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How Sunny Sun Li Fuels Chengdu's Desire for Contemporary Art


How Sunny Sun Li Fuels Chengdu's Desire for Contemporary Art
Sunny Sun Li, Director of A4 Art Museum, Chengdu, China (Image courtesy of A4 Museum)


A4 Art Museum in Chengdu is tower building that rises alongside the man-made lake in the newly-developed satellite town of Luxe Lake New Town in Chengdu. It is one of China’s private museums funded either by corporations (in this case, Chengdu Wide Horizon Co., Ltd) or private individuals. It is a testament to the desire for art in China, outstripping the resources that the government has dedicated to the arts. Ms Sunny Sun Li who is the director of A4 knows this all too well, as she speaks to us about the importance of having a programme that addresses the interest of the local community in the arts and to bring them new and fresh ideas through partnerships with international museums.


First, could you tell us a bit about the history of A4 Art Museum? What is the curatorial focus of A4?

A4 is not foreign to this city. On the contrary, over the past 8 years, this name has even become an important representation of contemporary art in this city. From the beginning of this year, A4 transformed from a contemporary center into a private non-profit museum. While raising the attention and becoming the topic of discussion, A4 settled in its new address near the lake. Our inaugural exhibition is Create Spaces, which has Mr. Li Zhenhua and myself as the artistic directors. Up until today, for A4, the founding principles that we insisted from the very beginning – “non-profit”, “contemporary art”, “international cultural exchange”, “promoting urban development”-- have never been changed. A4, founded in Chengdu, continues focusing on the new art development, new art forms, new art mediums in the contemporary art scene.

"Unfolding the possible X" (2017) by Tim Li Man-Wai at A4 Art Museum
Image ocurtesy of the artist


Can you tell us about the collection at A4 Art Museum? How do you select new works and decide on your commissions?

In our previous A4 institution, our collections were mostly selected from the exhibitions. It was not systemic: it was only a small number and unfocused. After we had a formal museum, we need to build a collection system. So far, we are in the process of such schedule and research. As for the commissions, they are mostly based on the collaboration of relevant exhibition projects.

"W" (2017) by Feng Chen, installation (concrete, speaker, motor, mechanical parts), diameter 4m
Image courtesy of A4 Art Museum


As director of A4 Art Museum, could you share what your responsibilities within the museum entail?

First, as the founding director, the museum’s general developmental direction, strategy, and academic orientation and planning, have the emphasis of my work. These tasks include the coordination of works between the investors and the team, and the construction of museum’s organizational structure. Setting the goal, mission, direction, and improving and coordinating the relationship between the investors, are the responsibilities that I believe to be important for a museum director. Second, improving and educating our team is another task. Located in the city of Chengdu, museum professionals are not as available as they are in cities like Beijing and Shanghai. We need to put extra efforts into self-learning and improving. This is a crucial yet challenging task. Third, through the museum exhibitions and educational programs, we aim to promotes Chengdu citizens’ knowledges and understanding about contemporary art, through advancing art education, recognizing the museum’s social responsibilities and the responsibilities of cultural education. These are important tasks that I have assigned to myself.

A view of A4 Art Museum from the lake
Image courtesy of Manzu Studio


What is the art scene like in Chengdu? How does it differ from cities like Shanghai and Beijing?

Chengdu is a city that has a long tradition of arts and culture. A number of artists live and work here. Currently, the forms of art are quite singular in Chengdu, which mostly focusing on paintings on canvas; meanwhile, there are only a small number of professional contemporary art institutions (including galleries and museums); and there is a lack of international high-quality exhibitions. The art scene in Chengdu is not able to satisfy the city’s need for contemporary art, and the whole ecosystem of art needs more impetus and adjustment. Comparing with Beijing and Shanghai, Chengdu, overall, is short on the quantity and the quality of contemporary art institutions, and its ecosystem’s completeness and benignant development. Audiences also desire for more contemporary art information. We look forward to seeing more institutions that can provide supports and education of art.

The city of Chengdu
Image courtesy of Thousand Wonders


A4 not only organizes exhibitions, but also satellite events such as residencies and exchanges. How do you plan your educational programme and are there any challenges involved in developing them?

Our public education program, also known as, public learning and public education plan, hopes to engage more audiences to understand, experience and enjoy the inspiration that brought by contemporary art. Meanwhile, we hope to involve more children in art education; therefore, we have had the iSTART children art festival for three years. This is a child education program that we are dedicated to. On the aspect of public art project, we are rooted in our neighborhood, enhance our connection with our community, and collaborate with more institutions. We aim to expand museum projects into public spaces, not to be limited within the museum’s own space, and form the collaboration between contemporary art with various other art forms and cultural projects, igniting the city’s cultural development.

