Preliminary design for the National Art Museum of China new phase
This week, as part of its 12th five-year plan, Beijing announced a new phase for the National Art Museum of China, a massive, glass-covered structure that is being touted as "the world's largest art gallery." Currently in the design process, the new National Art Museum will be located next to the current museum and near the Beijing National Stadium, with construction expected to begin next spring. While the new National Art Museum sounds like another example of the Chinese government building a mammoth public venue for the sake of getting another "world's largest" title under its belt, as museum director Fan Di'an told delegates at the recent National People's Congress, China's public art facilities haven't lived up to the promise of the country's burgeoning interest in the arts.
As Fan pointed out last week, the current National Art Museum -- which was built in 1963 in Beijing's Dongcheng district -- is a meager 8,300 square meters in size. Compare that to New York's Museum of Modern Art, at 58,529 square meters, and the Louvre, which boasts over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. Since attendance became free at the National Art Museum on March 2, according to Fan Di'an, it has clocked nearly 6,000 visitors at peak times, "nearly hitting capacity," according to Xinhua. Clearly, the current digs are inadequate, certainly for a city that most consider to be the cultural heart of China. But how will director Fan Di'an fill the 130,000 total square meters of exhibition space he'll have when the new phase is complete?
One clue comes from an interview Fan Di'an recently gave at the "Art Power" awards in Beijing, where he was named "Best Museum Administrator." Speaking to Sina, Fan said that the Chinese contemporary art world is becoming stronger as more artists become globally recognized, more curators have the ability to promote Chinese art, and more (and better) museums are built across the country. Fan's interest in contemporary art and the priority he places on public arts education have made him something of a star in the Chinese art world, a break from the stereotype of the stodgy apparatchik or stuffy administrator. Fan also counts many first-generation Chinese contemporary artists as close friends, such as his former Central Academy of Fine Arts classmate Xu Bing. With the ample room he will be afforded with the new National Art Museum, expect to see Fan display an impressive array of contemporary Chinese works alongside his other interests, which include everything from 1950s Chinese prints to artifacts from Dunhuang in Xinjiang province.
With so much room to fill, not just in Beijing but in new provincial art museums throughout mainland China, it won't be surprising if we see museum and gallery representatives showing up at the upcoming Sotheby's spring auctions in Hong Kong, where works by some of China's top artists will be on the block. Directors like Fan Di'an would almost certainly love to get some pieces from the Ullens collection on the walls and prevent them from leaving the country once and for all. Now that new Chinese private collectors are getting more involved with the auction market and works by blue-chip Chinese artists are getting scarcer and scarcer, it's no surprise that excitement is growing in China for the upcoming spring auction season.