s work. The photographers are South Ho Siu Nam (Hong Kong), Naho Kubota (New York City), Lee Kuo-Min (Taipei), Giovanna Silva (Milan), Mohamed Somji (Dubai), Tian Fangfang (Shanghai), and Tomoko Yoneda (Tokyo/London).

I. M. Pei and Sandi Pei in 2012

“This exhibition brings to the public the first major retrospective of our father’s productive and far-reaching career, notably elucidating the transcultural influences and distinctive historical circumstances that contributed to his unique place as an architect and global citizen. Gathered over many years from a multitude of sources, the exhibition details a remarkable personal story that only in its full telling reveals the complexities, challenges, and achievements of his long and optimistic life. We are proud of this exhibition and thank the M+ team for its thorough, intelligent, and enlightened documentation.”

Li Chung (Sandi) Pei, Partner, PEI Architects

To coincide with the exhibition, a 400-page monograph I. M. Pei: Life Is Architecture with 471 color illustrations will be published in June 2024 by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with M+. The title presents both celebrated and lesser-known aspects of Pei’s life and career by featuring largely unpublished archival materials, newly commissioned photographs and essays, as well as personal anecdotes from scholars and those who knew and worked with Pei.