Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

China Unfurls Its Modern Art ; New Museums at Home and the Sharing of Works Abroad Underscore Pride

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

China Unfurls Its Modern Art ; New Museums at Home and the Sharing of Works Abroad Underscore Pride

Article excerpt

A boom in the construction of expansive museums in the mainland, and the willingness of the Chinese government to share its treasures with institutions elsewhere, has much to do with national pride.

China's drive to achieve world status in more than just economic power has now turned to art museums, a push that is also resulting in the showing of more Chinese art in the United States.

Here, in China's financial center, the city government recently gave its blessing to a museum of contemporary art to be called an "art palace" -- actually an expansion of the China Pavilion of the 2010 World Expo -- that will bring the space to 195,000 square meters, or 2.1 million square feet. The project will make it the largest art museum in China and will put it among the largest in the world when it opens Oct. 1, said Li Lei, the executive director of the Shanghai Art Museum, which will move into the new art palace.

Not to be outdone, the National Art Museum of China in Beijing is holding an international competition to choose the architect for a structure of almost 130,000 square meters to be built next to one of the capital's new landmarks, the National Stadium, popularly known as the Bird's Nest. The three finalists are Frank Gehry, an American; Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born British citizen; and Jean Nouvel, a Frenchman.

That lineup points to a world-class design, eventually, even if it is a bit smaller than Shanghai's, said Fan Di'an, the director of the National Art Museum.

"I would like a design that grows out of the Beijing soil," said Mr. Fan, who is on the 11-member judging panel, which will announce the winner in several months.

The boom in museum construction, which some Chinese art experts liken to the expansion of museums in the United States at the end of the 19th century, has much to do with national pride. It comes with the full support of the national government as part of a cultural strategy known as "Going Out, Inviting In," under which the government is giving its blessing to museums' taking the initiative in offering an array of modern Chinese art for show abroad, including in the United States.

At the same time, the tone has changed from what used to be fairly blatant use of Chinese culture as state propaganda to a more sophisticated approach, Chinese and American museum directors say. In this spirit, individual museums in China, particularly art museums, are exerting more of their own leadership and relying less on the central authorities to approve what they can send and show abroad.

Thus a collaboration between the Shanghai Art Museum and the Asia Society in New York is behind a show of 54 ink-on-paper works by Wu Guanzhong in New York. A Chinese artist who trained in Paris after World War II, Mr. Wu turned to using ancient techniques of brush and ink on a large scale and in a contemporary manner.

The genesis for the exhibition came in 2008, when the director of the Asia Society Museum, Melissa Chiu, visited a retrospective of Mr. Wu's work at the Shanghai Art Museum. The idea evolved with the cooperation of Mr. Li, the Shanghai Art Museum executive director, and the artist, whom Ms. Chiu visited at his studio in Beijing; he died in June 2010 at 90.

Mr. Wu, whose works are among the world's top earners of modern Chinese art auctions, gave a large number of works to the museum for the 2008 retrospective show and for its permanent collection. One of his Yangtze River landscapes from the early 1970s fetched nearly 150 million renminbi, or $23. …

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