He Art Museum, China’s newest private art museum for 2020.

In the last decade, private museums have been popping up in many areas of mainland China, flourishing quickly in Shanghai and Beijing, and now in the Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region (PRD). As such, the Chinese art scene is being exposed to a new breed of private museums whose remarkable presentations are building a more diverse, adaptable, and spontaneous programme of art exhibitions and events. On the flip side, their rise and contribution to the art scene is also shaping the city’s future, offering a vibrant, creative infrastructure for the community through iconic architecture and professional art services.


Located in Shunde, Guangdong, the cultural center of the Pearl River Delta, a new private art museum, the He Art Museum (HEM), will be officially opening to the public after five years of preparation on March 21, 2020. He Jianfeng, director of HEM, states that “HEM want to make the most of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area’s geographical advantages to provide an institution that creates a dialogue between local art and art from the world. It is an attempt to create a new culture center that integrates art into the local community, at the same time as the museum defines our own unique identity in the international cultural landscape.”


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An exterior shot of the He Art Museum. ©He Art Museum


With all the things to love about Shunde, its traditional Chinese food is definitely one of the biggest draws for visitors. But now, as the newcomer to the city, how can HEM integrate its internationality, historicity, and perspective into the local scene? Designed by world-renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the museum building takes “harmony” as its theme. “He” in Chinese denotes harmony, balance, and fortune, which forms the museum’s core philosophy and architectural design.


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Tadao Ando and He Jianfeng at the signing ceremony. ©He Art Museum


Ando was challenged by the theory of dynamic geometry when designing the building: from the overall architectural design to the detailed craftsmanship, a series of circles are presented. These circles define the space of the building, with four layers of different circles extending outwards, giving the building a sense of rhythm, seeking dynamic balance in a stable structure.


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Tadao Ando’s design manuscript for He Art Museum. ©He Art Museum


The completed museum will cover an area of 16,000 square meters, of which 8,000 square meters is dedicated to exhibition space. The museum separates the permanent exhibition space into two themes: modern and contemporary Chinese collections, and curatorial projects, focusing on museum collections and contemporary art from all over the world, respectively.


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A rendering of the He Art Museum. ©He Art Museum


An inaugural exhibition, From the Mundane World, will also coincide with the opening of the museum. HEM director He Jianfeng will be overseeing the exhibitions, curated by chief curator Feng Boyi and his curatorial team (Hu Bin, Wang Xiaosong, Liu Gang, and Shao Shu.) The exhibition pays specific attention to living environments, the relationship between man and the natural world, nature’s ecological systems and the impact of the process of modernization, as well as issues regarding the heritage of regional cultures and sustainable development.


Fittingly, the museum’s exhibition will also be presented in two parts: the collection exhibition, entitled Milieu in Change, and the thematic exhibition, On the Rise, along with more than 400 works and commissions by renowned international and local artists. The collection exhibitions will showcase the founder’s family art collection through a narrative approach, which provides a historical perspective for the audiences, and offers visitors a glimpse into local indigenous culture. HEM director He Jianfeng points out that “HEM is committed to regional Lingnan culture and Chinese modern painting, particularly of the Lingnan School, which refers to an indigenous style of painting originally created by artists living in the three coastal provinces of Guangdong (known as Canton), Guangxi, and Hainan (an island in the South China Sea). These are the important collections that the museum currently holds.” Meanwhile, the thematic exhibition explores a global perspective for the discourse in today’s art, such as human civilization within the context of the laws of nature.


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Apsara

Chang Dai-Chien

Ink and color on paper

182 × 94 cm

1941

©He Art Museum


“The family collection not only offers a comprehensive view of twentieth-century Chinese artworks, but also we have done a careful arrangement of the collection by theme,” says the chief curator of Milieu in Change, Hu Bin. The family’s art collection includes works by Gao Jianfu, Gao Qifeng, Chen Shuren, and other artists from the Lingnan School. The Shanghai school’s collection includes Chinese modern artists, with works by Qi Baishi, Zhang Daqian, Lin Fengmian, and many more.


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Dong Qichang Project: 34

Shang Yang

Mixed media on canvas

300 × 273 cm

2011

©He Art Museum


According to Hu Bin, Milieu in Change originated from a quote from Chinese historian, journalist, philosopher, and politician Liang Qichao. With regards to the current nature of art, Liang stated, “The criticism of painting in today’s context, Milieu in Change.” Hence, Milieu in Change as the theme for the arrangement of the museum’s collection aims to highlight the internal discourse as well as wider academic thinking towards all things concerning Chinese art in the twentieth century, particularly in the context of the broader analysis of exchange between China and the West.


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The Past of Broadway

Liu Ye

Oil painting on canvas

210 × 210 cm

2006

©He Art Museum


Curated by Dr. Wang Xiaosong, the works in the exhibition On the Rise were selected from the collection of Chinese modern and contemporary art, as well as from the family’s collection of international works. The concept of the exhibition is derived from the saying “The Eastward Spread of Western Learning,” a description applied to the historic one-directional cultural dissemination of ideas, namely from the West to China. The impetus for contemporary Chinese art since the 1980s has not only been influenced by the “Western learning,” but also accompanied by the enhancement of traditional Chinese awareness. Therefore, the show presents a significant retrospective of Chinese art since the 1980s from a global art historic perspective in an attempt to seek the value of Chinese art during this period, and to discover the status of resources, knowledge, and expression of Chinese contemporary art under the forces of “Western learning” and traditional Chinese awareness.


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Army, Navy and Air Force

Yue Mingjun

Oil painting on canvas

170 × 140 cm

2007

©He Art Museum


To date, the museum and the family have announced the inclusion of works by Chinese modern and contemporary artists, including Zao Wou-Ki, Zhou Chunya, Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Ding Yi, Liu Ye, Shang Yang, and more. As for international contemporary artists, so far the museum noted the participation of Anish Kapoor, Alexander Calder, Damien Hirst, Lee Ufan, Kishio Suga, and others. However, the list of artworks for the inaugural exhibition has yet to be finalized.


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From Line No.780132

Lee Ufan

Oil on canvas

130 × 97 cm

1978

©He Art Museum


The thematic exhibition has also invited 16 Chinese artists and 24 international artists, including Xu Bing and Song Dong. The exhibition attempts to develop three units:


1. Experience all things emphasizes the efforts made by humans in the realm of artistic experimentation beyond our experience, perception, thought, and imagination in the context of contemporary art as a medium for dialogue about everything in the world. According to one of the curators, Liu Gang, this part will incorporate the materiality of the art medium and an exploration of the interactivity between humans and materials.


2. On that basis, Doctrine for “sole” material development extends the constantly discussed topic of the predicament of modern life, which explores profound social problems, such as the destruction of the earth’s natural ecology, and lack of control as a result of social production, consumer culture, and personal desire.


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PROTRUSION SERIES Quadrant

Kishio Suga

Plywood and lacquer

180 × 140 × 12.5 cm

1990

©He Art Museum


3. Shunde is a city rooted in Chinese traditional food culture. In the unit of Mundane canteen, the participating artists use food as a medium to create art, transforming indispensable sustenance into a creative resource. This further unfolds into an interactive experience between contemporary art, global disparity, community consciousness, and the awareness of actions.


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An exterior shot of the He Art Museum. ©He Art Museum


At a press conference on December 18, 2019, HEM’s Executive Director, Shao Shu, revealed that the forward planning for the museum’s exhibition, research, and education programme has been scheduled until 2021. Among them, the annual symposium, Museum 2050 (which will this year partner with Tadao Ando), will be held in April with the theme “Cultural Alliances: The Imperatives and Challenges of Collaboration.”