Chinese state-funding of museums and galleries in recent years is well documented, but what does the future hold for the new generation of gallery owners?
In the wake of the National Art Museum of China’s 50th Anniversary, China Radio International English asks both public and private museum and gallery curators about the growing pains behind the boom in the nation’s cultural institutions. How can the next generation of curators secure their institutions’ futures?
English language broadcaster China Radio International (CRI) spoke to two prominent figures on China’s museum landscape to gain an inside perspective on realities of China’s museum boom and where the country’s arts practitioners are likely to face challenges in the future.
- Fan Di’an is an artist, critic and current curator of the National Art Museum of China.
- Gao Peng is the Director of Today Art Museum, Beijing.
Where should funding come from?
Despite increased funding over the last decade, the development of cultural agencies such as museums and art galleries is “vastly imbalanced” says National Museum curator Fan Di’an. He goes on to describe the number of public facilities as insufficient. If the answer is more facilities, from where should the funding come?
Gao Peng, deputy director of Today Art Museum in Beijing, goes further on the issue of funding, pointing out that even established facilities struggle to find long-term sustainable financial support. As China’s first private, non-profit space focused on contemporary art, Today Art Museum faces challenges and benefits concomitant with being privately run.
The first [problem] is the budget. Because we are not government funded, we need to think about how to run the museum and where the sponsor comes from.
Corporate collaborations bring in cash
On the other hand, says Gao, private galleries have more market potential. Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA), a private museum also in Beijing, stated in a recent interview with ABC that one way to attract government funding is to produce meaningful collaborations with corporate sponsors.
In order to address the lack of experience and “professional direction” in China, as Fan Di’an has it, curators and art managers are often educated abroad. Gao Peng’s course in gallery management in the UK in 2012 allowed him to compare differences between Chinese and European systems, including the provision of tax breaks.
In London, if some patrons give some money to some private museums and cultural programmes, they get some tax payback. But in China they do not. If the patrons get some tax payback, that means they will have more confidence to give more money for private museums.
Another benefit of providing tax breaks is to encourage public involvement in the display and availability of local arts. Both curators stress the importance of the visitor to a museum and their educational and creative experience.
Just as Fan Di’an mentions the imbalance in the number of museums between the heavily funded coastal East and sparsely served landlocked West, he also recognises the difference between city and village dweller. What can China learn from their western counterparts? Fan Di’an says, “put visitors first and create more visitor-friendly environments.”
A local museum is a successful museum
In a separate interview, Phillip Tinari expands upon Fan Di’an’s point by describing the role of visitors in the Chinese art museum and gallery:
[The gallery] has this interesting question to answer which is what does it mean to present contemporary Chinese art to a Beijing public … not a group of consumers or political subjects that you need to indoctrinate but rather people that you want to treat as thinking, feeling individuals.
The answer, says Tinari, is to work with their reactions and observe how they view the work, along with taking into account their response to exhibit planning like wall texts and subject matter. Gao Peng stresses the responsibility of curators to address not only modern art trends but also the institution’s relation with “local art,” in order to build on the relationship viewers have with their local histories and visual imagery.
What’s the Solution?
While government funding is pouring into building and promoting public art institutions, curators wish to remain cognizant of the challenges in exhibiting artwork to a general public. By encouraging support and funding in the form of collaborations and tax deductions galleries can contribute to a larger cultural map of art in China. Gao Peng elaborates:
You need to have a special area you want to focus on. For us, we focus on contemporary art and our mission is to promote Chinese contemporary art and to introduce international contemporary art to China. But now some private museums or galleries include traditional, contemporary, modern, post-modern art. The public will misunderstand what they really want to talk about.
In the end, it seems the solution and response to the booming museum projects in China is continued communication and shared experience, along with a government initiative to fund not only museums but also art education in schools, thereby enriching the artistic knowledge of both viewer and cultural institution.
- Three trends in Chinese contemporary art. Karen Smith book review – May 2013 – critic and curator Karen Smith looks back on 2012 and presents the sleeper trends you might have missed
- Dubai Museum of Contemporary Art: The people’s museum? – May 2013 – Dubai’s first publicly-funded museum vows to give art back to the community in the oil-rich Gulf state
- China art museum growth drives collection building – Asia Society video – October 2012 – Melissa Chiu on the philosophy behind collection building
- The (potential) politics of art: China’s soft power push – August 2012 – diplomatic relations extend from to the art world, as China flexes its cultural muscles through contemporary art
- What motivates billionaire collector Victor Pinchuk? The Art Newspaper – November 2011 – he’s a self-confessed contemporary art neophyte, but Pinchuk claims he’s driven by more than money
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