One of China’s oldest private art museums to close as Covid lockdowns lead to economic downturn

The Guangdong Times Museum in China’s Guangzhou region announced yesterday that it will close its doors after nearly 19 years. The private museum is among China’s oldest and most respected private art museums, known for its thoughtful curation and academic programming focused on southern China, as well as Southeast Asia and the global south . The space will close after the end of its current show River legumes, border streams 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-speaking Pearl River Delta (PRD) area of ​​southern China, also including Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The region has a “historical culture as a frontier of imperial China, and after the 1990s of reform policy and the real estate boom,” says deputy director and chief curator Nikita Yingqian Cai. “The Times Museum witnessed the transformation of this frontier over two decades. .” Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, the area “never had a very strong art infrastructure, or a big commercial gallery scene,” says Cai, with “the Times Museum being one of the oldest that invested heavily in fostering contemporary local ecology”. art”. He adds: “It’s a great loss for the region, and also for a generation of emerging and mid-career artists across China, because of our focus on healing and research. We’re not a model for entry fee”.

The high-rise building that was the headquarters of the Guangdong Times Museum Photo: Courtesy of Guangdong Times Museum

The closure is due to China’s economic downturn, the publication says, with strict lockdowns and other Covid controls in the first half of this year further snowballing a declining real estate sector from mid-2021. The real estate developer backing the museum, Times China, has spent RMB 200m (£24.7m) on the museum since 2010. That year, the company ended its partnership with the state-owned Guangdong Museum of Art and set up a branch without for-profit to run the Times Museum independently. In 2018, the Times Museum was the only Chinese institution to expand to the West, opening a space in Berlin that also closed this June.

Located in a high-rise building in the northern area of ​​Guangzhou, it will enclose the Times Museum’s 1,200 square meter exhibition space on the 19th floor of the building, as well as the offices on the 14th floor. A cafe and a event space on the first floor will remain open and scheduled 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.

Installation view of the exhibition Big Tail Elephant: One hour, no room, five shows in 2016 Photo: Courtesy of Guangdong Times Museum

Recalling the highlights of 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 “Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts”. Also highlighted is 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 ancient African community, which we hope can inspire a new generation,” says Cai.

The museum will retain a skeleton team including Cai, Director Zhao Qie and Chief Administrative Officer Liu Qian. Its workforce had already been reduced to ten from 16 in early 2022. The rest of the laid-off employees are negotiating with Times China’s human resources team to receive their legally mandated severance pay, which is equivalent to one month of salary for each year worked. Times China has offered to pay severance pay in April 2023 in lieu of termination, three of the staff involved said. The Art Journal anonymously Cai confirms that the team is negotiating with the property company’s HR “as there is no cash flow to pay the redundancies in one tranche”. [jobs market] It’s 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 the WeChat announcement. That will require “putting in a different model,” says Cai. “There is a lack of space for this type of private museum, based entirely on corporate funding, without state support. We will have to scale back and restructure, and tell a different story by integrating the cultural scene with the realities of China. I’m optimistic for a smaller-scale experiment, developing a more diverse ecosystem,” he says, adding that, ultimately, “people are our most important asset.”

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