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Poised to Dazzle: Newest Art Museums Along China’s Eastern Seaboard

by Julie Chun 

In the past decade, Beijing and Shanghai have succeeded in becoming two of the most appealing global epicentres for contemporary art. From small district-sponsored art institutions to mega-scale private museums, there has been no shortage of art. Shanghai currently boasts nearly 39 contemporary art museums, and Beijing is trailing not far behind. Of course, the international art world had been taking notice, flocking to both metropolises in droves for biennials, gallery weekends and art fairs in pre-Covid years. More importantly, there have been wealthy domestic observers in emerging cities who have been keenly taking notice (as well as diligent notes) on this trend of museum-building as strategies for establishing cultural soft power within their own spheres of influence. 

According to a recent article in The Guardian, China currently has more ultra-wealthy people than any other nation. Even despite Covid disruptions, an additional 257 Chinese billionaires were added to the existing Hurun List at the end of 2020. Not all nouveau riche are necessarily interested in art however since investment preference is still concentrated in real estate. Yet, the two fields of culture and property development are intricately tied in China’s urban planning strategy. It is common practice in China to build and establish museums to raise the prestige of a development tract…even in the absence of an art collection. This may sound idiosyncratic, especially in many European and North American contexts where the formation of a museum has been the fundamental foundation for embodying art collections. In China however, the infrastructure takes precedence while the collections are in development. 

China managed to restart its construction sector to complete several major art museums that opened its doors in late 2020 and 2021. The most visually stunning museums have been those established along China’s eastern seaboard and designed by world-acclaimed rock star architects. Starting with Shanghai’s newest artistic centre-piece, the Museum of Art Pudong, then venturing up the northern coast to Qingdao’s The Artists’ Garden Art Museum (also known as Xihai Art Museum), and traveling south to the He Art Museum located in Shunde in the province of Guangdong, we will delve into the most intriguing new museums that are vying to become China’s next cultural icon.