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Shanghai seeks to improve art status with new museums

A painting by U.S. artist Roy Litchtenstein on display at The China Art Museum in Shanghai.

SHANGHAI: Shanghai opened two new art museums Monday on the former site of the 2010 World Expo, as China’s commercial hub seeks to rival art capitals like New York and Paris.

The China Art Museum, intended to be Shanghai’s premier showplace for modern art, threw open its doors in the former China pavilion, which was the signature building for the world’s fair.

“The scale and configuration is matchless in Asia. It is close to America’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, France’s Musee d’Orsay and other internationally famous art museums,” Shanghai culture chief Hu Jinjun said before the opening.

The state-backed museum has an exhibition space alone of 64,000 square meters, Hu told state media.

A new contemporary art museum also welcomed holiday crowds Monday to exhibit works from the 1980s onwards and give a permanent home to Shanghai’s annual art festival.

Called the “Power Station of Art,” the 40,000-square-meter museum takes its name from the former power station building that was converted for the Expo.

Critics have raised questions over how Shanghai will fill the massive spaces with meaningful exhibitions.

“They’re basically modeling themselves on New York or London,” said Chris Gill, a Shanghai-based artist and arts writer.

“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,” he told AFP.

China censors art that it considers politically sensitive or pornographic, with local officials having the right to pull individual works or shut down shows altogether.

Shanghai officials in September barred display of a photo by artist Chi Peng, which shows a gorilla at Beijing’s famed Tiananmen Square, according to his microblog.

In 2006, Shanghai shut down an exhibition by dozens of Chinese artists at a private art museum for displaying pictures of naked women, described as pornographic images.

The exhibitions in place for the opening of the China Art Museum are heavily weighted towards Chinese art, but one floor has foreign works including a painting by Rembrandt and another by Johannes Vermeer – on loan from the Netherlands’ Rijksmuseum.

Shanghai university student Wang Qingyong marveled at the size of the new museum.

“There is a lot of space. More works will come,” she said beside a painting by the American artist Robert Bechtle.

Shanghai has already tested the China Pavilion as a venue for art, spending $1.4 million for China’s largest exhibition of the works of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso last year, but attendance was lower than expected.

The city has high hopes for attendance, distributing free tickets for 10,000 people a day to the China Art Museum and 6,000 daily for the Power Station of Art over the Mid-Autumn festival, which started Monday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2012, on page 16.

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