As the next global economic powerhouse, all eyes are on China. And not one to disappoint, China has been paying rapt attention to developing its cultural sectors. New museums are appearing almost every other day in China - Beijing itself currently aims to build 1 museum per 250,000 people. In the midst of this “museum rush”, Chinese private collectors are at the forefront of museum initiatives. This is unsurprising: in 2017 alone, Chinese collectors contributed about US$13 billion to global art sales (21% of the total). These staggering figures are unlikely to abate as China continues to produce more billionaires each year. Fortunately for the world, some of these private collectors have elected to display their massive collections for public view. In this article, we take a look at 10 private museums in China established by the super-rich.
Opened in May 2014, Yuz Museum is the product of founder Budi Tek’s push for a “museum movement” in China. Tek’s belief in the great merit of contemporary art led him to amass a substantial collection of Chinese contemporary art from the 1980s to 1990s. Since its inception, it has hosted blockbuster shows such as its Giacometti retrospective in 2016 and a Gucci-sponsored show inspired by renowned Serbian performance artist, Marina Abramovic, titled “The Artist Is Present” in 2018. Yuz Museum continues to wow its audience by displaying great works from both the East and the West, and recently secured a landmark collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to ensure its longevity in China.
Confronted by the cynical laughing faces of Yue Minjun’s sculptures, the entrance of Today Art Museum preludes the museum’s preoccupation with contemporary Chinese issues. The museum was founded by real-estate tycoon Zhang Baoquan in 2002. Since its inception, it has pushed for exhibitions that promote Chinese contemporary art informed by global perspectives. It also focuses on the dissemination of knowledge through its various programmes tailored for young artists and maintenance of archival records. By sharing the art of “today”, the museum hopes to cement it in our memories of the past and thrust its foot forward in creating the art of tomorrow.
When successful local businessman Lu Jun, and his art collector son, Lu Xun, offered showstopping architects such as Ai Weiwei and David Adjaye to design an art space without any constraints whatsoever, the world watched on with bated breath. The result is the much-awaited Sifang Art Park. The project was born out of a desire to disrupt the bland buildings that pervade China’s rapidly growing cities by allowing for innovative takes on design. The museum itself showcases diverse Chinese and international contemporary works, with art heavyweights such as Maurizio Cattelan and Takashi Murakami. Going forward, there are plans to include more residences on the premises, which suggest that the park could eventually become a home for art-lovers. What better way to complement the best art with the best architectural designs?
As the first museum in China to host a solo exhibition of feminist photographer Cindy Sherman, the Fosun Foundation (Shanghai) is a museum one cannot miss. The museum is the brainchild of veteran news anchor Jenny Jiayun Wang, who has a special interest in collecting photographs. Given the Fosun Foundation’s strong focus on collecting new media works, one can expect to see innovative displays using the latest technology in its exquisite art space.
Upon approach, one cannot miss the structure flanked by two modern-looking buildings: it is a coal-hopper unloading bridge left from when the venue was a wharf for coal transportation. The space, which once housed an industrial relic, was reinvigorated by Shanghai design firm Atelier Deshaus and revealed to the world in 2014. The architecture of the museum speaks volumes about its past and true enough, this is also reflected in its exhibitions. It now displays lustrous snapshots of China’s expansive history, ranging from ink paintings from the Song dynasty to introspective works in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. Boasting one of the richest art collections in China, the Long Museum (West Bund) is definitely a place of tremendous wonder.
Located next to Long Museum (West Bund), Tank Shanghai belongs to the bustling art-rich corridor that makes up the West Bund of Shanghai. At first glance, it may be easy to mistake the museum’s unassuming appearance for anything other than a museum. However, these five empty oil tanks have been in fact converted to a museum for entertainment mogul Qiao Zhibing’s impressive contemporary art collection of ten years. The collection includes well known contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin, Olafur Eliasson, and Damien Hirst. Before Tank Shanghai came to life, his collection was housed at Shanghai Night, a luxurious high-class karaoke palace. With such an unusual history, one can be sure to look at works from Qiao’s collection with a fresh perspective.
Part of China’s rising movement to reclaim derelict industrial spaces for art, Mingsheng Contemporary Art Museum sits at what once was a factory for manufacturing television sets. It is a contrast to what is typically known as a “white cube” space; instead featuring unique spatial configurations for artwork display. The museum sees itself as a stage to open conversations about contemporary art and legitimises contemporary art in the public consciousness. With those goals in mind, it has hosted shows such as “Civil Power”, where contemporary counternarratives against “official art” were given a chance to breathe.
The largest museum cluster in China, the Jianchuan Museum Cluster boasts objects and artworks from the Cultural Revolution. It is located in the quiet town of Anren, which is about an hour away from Chengdu. Even though it displays a thorny and controversial period of Chinese history, this is not a space that confronts but rather invites visitors to form their own opinions about the Cultural Revolution after perusing the 8-million strong artefact collection. While its location is discreet and easy to miss, it holds a very significant part of Chinese and even perhaps East Asian history.
Stepping before this inconspicuous residential building, a visitor may not know what to make out of it. Where’s the exhibition space? It is not on the ground level, or on the second level: it is all the way up on the 19th level and yes, the rest of the building is occupied by residents. This unusual space configuration is the result of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and real estate company Times Property’s corporate slogan “to bridge life with art”. True to that belief, the museum not only offers temporary exhibitions showcasing contemporary artists all year round but also integrates its art activities with its surrounding community through education programmes and community exhibitions. It also serves as space for artists to experiment and develop ideas, with residency programmes such as Open Studio. Unlike traditional big-name museums that we may know, this museum exemplifies the marriage between art and communal living.
Established in 2014, the Red Brick Art Museum strives towards its goal of furthering Chinese contemporary art through its exhibition and education programmes. Its name was inspired by architect Dong Yugan’s use of exposed red bricks in the building of the museum. Surrounded by lush greenery, the museum premises resemble a quaint garden space. One cannot help but notice the marked effort in marrying nature with concrete, which could possibly reflect ideas about urbanisation. It is definitely a fitting place to facilitate conversations about contemporary social issues.
If you enjoyed reading this article, we highly recommend you to check out works by contemporary Chinese artists.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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