China’s largest private museum opens in Shanghai

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Visitors turn out to see second branch of the Long Museum, founded by Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, in the Xuhui Riverside development

By Lisa Movius. Web only
Published online: 31 March 2014

The Long Museum West Bund. Photo: 吴俊泽

A last-minute rush of construction is common to new Chinese museums, but at the opening of the Long Museum’s second space in Shanghai, the final touches ahead of the launch on 28 March were only belied by a faint whiff of paint. The who’s who of the Chinese art world turned out to see the collection of top contemporary and classic works, particularly a scroll of Song Dynasty calligraphy whose authenticity has been brought into question.

The branch in West Bund joins the original Long Museum in Pudong, which opened in December 2012; both are founded by the super-collectors Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei. “My wife’s balls are bigger than mine—to get this done on time is a victory,” a happy Liu said at a press conference ahead of the opening.

The 33,000 sq. m building took just over a year to complete, and with 16,000 sq. m of exhibition space, it is now the largest private museum in China. It is part of the Xuhui Riverside development in the Puxi area, which already has the Chinese-Indonesian collector Budi Tek’s Yuz Museum and will soon house the Asian headquarters for the US film studio DreamWorks.

Wang Wei said that both branches of the Long Museum will host four shows each year, with Puxi being “more international and more focused on the future and possibilities”. Though initially envisioned as a Modern art museum in contrast to the mix of Chinese antiquities, Communist and contemporary art on display in the space in Pudong, the scope of the West Bund space has been adjusted to also include Western and Chinese classical art.

The opening show “Re-View”, organised by the curator and critic Wang Huangsheng with the curators Cao Qinghui and Guo Xiaoyan, features more than 300 works by some 200 artists, mostly drawn from Wang and Liu’s two decades of collecting. “The show is about the discussion of relationships, and letting Chinese painting interact with 20th-century art, taking advantage of the thematic conversation between Western and Eastern art,” says Cao, comparing for example Chinese shanshui (traditional mountain and water landscapes) with Western classics.

So, while the first two floors displayed some of the greatest hits of Chinese contemporary art, visitors were most attracted to the antiquities collection in the basement, where traditional Chinese ink art was paired with reinterpretations by contemporary artists, such as Qiu Zhijie and Xia Xiaowan. Guests particularly crowded to see the Farewell Letter to Gongfu, ostensibly written by the poet Su Shi (1037-1101) in the Song Dynasty, and purchased by Liu and Wang for $8.2m from Sotheby’s New York in September 2013. Late last year, scholars from the Shanghai Museum said the scroll is probably a fake, while the auction house asserts that it is authentic. At the press conference, museum’s executive director Huang Jian said that the controversy has been a great advertisement for the museum, and the display includes articles about the debate as well as research supporting the work’s veracity. Liu, however, said that the whole matter “nauseates” him.

The museum’s executive director said that the controversy over a scroll bought for the collection has been a great advertisement. Photo: 洪晓乐

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