The great Chinese gold rush: Chinese art scene continues to blossom

Tate’s director of collections has visited China twice this year and MoMA trustees are also on their way


The streets of Beijing are beginning to resemble those of Chelsea, as China fever grips the art world. Jan Debbaut, the director of collections at Tate, has already made two trips to China recently, and the Museum of Modern Art’s curator Tina di Carlo has recently been in Beijing, preparing for a visit to the city by its trustees. Even some major artists are moving in, such as Wim Delvoye, who is spending most of his time these days at a renovated pig farm on the outskirts of the capital.

The 798 factory area continues to grow, but most of the new “galleries” are vanity spaces or rented out for parties and fashion shoots. An exception is Gallery Continua. This respected gallery from San Gimignano, Italy, opened a space in 798 on 24 September with a show of the late, great expatriate artist Chen Zhen.

Guy Ullens, the Belgian collector of Chinese art, is putting the finishing touches on a private museum in 798, to be directed by Fei Dawei, a Paris-based curator of the 1989 generation, which includes Hou Hanru, Huang Yongping et al. The first show will be curated by Feng Boyi—perhaps the most important figure of this group who did not emigrate. In addition, the Southern California Institute of Architecture's Robert Mangurian is opening a branch in 798.

Serious art activity is also slowly migrating to Caochangdi, a nearby suburban village pioneered by the artist Ai Weiwei. The Courtyard Gallery recently opened an annex space there, as did Frankfurt’s Lothar Albrecht and a new artist-run space called Platform is also based in the area. Its most prominent partner is Li Zhenhua of the former Mustard Seed Gallery (MSG). In the same area Waling Boers of BüroFriedrich, the alternative Berlin space, is opening a “bureau” with curator Pi Li in what used to be an indoor fishing pond.

Elsewhere, art impresario Handel Lee (The Courtyard Gallery, 3 on the Bund) is renovating the former American Legation in Beijing, a compound of traditional Chinese buildings not far from Tiananmen Square, into a club, restaurant, and mixed-use arts space. Mr Lee is talking to dealers Jack Tilton from New York and Christian Nagel from Berlin about alternating exhibitions in an art gallery inside.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, there is the Today Art Gallery, with a beautiful space designed by MIT architecture department chair Chang Yung-ho; unfortunately this is mostly a rental space; and Art Now gallery, where the half-Bulgarian director Boriana Song has been at the centre of the Chinese Avant-garde from almost the beginning.

Shanghai has not seen such frenzied activity, but some big changes are afoot. The Shanghai Art Museum’s director Li Xiangyang has resigned, in what is widely seen as a blow against reform. Mr Li was largely responsible for making the Shanghai Biennial a reality. At the same time, the mysterious Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art was due to open at the end of last month. It is “mysterious” in that a Hong Kong jade dealer managed to get some of the most sensitive property in Shanghai—right on People's Square—to build a museum that seems to have no collection or programme. The publicly announced exhibitions so far have all been organised by the cultural foundations of Western governments, including the kitsch French photographers Pierre et Gilles.

Also in Shanghai, Patrick Painter has signed a lease on a space in the Moganshan Road loft district, which has emerged as Shanghai’s art central (Shanghart, for example, recently moved its HQ to what used to be their warehouse space there). London’s Haunch of Venison plans to open galleries in both Beijing and Shanghai, probably within the next 18 months.

Finally, Shenzhen has announced a new biennial for Architecture and Urbanism, curated by Chang Yung-ho, to open on 10 December at the He Xiangning Museum’s OCT Terminal, a new warehouse space dedicated to contemporary art.