Shopping mall shows catering to nation’s culture vultures
In November, the K11 Art Mall in Shanghai will host a Salvador Dali exhibition, the first Dali exhibition in China to be authorized by the GalaSalvador Dali Foundation since 2001.
It is the second blockbuster show to be held in the retail development, the first being the 2014 Monet show that brought together 40 original art works from the French impressionist including the world-famous Water Lilies. It attracted around 350,000 visitors in three months. The average ticket price was 100 yuan ($15).
“We made no money from Monet,” said Douglas Kotwall from the K11 Art Foundation. “Most of the money went into things like insurance and logistics.”
The foundation, which has its headquarters in Hong Kong, is blurring the lines between culture and commerce. There is art in the Shanghai mall’s 3,000 square meter basement and art in the shopping areas, too.
China is not short of places to enjoy art. The government said it wanted 3,500 museums by 2015, a goal it reached three years ahead of schedule, with Beijing and Shanghai having the lion’s share of institutions.
Of the country’s 1,560 art galleries in 2013, 742 were in the capital. A fraction specializes in contemporary art, Chinese or foreign. No Chinese mainland museum is in The Art Newspaper’s top 10 list for visitor attendance; Europe dominates the rankings, although Taipei’s National Palace Museum holds steady at seventh place.
The Taipei museum organized the top-three best-attended exhibitions in 2014, with more than 12,000 visitors a day enjoying the work of famous artist Tang Yin of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
A similar number of people visited a show about Emperor Qianlong (reigned 1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty (16441911), which included 45 pieces loaned from Beijing’s Palace Museum. Half of the Taipei museum’s visitors are from the Chinese mainland and onethird are locals, said The Art Newspaper.
Shanghai Museum’s 2014 free exhibition Tracing History attracted 629,233 visitors in just under three months, making it the 13th most-visited exhibition in the world last year, according to the publication.
An omission from the list is the Palace Museum in Beijing, which had more than 15 million visitors last year.
“But, as in previous surveys, we have treated it as a special case. Situated in the Forbidden City, it is part of a larger visitor destination and so it is difficult to compare it with a standalone institution,” the newspaper said. The Louvre welcomed 9.26 million visitors in 2014, with foreign visitors representing 69 percent of ticket sales. About 7 percent came from China, the museum said.
“The visitor numbers we got for Monet are probably more than most (Chinese) museums see in a year. That’s a reason for putting it in a commercial space,” said Kotwall.
“People in China are unfamiliar with going to a museum or gallery. But they’ll go to a mall every weekend. That’s one of the missions we have — public art education. Art is not in the national curriculum because education here is more about passing exams. But the Chinese are craving new culture and new things. For Dali we are having a parallel show, with established and emerging Chinese contemporary artists, to show the influence of surrealism.”
Kotwall said people who come to K11’s shows are interested in art and want to learn about it. “They are educated, they have gone overseas and have come back. The next level of lifestyle for them is art. Art connects them to the outside world.”
K11 is planning 19 Chinese projects based on its art-retail model. The biggest will be in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province, covering 260,000 square meters.
Other retail developments are also attempting to broaden cultural consumption in China, standing out in a crowded marketplace by organizing exhibitions of conceptual art and photography.
“Art attracts customers,” said George Wong, chairman of the real estate developer Parkview Group. “It helps to sell things. It’s also an important opportunity to present art to the public.
“Most artists want their work to be seen. There is nothing wrong with galleries but they are a place for trading. It is my wish to give the public an education in art. But I want them to touch it and interact with it. Painting is for your eyes only.”
The 2014 Monet exhibition at Shanghai’s K11 mall.