Mad about museums

On 23/12/2013 by Site Default

THE RED BRICK CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM can be found beyond Beijing’s fifth ring road, in an area so recently urbanised it is still called Hegezhuang Village. The street up to it is wide and dusty. Opposite, two dogs lie panting outside the Orchard restaurant where workmen have put down their trowels and are sipping tea in the midday heat. Despite the unpromising setting, the museum looks as if it had been lowered into place that very morning. The brickwork is shiny, the yellow lettering bright. Inside the air-conditioning hums throughout the seven exhibition spaces and all the lights are on. Yet, except for a handful of works in one small corner near the entrance, the museum has absolutely nothing on display. It is like walking into an empty Olympic swimming pool.

The Red Brick was completed more than a year ago by an up-and-coming property developer, Yan Zhijie, from Xingtai, a small town about 350km south-west of Beijing. It exemplifies what Jeffrey Johnson, director of Columbia University’s China Megacities Lab, calls the “museumification” of China: a building boom so frothy it is running away with itself. Not just in Beijing and Shanghai but also in the second- and third-tier cities beyond, new museums are hatching out every day, many of them still without collections and curators. “We’ve seen museum-building booms elsewhere,” Mr Johnson says, “but nothing of this sustained magnitude and pace.”

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