Is Beijing the next art superpower?

Is Beijing the next art superpower?

With a boom in museums, galleries and art fairs fuelling the market, the Chinese capital is firing all creative cylinders

China is now the world’s second biggest art market, having overtaken the UK, according to a recently published report commissioned by Art Basel and UBS. The US remains the largest, with 42 per cent of the market, while China enjoys a 21 per cent share, a significant increase on the nine per cent it had in 2008. On the one hand, Shanghai’s rapidly evolving art scene is attracting huge interest globally; on the other, Beijing has long been the heart of Chinese culture and a beacon of contemporary Chinese art.

Kylie Ying, co-founder of two of the country’s headline art fairs – Jingart in Beijing and ART021 in Shanghai – opines the capital is only gaining cultural cachet. ‘Most of the local galleries were founded and established in Beijing. Many Chinese artists are based in the capital, and the city is very strong both in ancient and contemporary art,’ she says. ‘A city with such a profound cultural heritage should have a high-level art fair.’

Jingart (30 May – 2 June) wrapped up its second edition earlier this month in Beijing, having brought together 41 leading international and Chinese galleries at the historic Sino-Soviet style Beijing Exhibition Center, with a genre-spanning showcase of art and design, furniture, fine jewellery and decorative arts. Jingart co-founder Bao Yifeng notes that galleries are tapping into China’s flourishing art market, opening new premises across the country with artists from both home and abroad represented, but ‘gallerists are particularly curious about the Beijing market and want to try this old-new capital’.

Hangzhou-born Zhou Yilun’s second solo exhibition at Beijing Commune, ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’, repurposes everyday items to give them new meaning

Local galleries staged some of their best exhibitions of the year to coincide with the fair: Beijing Commune hosted a solo presentation at Jingart for the Beijing-born Ma Qiusha, who investigates feminism in her work and is one of the nominees for the Porsche ‘Young Chinese Artist of the Year’ award. At its space in the city’s 798 Art Zone, Zhou Yilun from Hangzhou had his second exhibition with the gallery, titled ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’, which reworks commercial items to find new life in ‘the superfluous’.

‘Beijing is the heart of the local art scene while Shanghai is developing into a new international hub for contemporary art, which is also highly market-oriented’, says gallery director Lu Jingjing. Mengmeng Li, of HdM Gallery adds: ‘Shanghai is showing rapid transition from a collectors’ market to a consumers’ market and people are more open to young artists and more fashionable expressions. Beijing leans towards works that are bigger and weightier – works that shows traditional values and with precise context, purpose and meaning.’

‘The Window Blind’ was Shanghai-born Hu Weiyi’s first collaboration with the HdM and his second solo exhibition in the city after his show at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA). Hu delves into the complicated relationship between the natural and manufactured world through photography, videography and installations. At Hive Center for Contemporary Art was Shanghainese LI Wenguang‘s ‘Science Fiction’, whose practice focuses on pseudoscience and the subconscious. Curatorial director Jian Yang believes that the differences in culture and mentality between Beijing and Shanghai are ‘essential and healthy’ for China’s future artistic development. 

OMA’s proposal for the UCCA includes a curved glass façade wrapping around much of the ground floor, revealing the exhibition halls beyond. It provides a stark difference between the spaces in the former 1950s and 1970s buildings and visually connects the new interior to the surrounding 798 Art Zone

Beijing is also the country’s major auction centres, and where investment is rocketing. Auction house China Guardian holds fifth place in worldwide rankings  with sales of $873 million – 84 per cent of which stemmed from the capital. Strategically positioned at the edge of the Forbidden City, and designed by Ole Scheeren, the Guardian Art Center is seen as a contemporary response to China’s cultural history. With its striking architecture, healthy arts programme and lifestyle outlets, it has been in the spotlight since its opening in early 2018.

The greatest players in the global art world are drawn to Beijing by its frequent collaborations with prestigious institutions. UCCA, which has been fronting the China-international modern art dialogue since 2007, has just opened the first exhibition of Picasso in the country in collaboration with Musée National Picasso-Paris. In 2017, the centre underwent a renovation masterminded by Dutch architects OMA.

M Woods, one of the youngest private museums in China, established in 2014 within a repurposed former munitions factory, will present a David Hockney exhibition this year in partnership with the Tate, and has also just announced an imminent venue in the Longfusi area – the historical and cultural nucleus of the capital – with an ambition to form a new cultural hub in the old city together with the Forbidden City, the National Art Museum of China and the People’s Art Theater. ‘Together, the two venues with their different specialities and features will further enrich the Beijing art scene, which is what the city needs urgently,’ says M Woods co-founder Michael Xufu Huang. §

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