One of China’s oldest private art museums to close as Covid shutdowns lead to economic collapse

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The Guangdong Times Museum announced yesterday that it will be closing its doors after almost 19 years. The private museum is one of China’s oldest and most respected private art museums, renowned for its thoughtful curation and academic programming focused on southern China as well as Southeast Asia and South. The space will close after the conclusion of its current show River legumes, border flows on October 9, he said on his WeChat channel.

The Times Museum has been at the forefront of shaping the art scene in the Cantonese Pearl River Delta (PRD) region of southern China, including Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The area has a “historical culture as the frontier of Imperial China, and after the 1990s of reform policy and the housing boom,” says deputy director and chief curator Nikita Yingqian Cai. “The Times Museum has witnessed the transformation of this frontier for two decades. .” Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, the region “has never had a very strong arts infrastructure, nor a big shopping gallery scene,” Cai explains, with “The Times Museum as one of the oldest to invest heavily in the promotion of the local ecology of contemporary art”. art.” She adds, “For the region, it’s a great loss, and also for a generation of mid-career and emerging artists across China, because of our focus on curation and research. We We’re not an entry fee model.

The skyscraper that housed the Guangdong Times Museum Photo: Courtesy of Guangdong Times Museum

The closure is due to China’s economic slowdown says the post, with strict lockdowns and other Covid controls in the first half of this year snowballing even further into a property sector that has been in decline since mid-2021. The property developer that backs the museum, Times China, has spent RMB200m (£24.7m) on the museum since 2010. In that year, the company ended its partnership with the museum. Guangdong art and set up a non-profit branch to run the Times Museum independently. In 2018, the Times Museum was so far the only Chinese institution to expand west, opening a Berlin space that also closed in June.

Located in a high-rise building in the northern area of ​​Guangzhou, the Times Museum’s 1,200 sqm exhibition space on the 19th floor of the building will close, as will the offices on the 14th floor. A cafe and event space on the first floor will remain open, and planned public programming will continue through November. Huangbian Station, a now independent parallel project launched in 2012 by Liang Jianhua, curator of the Times Museum from 2011 to 2022, will continue.

An installation view of the exhibition Big-tailed elephant: one hour, no seating, five shows in 2016 Photo: Courtesy of Guangdong Times Museum

Recalling highlights from the Times Museum’s programming, Cai recalls the 2016 retrospective of pioneering 1990s Guangzhou collective Big Tail Elephant, which “inspired a younger generation of artists who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. Guangzhou Arts”. It also highlights the All the Way South research network, which explores the Global South through research, dialogue and scholarship. “There is a rich history of Guangzhou interacting with Southeast Asia and with Africa through its once large African community, which we hope can inspire a new generation,” Cai said.

The museum will retain a small team including Cai, director Zhao Qie and administrative director Liu Qian. Its staff had already been reduced to ten from 16 at the start of 2022. The other laid-off employees are negotiating with Times China’s human resources team to receive their legally mandated severance package, equivalent to one month’s salary for every year worked. Times China offered to pay severance pay in April 2023 rather than at the time of dismissal, three of the affected employees said The arts journal anonymously. Cai confirms that the team is in the process of negotiating with the HR of the real estate company “since there is no cash to pay the severance package in one slot”. She adds: “The [jobs market] is not very positive, so they need this payment and I fully support them.

The museum aims to reopen in some form next year, according to WeChat’s announcement. This will require “coming up with a different model,” says Cai. “There is a lack of space for this kind of private museum, entirely based on corporate funding, without any state support. We will have to reduce and restructure, and tell another story by integrating the cultural scene with the realities of China. I am optimistic for a smaller-scale experience, developing a more diverse ecosystem,” she says, adding that ultimately, “people are our most important asset.”

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