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Beijing exhibition reflects rising interest in global art

By Alexis Hooi | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-11 09:22

A major exhibition of Spanish master Pablo Picasso's artworks in Beijing has received a record number of visitors, the latest indication of growing interest among Chinese in Western and international art.

As of July 1, two weeks after the opening of Picasso - Birth of a Genius, the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in the capital's 798 Art Zone had drawn more than 134,000 people. Over 12,260 visitors attended on June 23 alone - almost double the previous attendance record set when the show opened on June 15, the center said.

The record numbers also mark the latest sign of the zone's growing role as a cultural platform for what Wang Yanling, head of Beijing Sevenstar Huadian Science and Technology Group, which operates the zone, calls the ongoing "global dialogue between East and West".

The zone, which received more than 8.08 million domestic and foreign visitors last year, is now aiming for 10 million visits, in line with a national strategy for the development of cultural and creative sectors, Wang said.

The exhibition, which will run for three months, "reflects the continuing synchronization of metropolitan cultural interests" on the Chinese mainland with those of the international art community, according to Paul Gladston, professor of contemporary art at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

"No doubt Picasso retains a certain glamour as a supposed artistic 'genius', which draws not only aspirant metropolitans but also a more general audience in China, as it does elsewhere," Gladston said.

The center said its exhibition is one of the most important of its kind to be held in China, presenting an overview of the first three decades of the artist's career, with 103 works from the collection of the Picasso-Paris National Museum that trace his development from childhood. It includes 34 paintings, 14 sculptures and 55 works on paper.

Chen Yiliang, who works in the animation industry, was among those waiting in line at the center during the weekend. The exhibition is "one of the major events on the art calendar in the capital and the country", he said.

"Picasso was successful in painting, sculpture and many other art forms. He was very prolific. It's inspiring to be able to see up close, here in Beijing, so many of his original works," said Chen.

Pointing to the exhibition turnout, Gladston said the UCCA is "coming into line with an already internationally well-established romantic-populist approach among big artistic institutions. ...The staging of such exhibitions is good for viewer numbers but not, in my view, a major contributor to critical-artistic discourses.

"Granted, the part of Picasso's artistic development encompassed by the exhibition at UCCA does include his better, more technically and aesthetically challenging works," Gladston added.

The latest show extends a series of exhibitions on the Chinese mainland since the late 1970s that "showcased major figures of Euro-American modernism and post-modernism", he said. "The UCCA Picasso exhibition is a continuation of this series rather than a starting point."

"The synchronization of institutional/commercial artistic interests in China with those internationally may well lead to more 'blockbuster' exhibitions of this sort for metropolitan Chinese audiences," Gladston said. "Widened public engagement can be seen in principle as a good thing. ... But just how valuable such exhibitions are as contributions to social progress remains questionable."

Beijing exhibition reflects rising interest in global art

(China Daily Global 07/11/2019 page1)

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