Contemporary Museum in China

Shanghai on the Bund view-by Samantha Ghironi

Today in China few contemporary Museums have started important collaborations with European museums, especially in Shanghai. But as far as contemporary art is concerned, China has committed its efforts more to making his Chinese artists known to the whole world raising their prices out of all proportion, than to really welcoming artists from all over the world. The number of museums in China has reached 5.100, in 1978 alone there were only 349. The construction of all these museums was part of China’s urban and tourist development. Beijing’s goal in the 2016-2020 development plan was to build 1 museum for every 250.000 inhabitants and for this reason every Chinese city has the objective of building at least one museum inside it, by 2025.

The number of visits to museums is always increasing, from 256 million in 2007 to 1 billion in 2018. But obviously, in the most rural and poor cities, these imposing giants are almost uninhabited. This also because the construction of museums is linked to the real estate department since the government offers companies the possibility of being able to build in magnificent places as long as a museum is also built. This is why we can admire colossal museums, in boundless countryside or in the centers of small and large cities. Unfortunately, many do not have a daily life because they do not remain funds to be truly committed to culture, for this reason, the schedules are not taken care of and these large structures are not maintained in their beauty. But this certainly reflects a transitory moment, China has made great strides in infrastructure and the population needs time to be educated. There are certainly huge queues to visit the places of national art, people of all ages and from the most remote countryside often arrive with the travel paid by the company they work for.

Private collectors receive an incentive from the state to open their museums, collections made up mainly of contemporary Chinese artists and some important international but not contemporary artists.

“China is very ambiguous,” said Jean-Philippe Béja, research professor emeritus in Chinese politics at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. “On one hand it is becoming more and more totalitarian and closed, and on the other hand it wants to represent itself as a very modern, avant-garde country.” And while China is intent on building its world, it offers and buys collaborations with European art giants.

France has been following an expansionist cultural policy for some time, how we can see from the new sites it is opening around the world. In fact, in China, it has just opened along the banks of the Huangpu River on Shanghai’s version of Museum Mile, the new outpost. This is a collaboration with the West Bund Group, a Chinese state-owned development corporation that together with the local government has reportedly invested more than $3 billion in recent years to transform a former industrial neighborhood into a 7-mile waterfront cultural corridor. The Shanghai project is a five-year contract in which the Pompidou Center curates shows specifically for the Chinese outpost using works lent from its vast collection, while also providing educational programming and vocational training for Chinese museum professionals. At the end of the five years, both sides will have the opportunity to end or extend the partnership.

Another interesting museum in Shanghai is the Power Station of Art (PSA) stabilized in 2012 is the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in mainland China. It is also home to the Shanghai Biennale. Standing tall by Shanghai’s mother river, the Huangpu River, PSA now occupies an area of 42-thousand square meters. With an internal height of 27 meters, the museum now houses exhibition sections that add up to 15-thousand square meters, and its 165-meter chimney, being an independent exhibition space, has also become an integral part of Shanghai’s world-famous skyline.

The west bund is a quartier that is being born in Shanghai destined to become huge and already contains interesting contemporary museums such as Yuz Museum e il Long Museum. In another area, we can fund the Rockbund Museum even if for the moment it is closed for renewal. In line with the trend of the moment, in 2021 Shanghai will host the outpost of another important international museum, this time however not Western: it is the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, the main independent Chinese institution of contemporary art based in Beijing that it also has another branch in Aranya, a tourist resort close to the Chinese capital.

Also in 2021 Pudong area will host the project signed by Jean Nouvel for the Shanghai Pudong Museum of Art (PMoA). This new public art Institution will see the partnership with Britain’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary art, Tate Modern.

In short, China is investing many resources in art but has understood that it still has a lot to learn and import. With these projects, in addition to the collections, they will also import human capital, that is, art professionals who will be able to train the necessary figures to carry out colossal projects.