Daily Dose Of Culture: French Realism & Philharmonic In Shanghai, Beijing’s 798 Facelift

A roundup of culture news from this week, from the Musee d’Orsay’s wide-ranging exhibition at the China Art Museum, to the New York Philharmonic’s partnership with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and Beijing’s controversial plans for its landmark 798 Arts District.

Musee d’Orsay’s “Millet, Courbet, and French Naturalism” Comes to Shanghai

Musee d'Orsay in Shanghai (Image: France24)

Today, France’s Musée d’Orsay launches a major exhibition of 87 19th-century French Naturalist paintings — some never-before-seen in China — at Shanghai’s China Art Museum, one of the country’s newest modern art museums. Organized in under a year, the exhibition “Millet, Courbet and French Naturalism” stands as the largest international exhibition hosted by the museum since its opening this past October, and is reported to boast art valued at around 185 million euros (US$236 million).

Show highlights include works by French realists Gustave Courbet, and Jean-Francois Millet’s The Gleaners (1857) as well as other contemporaneous large-format paintings. On view until February of next year, the exhibit is anticipated to rack up 3,000 visitors per day. While “the link [shared] between this exhibition and China today” that Xaiver Rey, curator for the painting department of the Musée d’Orsay, speaks of is one to be pondered, we can be sure that an exhibit featuring the crème de la crème of French painting will fare well with an increasingly culturally hungry Shanghai audience. “Millet, Courbet and French Naturalism” will return to France next year in time for an October showing at the Musée d’Orsay.

New York Philharmonic x Shanghai Symphony Orchestra: “A Great Investment” 

Long Yu is music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (Image: NYT)

Deemed as “a kind of promised land for classical music,” China has become the country to duet with, the New York Times reports this week, as both the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra plan to partner with Chinese orchestras and performing arts organizations in years to come. The New York Philharmonic has publicized a four-year partnership with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, which will include a 10- to 14-day residency in China and a stake in an orchestra training program. The Philharmonic’s involvement in training will begin in the fall of 2014, and its residency is scheduled to begin the following summer.

The Philadelphia Orchestra — having already descended on Beijing and provincial cities last spring with master classes, lessons, concerts, and visits to parks, schools and hospitals — plans to return next spring to secure a long-term relationship.

As Daniel Wakin writes,

Explosion may not be too hyperbolic a word for the increase in concert halls, orchestras,  instrument making and classical music study in China during the past decade. Audiences  are growing in tandem. Many concert presenters are hungry for top international  ensembles to fill the gleaming new auditoriums.

At the same time, with government determination to build culture as a form of national  power, and willingness to spend on the effort, Chinese officials are happy to import  Western cultural expertise.

While details of the Philharmonic’s partnership with Shanghai still remain under wraps, Matthew VanBesien, the Philharmonic’s executive director, told the Times that Shanghai is contributing a “great investment” as many “North American orchestra executives and boards in recent years [have dealt] with an increasing sense of marginalization and dwindling dollars.”

Beijing 798 Primed For Upgrade Against Public Panning

A performance at the House of Dancing Water in Macau (Art Newspaper)

Once a factory district mined with underground studios, over the past decade Beijing’s renowned 798 arts district has become arguably the city’s trendiest spots for galleries, boutiques and offices. Now, 798 is set to undergo yet another facelift — updating its surrounding digs to a high-end luxury and cultural area — one that has already been met with public criticism.

According to Wang Jianjun, the project’s general manager, “The Beijing government has thought about improving 798’s quality in terms of environment, function and utility for a long time. Bungalows in the art district now will be replaced by skyscrapers. [It] will be the biggest art center in China with the best service.” Wang told The Art Newspaper this week that the RMB$50 billion (US$8 billion) project will stake around 1.2 million square meters of space near the current 798 boundaries.

Designed by I.M. Pei’s son, Li Chung Pei, the project’s first phase is slated to begin in early 2013, and will include a “laser stage,” a “primitive art community,” a gallery, a luxury hotel, apartments and facilities to examine and trade art. A “House of Dancing Water” aquatic theatre, modeled on a venue of the same name in Macau, will also be erected at more than twice the size of its original.

The proposed art center has already received tough criticism from the public for everything from the water it will guzzle in drought-prone Beijing, to destroying the character of 798, to potential misdirection of public funds that could lead to official corruption. As Meng Jinghui, arguably the most influential director of China’s avant-garde stage, puts it, RMB$50 billion could build 25,000 nicely-sized theatres around China. Chiming in, Beijing’s Star Gallery director Fang Fang said, “The National Theatre cost 3 billion yuan, the Beijing CCTV Tower, 5 billion yuan. An aircraft carrier only costs 10billion yuan, and a battalion, 50-65 billion yuan. What are they trying to build with 50 billion?”


Art & Design, Market Analysis