China's hunger for art in spotlight

People stand in front of the art of Chinese artist Chen Haiyan during the 2014 Armory Show in New York, the United States, March 5, 2014. The 2014 Armory Show, one of the world's top art events featuring the most influential artworks of the 20th and 21st centuries, kicked off on Wednesday. [Photo/Xinhua] 
When Jerome Cohen walked into a lecture hall at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1979, he had not anticipated the sight before him. There were several hundred people gathered staring at slides of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and other artists. The 83-year-old professor of law at New York University was amazed. "It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had," he says today. "This was the first talk anybody had given about American art and the first talk given by an American." The episode revealed the hunger of the Chinese for art and their eagerness to learn about Western contemporary art. Cohen's sentiments on the keen interest in, and shifting landscape of, contemporary art in China was shared by more than 40 artists, journalists, scholars and curators around the world at a two-day symposium in New York City titled Armory Focus: China, a program of conversations aimed at elaborating on and clarifying the state of contemporary art in China. "The (Chinese) government stated that this is the golden age for our creative community," says Adrian Cheng, founder and chairman of K11 Art Foundation. "Two billion yuan of funding has been set up and is being overseen by the Party's central committee to subsidize the production of creative artwork. There is also funding to support museum-building." The government's initiative to increase museums in China has prompted a boom in exhibition space in recent years. "There are nearly 4,000 museums in China compared with 25 museums in 1945," says Fiammetta Rocco, culture editor of The Economist. Jeffrey Johnson, founder of China Megacities Lab at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University, says: "That might be only a quarter of the number of museums in the United States, but you have to place it in context to understand the magnitude of what is happening in China." Last year, 451 new museums opened in China, according to the China Museum Association. There were roughly 30 museums built each year during the boom of new museums in the United States in the early 1990s. The Western artistic world has developed as an ecology over hundreds of years, in terms of how the scholarship, institutions, museums, magazines, critics, curators and nonprofits relate to the market and how they fit into one another, says Colin Chinnery, artistic director of Wuhan Art Terminus. "But in China, art has become another investment vehicle after real estate investment. The investment side of art grew much faster than the scholarship and the critics-the artistic side. Whereas one side grows dramatically, growth of the other side takes time, which leads to the imbalance of the Chinese art system," he says. "One thing that often strikes me is the incredible curiosity of Chinese people to learn, from the artists to the ordinary people. That's how contemporary art evolved," says Karen Smith, director of OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Xi'an. "What makes me most hopeful is the audiences of the future are today's young people," she says. Source:

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