In an Asia Society video, president Melissa Chiu touches on the evolution of Chinese contemporary art from 1990 to the present.

In a recent talk in New York held on 13 September 2012, Director of Asia Society Museum Melissa Chiu revealed that collection forming is at the forefront of Chinese contemporary art, a result of private and government museum growth. Art Radar takes a closer look at the growth of museums in China.

More art museums will be built in China. Image by Art Radar.

More art museums will be built in China. Image by Art Radar.

Historising Chinese contemporary art

Collections outside, not in

In a video recording of her talk (5m:35s in length), Chiu notes that Chinese contemporary art is unique because, during the 1990s when interest started to grow in the contemporary Chinese art scene, major collections and exhibitions of art from the region were located outside of the country. International collectors like Guy Ullens, founder of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing, “had major collections that could not be compared with anything inside China”.

Influence of WTO membership

According to Chiu, this strange disconnect ended when China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001. China’s economy has thrived since it opened up its market in 2005 and an abundance of wealthy organisations and businesses have emerged that are willing to invest huge amounts of money in contemporary art and are building private museums to display their recently formed collections.

Private art museums flourish

Beijing’s Today Art Museum, which was established in 2002 and is funded by Chinese real estate conglomerate Anteus Corporation, was the first non-profit private art museum in China that aimed at promoting Chinese contemporary art by actively engaging in exhibitions, education, museum collections and art business. Sponsored and funded by the China Minsheng Banking Corporation, Minsheng Art Museum is another private art institution in Shanghai that is aggressively collecting artworks created by Chinese artists within the past thirty years.


Museums at every level

395 museums planned, and counting

In addition to privately owned museums, the Chinese government, too has supported the art industry by building more museums. In an article by The New York Times, Vice chairman of the Chinese Society of Museums and the director of the Hunan Provincial Museum, Chen Jianming is quoted as saying that “[in 2011,] 395 museums were built across China…. Many of these new museums were devoted to history, but in the years ahead, many more art museums are planned.”

Transforming existing resources

Part of the plan to build more museums involves making use of existing resources. Two new museums recently replaced the China Pavilion and Pavilion of the Future at the site of 2010’s Shanghai World Expo. The China Pavilion became the China Art Museum, Shanghai, and the ‘Pavilion of the Future’ was repurposed into the Power Station of Art, reportedly the first public museum of contemporary art in China. The museum will cover more than 40,000 square metres with twelve halls and will become the permanent venue for the Shanghai Biennale.

Big spaces to fill

However, some observers criticise China for prioritising size over content. Commenting on the transformation of the former Shanghai World Expo, Chris Gill, a Shanghai-based artist and arts writer told the New Straits Times, “China tends to build these huge art museums. The problem is what they’re going to put in it?”. Hu Jinjun, director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV provides one answer to this question in a statement to the China Daily News,  “[a]n art council will guarantee the choice and quality of the art work… The museum [Power Station of Art] plans to establish a systematic collection of contemporary art within three years, through government procurement, public donation and other channels.”


Related Topics: art museums, art related videos, museum collections

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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