Private art institutions, like the Minsheng Art Museum and the Rockbund Art Museum, have been leading the way in Shanghai, building their institutional profiles at home and abroad on the back of first-rate, curatorially-driven programming. With the arrival of two new state institutions – the China Art Palace and the Power Station of Art – things may be about to change as they provide even greater scope for contemporary art in the city, depending on their larger institutional projects and how they play out in their programming.
The opening programmes of both museums indicate the directions they are likely to take. The gigantic collection-based China Art Palace has opened with floors dedicated to Chinese Modern art and a “Masters Hall” dedicated to 20th-century artists like Wu Guanzhong, Qi Baishi and Lin Fengmian. The temporary shows in the opening lineup include Congratulations from the World, featuring contemporary works from the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; American masters from the Whitney Museum; Vermneer masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum; and works from the collections of Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris, the Museo National de San Carlos in Mexico city and the British Museum. And next month it will present an exhibition from the Musee d'Orsay focusing on Naturalism in France.
The Power Station of Art has opened with the Shanghai Biennale signaling its role as a contemporary art museum. In a statement on his theme, Reactivation, the chief curator, artist Qiu Zhijie, said he wanted to emphasise how artists interact with the public and their role in bringing about change. In addition to the presentations in the biennale, this year it also includes pavilions featuring contemporary artists from cities around the world, which the organisation hopes to make a permanent feature of the biennale. “We chose cities that are similar to Shanghai,” he said, adding that he was careful to choose cities that had their own history of reactivation, of creating a dynamic new society, while exploring how artists had contributed to these changes.
Perhaps with the masterpiece-driven approach of the China Art Palace in mind, Qiu Zhijie also said: “The result (at The Power Station) is a public that is free to form their own opinion about art. Without anyone telling them what is 'good' art, they come to their own conclusions.”
Image: Qiu Zhijie's Map of Utopia (detail), mapping the concepts underpinning the 9th Shanghai Biennale