While governance of the Peoples’ Republic of China might seem restrictive to Westerners, the accumulation of great wealth by members of the Chinese “1 percent”, has come about as a result of their practice of unbridled Western capitalism.
Like their counterparts in the West, Chinese entrepreneurs acquired vast collections of art and artifacts that outgrew the available spaces in their private homes, encouraging them to commission architects to design and build private museums to house and display them. Then there are moguls like real estate developer Lu Jun and his son Lu Xun who have undertaken to create an entire private cultural complex of structures in the Laoshan forest near the former capital of China’s Ming Dynasty, Nanjing, and one hour by train north of Shanghai.
The Lus eventually hired 22 world-renowned architects to design a hotel, a conference center and 19 residential villas on their 115-acre property that is centered by the Sifang Art Museum, a 30,000-square-foot exhibition space designed by the New York architect, Steven Holl. The Chinese architect, Liu Jiakun and the architect Arato Isozaki were chosen to advise on the architects to hire, to oversee the project, and to select the additional architects required to design the remaining buildings. Their choices included Pritzker Prize-winners, the architect Wang Shu and the Japanese architectural firm, Saana, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the British architect David Adjaye. The plan is to generate sufficient income from the rental of the “commercial” buildings to sustain their own operating costs and the operating costs of the museum.
The architecture of the museum is itself a work of art. It honors both contemporary architecture and that of the past. It “explores the shifting viewpoints, layers of space and expanses of mist and water which characterize the deep, alternating spatial mysteries of the composition of early Chinese painting”. The structure is an L-shaped building, built in black and white colors, that consists of modernist, translucent white “boxes” more than 30 feet above ground level. “The upper gallery, suspended high in the air, unwraps in a clockwise turning sequence and culminates at ‘in position’ viewing of the city of Nanjing in the distance”. The museum’s courtyard is paved with recycled bricks from the demolished courtyards of old Hutongs (residences) in Nanjing.
There are twice yearly exhibitions of Chinese and international art held in the museum featuring artists from the Lus personal collection such as the Chinese art collective, Made in Company, Anselm Kiefer and Luc Tuymans. A visit to the Sifang Art Museum is a unique, twofold experience that offers a viewing of the magnificent art in the museum itself as well as the privilege of viewing a unique “museum” of the finest, international contemporary architecture that makes up this rare complex itself.
Location: No. 9 Zhenqi Lu, Pukou District, Nanjing”
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 10:00AM – 5:00PM
Admission: 60RMB ($10.), 30RMB ($5.) (Seniors, Teachers, & Students),
VIP Tours: 168RMB ($28.) www.sifangartmuseum.org