All eyes in the art world are currently turned towards Shanghai, where two major art museums have opened within the past month–and many more are on the way.China’s most populous city has been attracting attention recently with the opening of several private cultural institutions, like the Rockbund Art Museum, the Songjiang Creative Studio and the Minsheng Art Museum. More and more galleries have been opening in Shanghai and the city has plans to open a total of 16 new museums by 2015, according to Jing Daily.
Shanghai’s new heavyweight museums
In the last month alone, two major cultural institutions–the China Art Palace and the Power Station of Art–have opened in Shanghai, on the former site of the 2010 World Expo. These state-run art museums are already being compared to iconic global cultural institutions, like New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
The China Art Palace is supposed to be China’s answer to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or Paris’s Musee d’Orsay. The museum displays a wide spectrum of art, from both China and abroad. And at almost 700,000 square feet, the space is giant and is possibly the largest museum not just in China, but in Asia.
“The scale and configuration is matchless in Asia,” Shanghai culture chief Hu Jinjun said before the museum’s opening on October 1st, according to The Squeeze. “It is close to America’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, France’s Musee d’Orsay and other internationally famous art museums,”
The space is divided into several sections including “Shanghai Brightness,” which features 600 modern art works; “Congratulations from the World,” which has 100 pieces from seven countries; “Splendid China,” which displays 250 works of 21st-century Chinese Art; and “Historical Shanghai Contexts,” which includes 64 works of art from Shanghai. There is also a Masters’ Hall with 460 works from famous Chinese brush painters, including Guan Liang and Wu Guanzhong, as well as loans from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris due to arrive in November.
The Power Station of Art, on the other hand, focuses solely on contemporary art. The building is more than 440,000 square feet and was once a former power station (thus the name). It is the first state-owned museum in China to focus on contemporary art. It produces cutting-edge contemporary art, and is currently hosting the 2012 Shanghai Biennale.
Photo: Shanghai Biennale
“As the home of Chinese modern art, Shanghai has collected millions of works of art over the last two centuries,” Zong Min, deputy head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee, explained to the Global Times. “There are more than 30,000 boutique works of art kept in the city’s public museums and universities.”The opening of the museums will be a major opportunity for the public to view these works of art, many of which have been stored away for years. And since admission to both museums will be free, officials believe there could be as many as 3 million visitors in the first year.
The censorship question
However, some critics are questioning the relevance of these Chinese state-run museums. Art is supposed to push boundaries, and in a country where the government censors what it deems sensitive or questionable art–whether it’s Ai Wei Wei’s controversial art installations or Chi Peng’s photo of the monkey king in Tianenmen Square–it may be difficult to produce meaningful and provocative exhibitions.
“They’re basically modelling themselves on New York or London,” Chris Gill, a Shanghai-based artist and arts writer, said in an article in The Squeeze. “China tends to build these huge art museums. The problem is what they’re going to put in it. The content side is always compromised by the political situation”.
The future of Shanghai as an arts destination
Shanghai’s growing artistic development is no coincidence. Not only will the government-planned expansion raise tourist revenue from those visiting the city, but it is also drawing comparisons to major world cities such as New York and Paris, paving the way to make Shanghai a potential new global cultural hub.
“In the future, Shanghai residents will be able to find a museum and cultural venue within a 15-minute walk of their homes,” a senior official told the Shanghai Daily, according to Jing Daily.
And though the city may still be a far cry from the dynamic multi-faceted art scenes of New York or Paris, it will be interesting nonetheless to watch as Shanghai battles its own strict regulatory environment for private museums and galleries while trying to evolve to show a new, artistic side.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.