Major exhibitions open in south China, showing there is more to Pearl River Delta than vast factories
China’s artistic centre of gravity shifts south this month to Guangdong Province, with the opening of the Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, Guangzhou Triennial and new Asia Biennial. The exhibitions should provide a boost to the rising artistic confidence of south China’s Pearl River Delta, the largest manufacturing base in the world and centre of the country’s economic growth.
Guangzhou and Shenzhen are both cities of firsts. Guangdong (formerly Canton) was from the 17th century China’s first port to permit trade with the West. Shenzhen was Deng Xiaoping’s laboratory in the 1980s and therefore the Communist Party’s test bed for nation-wide economic reforms.
The rest of China may view Guangdong as a bit wild, including its art, but the Guangzhou Triennial, which was launched in 2000, ranks with the Shanghai Biennale as one of China’s leading events. This year also sees the inaugural Asia Biennial, which takes place in the city’s Guangdong Museum of Art and will feature work by more than 40 artists. Both shows are due to open on 11 December (until 10 April 2016). “The two exhibitions are an integral whole, without clear boundaries, both narrating Asian issues,” says Hu Yuqing, the deputy director of the museum’s research and curatorial department. “Asia is not only a geographical concept, but also a cultural one. Asian cultures are diverse, but they also have much in common, including the colonial experience.”
“Guangzhou has its own cultural perspective and it produces unique artists,” she adds. “We have been trying to identify these artists and get the national academic circle to notice them. Guangzhou and the whole Guangdong Province actually have an excellent environment for the development of contemporary art.”
Meanwhile in Shenzhen, the architecture biennial is due to open on 4 December (until 28 February 2016). Now in its sixth edition, the seventh could coincide with the opening in 2017 of the Shekou Design Museum, a partnership between London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and China Merchants Group. Shekou will be the first museum in China formally connected to a major international institution. Its creation reflects the city’s thriving design scene. The city is already home to the lively Shenzhen OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT Shenzhen), which opened in 2005. “Whatever is new [in China] has to start from Shenzhen, it is the place for experiments for the future,” says Doreen Heng Liu, an architect and the co-curator of the urbanism-architecture biennial. “Shenzhen is very different from Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing,” she says. “Shenzhen is special because its very name as a city stands for experimenting.”
Liu’s co-curators are Aaron Betsky, Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner. The biennial’s theme, Reliving the City, involves transforming the derelict Dacheng Flour Factory into a permanent exhibition space. As the only historic building in what is due to become a creative industries park, “its presence shows a very important attitude, that the past is part of the future,” Liu says.
Liu says the plans for the Shekou Design Museum have generated a lot of expectations. “We are very curious what will happen. It is always good to have a shake up of the government-level system, and diversity is always good,” she says.
Guangdong Museum of Art
Yanyu Road 38, Er-sha Island, Guangzhou, China