Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Gift Offer for Artists in China: Museums

A Gift Offer for Artists in China: Museums
Xiao Quan

Eight contemporary Chinese artists have been offered their own personal
museums in Dujiangyan, in Sichuan Province. The city plans to begin
construction on an 18-acre plot of land soon.

Published: August 25, 2007

SHANGHAI, Aug. 24 — For years their work could not be exhibited in
China, but now the country's leading contemporary artists are being
courted by major art collectors abroad and their paintings set records
at international auction sales. A local government in Sichuan Province
— the area in western China known for its natural beauty, spicy food
and talented painters — is taking notice.
Skip to next paragraph
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Zhang Xiaogang is one of eight artists who have been offered their own
museums as contemporary art flourishes in China.
The New York Times

Sichaun Province is known for its spicy food and, now, its art.

It has offered to give eight contemporary artists, all under 60, their
own personal museums to operate. The group includes some of China's
best-known avant-garde artists: Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Fang
Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zhou Chunya, He Duoling, Zhang Peili and Wu
Shanzhuan. All have accepted, and Dujiangyan, a city near the
provincial capital, Chengdu, will soon begin construction on an 18-acre
plot of land. The museums are scheduled to open in October 2008.

In a country with no major museum of contemporary art — not even in
Beijing, where most of the eight artists work — this is a novel
development. But in China, everything is changing at warp speed:
artists who sold works for $100 in the 1990s have become
multimillionaires operating huge studios and driving BMWs. They are
helping to transform the style of the country's biggest cities.

"Modern art used to be neglected," said Lu Peng, an associate professor
at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, who selected the artists.
"Then modern art became popular in the market."

The new project, which will also include a public museum, is expected
to bolster tourism and to benefit a group of real estate companies that
are redeveloping the provincial area. In addition to providing the
land, Dujiangyan's government is investing around $13 million in the

The eight artists, ranging in age from 42 to 59, include a few from
Sichuan, but the others come from all over China. They rose to
prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s by producing paintings,
installations and multimedia pieces that were often radical. Some of
the work was viewed by the Chinese government as distasteful or

But in recent years Beijing has significantly loosened restrictions on
what can be exhibited in China as the global art market has fed a boom
in new studios, galleries, museums and art districts in many of its
cities. Today only the most controversial works — those with explicit
sexual images or harsh depictions of high-ranking Communist Party
officials — are banned.

How the artists plan to operate their own museums remains unclear.

"I was very happy when I heard that they were going to give me my own
museum," said Mr. Wu, 47, whose radical red character paintings and
nude performance art are well known here and abroad. "Right now, I have
no idea what I'm going to do with it. In the future all the artists
will sit down and discuss how these museums will be operated."

If the artists choose to display their own works, the museums will have
an enviable collection. Prices for art from many of them have
skyrocketed on the auction market. Individual pieces by Zhang Xiaogang
and Mr. Yue, for example, have sold for more than $2 million.

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