"SOMEONE'S WATER" by Risa Sato, created as part of A4 Artist in Residence International Exchange Program launched by the LUXELAKES•A4 Art Museum
Image courtesy of the artist


A4 Art Museum has worked with quite a number of other art institutions such as the Yokohama Museum of Art and the Kyoto Art Centre. How do you think these collaborations have impacted the museum?

Since the beginning of A4 museum, we orient works towards international collaboration and communication. Therefore, over the past 8 years, A4 has worked extensively with foreign artists and institutions, including our dual-channel exchange cities Yokohama and Kyoto. In such relationship, we can introduce more art from various other countries to Chengdu, allowing audiences in Chengdu to see the development of contemporary art from around the world. Enhancing the progress of internationalization can elevate the museum. In addition, through long-term collaboration with international organizations, our team continues to grow, and the quality of the exhibitions keeps improving. Notably, international artists residential program provides the opportunities to eliminate misunderstanding, and to learn about foreign ideas, breaking through the old idea that media is the only information channel. Residential program, which is an unofficial and individualized strategy, allows more audiences to know different cities and cultures.

Yokohama Museum of Art
Image courtesy of Des-Art


In countries like the USA and UK, most museums are publicly-funded or subsidised by the government. In China, most of the major art intuitions are privately-funded and A4 Art Museum is no exception. What do you think are some of the challenges of this?

From my perspective, this is the status quo in China. Private art museums are a complementary part of art development, apart from government supported museums and public museums. This type of complement has an extraordinary flexibility and energy, which has more freedom and independence. These are hard to achieve by museums in the public system. Of course, a private art museum faces stresses from funding. Relying on private capital, whether the funding is secular and secure, involves more risks and challenges. For most private art museums, there are more stresses from sponsorship and funding. Meanwhile, there are also pressure from public recognition, marketing channels and promotional channels. Comparing with governmental and public art museums, we lack such resources.


Kohei Nawa's work at the A4 Art Museum
Image courtesy of A4 Art Museum


What is your opinion of the art scene in China? There has been a significant of growth in last ten years, but what thoughts do you have on the direction in which it has moved in?

There is indeed a rapid development of Chinese contemporary art, while a substantial number of outstanding artists are emerging, and our communication with the international society has reached an equal status without much obstruction. This is also an essential developmental trend in the process of globalization. There is a crucial internal connection between the growth of Chinese contemporary art, and the economic, political and social development of China. Chinese contemporary art could not exit in isolation from its historical background and the status quo of the country, so the study of Chinese contemporary art is also a study of current situations, achievements and problems of China. Back to art itself, the development of Chinese contemporary art, artists experienced transitions: their techniques and media gradually adopt the international norms; meanwhile, you will also see artists’ consideration of art, the return to eastern art and cultural heritage. More personalized and research and works will emerge. Themes that will emerge from our research and works will be more personalized, and cover a wider scope of discernable ideas. I think there will be more such phenomena in the future, while there is a rising public acceptance of contemporary art. Many artists are not only seen in the contemporary art world but also have a growing awareness among the public.

Sun Xun's bamboo pavilion for Audemars Piguet at Art Basel Miami Beach
Image courtesy of Audemars Piguet and Benoit Pailley


With a vibrant art scene, there is no shortage of young Chinese artists. Which are some that currently excite or inspire you?

Yes, there are many young Chinese artists bringing excellent works. This allows me to see the variety of Chinese contemporary art, which is very exciting. For example, A4 has been promoting projects, such as resident artist Tao Hui at Kyoto Art Center and A4’s “Case Study Program” artists Sun Xun, Chen Xiaoyun and Luo Dan. They are all great artists.

One of the works by Tao Hui, who is currently the artist in residence at A4 Art Museum, at his 'New Directions' exhibition at UCCA Beijing
Image courtesy of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art and Eric Powell


Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming programmes that A4 Art Museum has in store for the rest of the year?

A4 has four major exhibitions annually, while hosting regionally specific research projects and public art programs. In the future, A4 will continue promoting good artists and artworks, expanding from the cutting-edge arts in China to a more internationalized ecosystem. We are dedicated to becoming an international art platform that promotes the development of new arts and communication. Apart from the four major exhibition projects, there is also a year-long residential program—with exhibitions throughout the entire schedule. Meanwhile our regional research project is an area that we keep promoting and focusing on. This is also the museum’s function and responsibility to Chengdu and its neighborhood. Of course, this is the professional and academic plan. As an institution for the public, A4 also planned extensive public education events throughout the year, such as the upcoming iSTART child art festival, which synthesizes exhibitions, special projects, workshops, artist’s performances, and city spaces collaboration projects. [We] emphasize on the interaction between audiences and art, focusing on urban multi-dimensional collaboration and promotion; therefore, public education is an essential part of A4’s upcoming development.



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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