the china post, 2006/1/14
Shanghai art scene blooms among forces of growth
Bankrolled by Samuel Kung, a Hong Kong-based jewelry designer, the
museum is housed in a greenhouse in the People's Park in the middle of
town. Because of the building's original use, the museum is surrounded
by trees and a lily pond, and feels like an oasis of tranquillity. But
it's close to the Shanghai Art Museum, which focuses on traditional
Chinese art made in modern times, and within easy walking distance of
the Shanghai Grand Theater, a performing arts center, and the Shanghai
Museum, a stronghold of historical Chinese art.
Kung got permission to transform the greenhouse into a museum and
operate it for 20 years from officials of Shanghai's central Huangpu
District, who were looking for an alternative use for the building.
"I first thought of making a jewelry museum, but it seemed too limited,"
he said. "I know a little about contemporary art, and I'm going to learn
more. It's quite interesting to have a location like this; it will
definitely draw attention."
Although the glass walls let in too much light for sensitive artworks,
the 13,000-square-foot building has been outfitted with 6,000 square
feet of enclosed gallery space approached by a dramatically sweeping ramp.
The first few items on the exhibition schedule feature European art.
Pierre et Gilles' show was staged as the final event of China's official
"Year in France" cultural festival, which also brought artworks from the
Louvre to the Shanghai Museum. Coming attractions at MOCA Shanghai
include "Swiss Design Now" and "Italy Made in Art."
But the new museum's mission statement indicates that Chinese
contemporary art will be a major part of the program. Detailed on the
museum's Web site, the goal boils down to something like this: to
promote, collect, research and provide information about Chinese
contemporary art; bring high-quality international contemporary art and
design to China; inspire creativity; and provide training for museum
professionals in China.
It's an ambitious agenda and, as Kung pointed out, the museum faces
plenty of challenges. He has already put US$1.25 million into the
project, and he can't continue paying all the bills.
Admission fees and the restaurant will bring in revenue. A small
selection of museum-related products might be expanded and marketed. But
sponsors must be found for exhibitions -- in a country with no tradition
of corporate or private support for the arts. And to do that, MOCA
Shanghai must form partnerships and build an audience.
"The museum needs an image," Kung said, "and a lot of help from
specialists and friends."
One of them is Victoria Lu, a stylish dynamo who serves without pay as
the museum's creative director. A native of Taiwan whose family came
from Shanghai, she lived in southern California and ran Stage One
Gallery in Orange in the late 1970s and early '80s. Lu returned to
Taiwan to pursue her career, becoming a prominent art historian, curator
and critic and a founding board member of the Taipei Contemporary Art
Museum. She still teaches in Taipei but established herself in Shanghai
two years ago.
"This is a good time for contemporary art in Shanghai," said Lu. There's
less government control of the arts than in Beijing, she said, adding
that even the government-sponsored Shanghai Biennale, an international
contemporary art exhibition, is far more adventurous than its Beijing
"This is a powerful place," she said of the sparkling new showcase. "We
need powerful ideas."
MOCA Shanghai bills itself as "the first nonprofit, independently
operated contemporary art institution in Shanghai," but it shares the
territory with two other young nonprofits, the Doulun Museum of Modern
Art (known as the Doland) and the Zendai Museum of Modern Art.
Despite the "modern" designation, they concentrate on recently made art.
And like MOCA Shanghai, they function as "kunsthalles" (art centers),
with the emphasis on temporary exhibitions of borrowed material rather
than permanent collections.The Doulun is a government-funded institution
that opened in December 2003 on an officially designated "cultural
street" in Shanghai's northern Hongkou District. The museum is in the
shadow of new high-rises, but its six-story vertical box of a building
looks startlingly modern on Doulun Road. A favorite haunt of Chinese
literary luminaries in the 1930s, it's now a picturesque pedestrian
street, lined with old houses converted into restaurants, galleries,
bookstores and antique shops.
The museum has brought edgy art to the historic area, said Gu Zhenqing,
chief curator and deputy director. The program is about half
international, half Chinese, encompassing a lively mix and quick
turnover of exhibitions, performances, experimental films and new music.
"When we opened, the government wanted us to present 50 exhibitions a
year," he said, rolling his eyes. "We couldn't do that, but we do 20
exhibitions and 30 other events."
The third new museum, Zendai, was launched last June in Zendai Thumb
Square -- a squeaky-clean mall named for Cesar Baldacinni's "Thumb's Up"
sculpture -- in the rapidly growing Pudong District, across the Huangpu
River from the older part of Shanghai.
The museum and the mall were funded by the Shanghai Zendai Investment
Group, a major real estate development firm chaired by Dai Zhi Kang.
Seated at a glass-top table in a conference room at his offices, Dai
said that the museum enhances the value of the mall but also has a
"I have no background in art," he said. "I was trained as an investment
banker, and I worked in banks for 10 years before going into property
development. Now I want to give something back and regain something that
has been lost. We have constructed so much in China, but we have also
destroyed the old way of life with its strong cultural traditions.
Pudong has so many high-rises, but it is without culture. I want to
enrich people's lives and provide a spiritual home for those who live here."
Another nonprofit contemporary art space is Bund 18 Creative Center,
opened last May in Bund 18, a former bank building that has become the
home of a US$14 million retail and restaurant development funded by
With Victoria Lu as artistic director and a program encompassing
fashion, furniture, design and fine arts, the Creative Center has
presented a couple of exhibitions, and it's planning a big one on
animation and comics.
But it's also embroiled in an effort to establish a foundation to cut
costs and help with fundraising. A law passed in July legalized private
foundations in China, but arts organizations haven't learned how to deal
with all the rules and regulations, said Sylvia Lee, chief marketing
officer for Bund 18.
As the new nonprofits jostle for position and funding, commercial
galleries are staking out spots in Shanghai.
Among the newest is Shanghai Art Gallery, another waterfront bank that
has been transformed into a high-end retail and entertainment complex.
Several other galleries and many artists' studios have settled into an
old factory complex whose name is the same as its address, 50 Moganshan
Road. Art Scene China, East Link and Biz Art are there, along with
Shanghart, the city's oldest contemporary art gallery.
Shanghart is run by Swiss expatriate Lorenz Helbling, who has lived in
Shanghai for 20 years and operated the gallery for the past decade. His
current show, "Shanghai Living," is a huge photo essay by Hu Yang
documenting the city's private life, from splendid to squalid.
The Moganshan enclave is much smaller than its Beijing counterpart,
known as Factory 798 or the Dashanzi Art District, but -- like so many
other things in Shanghai -- it's growing. Bamboo scaffolding encases
sections under renovation, and the smell of fresh paint is everywhere.
"All the spaces are rented," Helbling said.
with kind regards,
Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)
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