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Saturday, November 19, 2011

VANITY, VANITY: THE PROBLEMS FACING CHINA’S PRIVATE MUSEUMS


Vanity, vanity: the problems facing China’s private museums
Spaces bloom and then wither as founders’ commitment quickly fades

By Lisa Movius. From Museums, Issue 229, November 2011
Published online: 02 November 2011

In China, government interference with private museums can take many and peculiar forms. For the reopening of Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum on 15 October, it was all about monkeys. The artist Zhang Huan’s Q-Confucius No. 6, 2011, was originally meant to include a mechanical figure of Confucius in a cage, which would repeatedly rise and recline while nine monkeys frolicked overhead to symbolise primordial human society.

“It was the first time the government was asked for a permit for live animals at a museum,” says the museum’s deputy directory, Liu Yingjiu. It would have been given on the condition that any excreta were collected for health and safety testing, so, ultimately, the monkeys only frolicked during the opening night, which, as a private event, did not need the permit.

Private art museums are proliferating in China, growing somewhat chaotically and facing challenges beyond communist bureaucracy, forbidden monkeys and robot sages. Most begin as showcase architecture and vanity projects. Property developers have opened many to provide a varnish of high culture and to justify high prices, while others have been founded by enthusiastic members of the nouveau riche aiming to share their art collections. The practicalities of running a non-profit art space, and the inevitable legal, funding and personnel issues, come as surprises.

China’s building boom led to the opening, and temporary closure eight months later, of the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), in the former Royal Asiatic Society Building. Part of a luxury redevelopment near Shanghai’s Bund waterfront, RAM opened in May 2010 to coincide with the Shanghai World Expo. The first exhibition was Cai Guo-Qiang’s crowd-pleasing “Peasant Da Vincis”, featuring homemade aircraft, submarines and robots. RAM closed in January this year because of additional building work in and around the museum that had been postponed due to a building moratorium during the expo.


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