Obstacles And Opportunities Arising For China’s Arts Institutions

All Provincial & State-Run Museums In China Will Be Free Of Charge By Year’s End

Beijing's Ullens Center of Contemporary Arts (UCCA)

In recent years, China has seen the number of its state-run, provincial and private museums skyrocket, led by a government-led cultural push, competition among provinces to build prestige projects, and the whims of wealthy individual collectors. Currently, the country boasts a small, but important, set of institutions that are steadily improving in terms of curatorial acumen, management quality, and sourcing — among them the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art (UCCA) and Today Art Museum in Beijing, Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, and Hong Kong’s planned M+ (slated to open in 2017). In an effort to stimulate greater interest in and exposure to the arts, by the end of this year all state-run and provincial museums will be open to the public.

Despite all of the media attention given to Beijing’s efforts to build, support and promote museums and arts institutions, however, the market remains young and in the midst of a learning curve. This week, Artinfo notes five major obstacles currently facing China’s art institutions, which curators, academics and officials will need to address to nurture the development of the country’s native art scene over the long term. The five most critical issues, and excerpts, from Artinfo:

1. The government is failing to support homegrown Chinese museums adequately

“Museums that successfully register with the government in order to find support are often subjected to censorship pressure and forced to show propaganda exhibitions, explains the Art Newspaper. Given this downside to “official” status, museums look elsewhere for funding, relying on sponsorship and gallery rentals.”

2. China’s current generation of art institutions are weak, and often compromised by business concerns.

“Having been opened more as vanity projects than cultural enterprises, [some] museums are ill-equipped to face logistical problems like hiring staff and turning over exhibitions. The Rockbund Art Museum is currently maintaining a high standard of programming, but its location, an art nouveau building just off Shanghai’s glamorous Bund district, is also specifically designed as a play at creating a new, highly branded luxury neighborhood for city residents and stores.”

3. Museums are mismanaged, and good managers and staff are scarce.

“Integrity problems are compounded by the fact that China lacks a seasoned community of museum directors, curators, and administrative staffers, and those who remain in China are sought after by art institutions as well as the international commercial galleries that are opening offices in the country like Pace and James Cohan.”

Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei's Long (Dragon) Art Museum will open in November

4. The available quantity of museum-quality artwork is limited and competition is fierce for key pieces.

“Collecting museums have a lot to worry about when it comes to stockpiling relevant objects to show, with competition from developed Western institutions as well as from private Chinese collectors who don’t necessarily plan to donate their purchases or are considering opening private museums of their own.” [Previously on Jing Daily]

5. The theoretical practice of curating and the guidelines of institutional integrity aren’t wholly developed.

“Contemporary Chinese art as we know it is a phenomenon that found its legs in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, coming into the international (i.e. Western) spotlight in the mid-2000s. The Chinese art world has adapted to Western norms of curation and museum management somewhat, but it is by no means fully integrated or standardized.”

Though these issues are undoubtedly important, one thing that helps to keep in mind is that Chinese arts institutions have come a long way in a very short time, and as such we can expect that curatorial quality and programs, sourcing, and management skill will all improve over the course of the next several years. At the same time, as the Artinfo article hints, the shape that Chinese arts institutions ultimately take will likely be quite different than their Western counterparts, shaped by the particularities of China itself. This, like the construction of some very hopeful private museums — among them Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian’s Long (Dragon) Art Museum, which will open in November — will ultimately strengthen and improve the quality of China’s art world as a whole.



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