A Battle to Become Art Capital of China

With Beijing’s National Art Museum of China (Namoc) planning to open a new building in Olympic park displaying its contemporary collection in 2017, and Hong Kong’s M+ museum slated to open the same year, The New York Times reports on the ongoing battle between the two cities to become the center of China’s art world. Concerned over state censorship in the mainland, Collector Uli Sigg has agreed to donate a large part of his contemporary Chinese collection to the M+, giving Hong Kong the upper hand in the battle:

The decision to donate to an institution outside mainland China was not taken lightly. “My first impulse was to give these artworks to a museum in Beijing or Shanghai,” Mr. Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China, said in an interview. But he said he was concerned that works by artists who are blacklisted in China’s state-run museums might never be exhibited in public. Before making a gift to one of these state citadels of culture, he said, he “wanted China to reveal its standards of censorship — what could be shown and couldn’t be shown in the collection.”

[...]Mr. Sigg, who is a friend of the artist’s, said that if he had donated to a government museum in mainland China, it was “highly likely that Ai Weiwei’s works would not be exhibited.” Deeming this unacceptable, he took his collection beyond the reach of China’s cultural commissars.

The executive director of M+, Lars Nittve, predicted that other art patrons and philanthropists would, like Mr. Sigg, bypass museums in mainland China in favor of M+ because of Hong Kong’s “long tradition of freedom of expression.” He added, however, that M+ would seek to foster exchanges with museums on the mainland.

The importance of reaching out to mainland China was echoed by Mr. Sigg, who said he hoped Hong Kong’s free and independent art world would increasingly interact with and influence the mainland’s government-dominated system. “M+ could become an avant-garde model for all mainland Chinese museums,” he said.

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While Mr. Sigg and Mr. Nittve hope that interaction with the mainland will influence Beijing’s stance on free expression in art, players in the mainland art world are hoping that China can soon establish a position in the global scene. Citing an article from The Art Newspaper, The New York Times’ View From Asia blog reports:

“How do artists see the issue of Chinese art getting on to the horizon of world art?” the article asked. The solutions seem to lie in growing the infrastructure at home and focusing on quality, it suggested.

“In the beginning when art went overseas, Chinese artists had political and ideological labels stuck on them by curators but the individual’s learning and technique was not heavily considered,” said Zeng Fanzhi, an artist, in the article.

“As the years passed, these artists sorted out their individual careers, but there was no corresponding industry here in China. What China most needs today is still museum-level, high quality, serious, good exhibitions, to sort out and explore the atmosphere surrounding artistic worth and learning,” he said.

The artist Wang Jianwei told the newspaper that art was a mirror of social capability. What is most lacking today is knowledge about art and respect for creativity, he said.

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Dissident artist/activist Ai Weiwei is of the opinion that, due to Beijing’s restriction of individual freedoms, China’s contemporary “art world does not exist.”