Wednesday, April 30, 2008

MoCA vs. Shanghai Art Museum

MoCA vs. Shanghai Art Museum by Amanda Pickens

Although in close proximity to one another, Shanghai's MoCA and Shanghai Art Museum share few commonalities. Before class I assumed the two to be fairly similar, yet once stepping into Shanghai Art Museum following our visit to MoCA, I immediately began to compare and contrast them to one another. Due to both ownership (private vs. state) and each museum's chief goals, budget size, projected image, and viewer demographics varied greatly.

Although I enjoyed both the Ferragamo show and Mediengruppe Telekommander's performance at Art Lab, MoCA's feel seems a bit contrived. As we were first introduced to MoCA's upstairs lounge, I could not help but notice the abundance of overly-hip contemporary design. Somewhere amongst the Macaulay Culkin face, giant jellybean chairs, Marimekko-like floor, and repetitiously tiled bathroom, I began to feel lost amid the mishmash of elements. I understand that the museum needs to be somewhat trendy to appeal to a young, contemporary crowd; however, the room felt like a fun house with no particular direction other than drug-induced frenzy.

At the same time, I will admit that the music was a lot of fun and the turn out definitely seemed successful. The crowd, though, was mainly Western, and the night overall had a very hipster, New York feel. I'm not sure if MoCA is concerned about appealing to a more local crowd, yet if the main purpose behind Art Lab is its moneymaking capabilities, they seem to have found the right market thus far.

As for the Ferragamo exhibit, I was both pleased and disappointed. While I have no problems with museums exhibiting such shows (commercial design rather than conceptual art) I did not find that the initial impact felt in the show's first room carried throughout the exhibit. Once exiting the high heel room, I felt bored and confused. Although much of the exhibition was centered around the display of Ferragamo goods, one room featured artwork relating to the designer's shoes. The exhibited work did nothing more than simply depict high heels; there was no concept, originality, or really anything worthwhile about the room as a whole. Rather, it seemed a last minute addition, as well as a place for one to leave his or her child based on the arrangement of miniature tables and chairs that sat off to the side.

After having seen the show, I left wanting more. Viewing one exhibition was not enough. Does the museum not have a permanent collection? Although larger than the average gallery, MoCA's lack of space leaves the institution in somewhat of a middle ground. Without the power and presence of large, more established museums must MoCA rely on its ability to act as a venue rather than exhibitions alone? Perhaps, they feel that playing the role of museum is too conventional. Based on space alone, MoCA's decision to not show permanent works is probably a good idea; the museum is just too small. Frequent visitors would become bored due to lack of variety. Though, if they were able to amass enough works, the establishment would be able to periodically rotate the permanent works collection as does New York's MoMA. Yet, this would involve a large budget, as well as alter MoCA's image. They want to stray from convention; however I question if they are too concerned with their image.

On the other hand, when compared to Shanghai Art Museum, one must appreciate MoCA's freshness and professionalism. Despite being very impressed by the exterior's architecture, I was shocked upon entry. The museum simply felt dark and dated. While the downstairs exhibit was somewhat interesting to view, (despite the teachers having heavy hands in the children's pieces) I could not have been more let down by the photography being shown upstairs. If I had had to buy my own ticket, I would have wanted to demand my money back. None of the pictures could have been more cliché—landscapes, cityscapes, nude women, still lives. After seeing the first set which looked to be nothing more than car advertisements, I wanted to leave. Showing such works challenges the false assumption many people make regarding art shown in professional museums. Many automatically assume that work displayed in such a setting is highly respected and well executed, but exhibitions like this definitely prove that one should question such assumptions. I only hope the main incentive behind exhibitions such as these is money.

Viewer demographics varied, as well, between the two museums. While MoCA attracts a very young, contemporary, and largely Western/Westernized crowd, Shanghai Art Museum pulls in locals. I noticed many in Shanghai Art Museum to be interested in the clothing on display; it almost seemed as if some were seamstresses who wished to pick up some tips. Due to such differences, each museum in return must appeal to fairly opposite visitors. Luckily, MoCA is able to obtain funding through event hosting and their restaurant, while Shanghai Art Museum must look to other options. Unless the museum changes ownership or is able to gather additional funds, I feel its future is not one of growth, which is extremely unfortunate do to the institution's location and sheer size, both of which are currently being underutilized. Sadly, I feel much comes down to money. While funding seems to be preventing Shanghai Art Museum from becoming a highly respected center of art, the prospect of considerable profit has prompted MoCA to invest in more than just art exhibitions.

No comments: