Signs that China has returned to normal come in various shapes and sizes, from photographs of water parks in Wuhan crowded with inflatables to news of a private museum opening in Foshan, a southern city in the Pearl River Delta. The He Art Museum (or Hem) opens next week on 1 October, China’s national day. Those who manage to attend the inaugural exhibition in person (the mainland remains blocked to international visitors) will be able to see both the gallery designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando and some of the 500 or so artworks collected by Hem’s founder, He Jianfeng, director of the home-appliance brand Midea and the son of one of China’s richest men.
The opening, postponed from earlier this year, is certainly cause to celebrate; making art available to the public is generally preferable to hiding it away in private homes or, worse still, in storage. But does China really need another private museum? Shanghai has far too many already and often these vanity projects feel like empty architectural shells rather than genuine contributions to China’s rich cultural landscape.
“My vision for Hem is to bring art and culture to the people of my hometown,” the founder said in a press release issued last week. It’s a noble statement and Foshan’s residents certainly stand to benefit from seeing a mix of modern and contemporary Chinese art alongside western names such as Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson and Damien Hirst. Nonetheless, China’s wealthy art collectors could do with being a bit more collectivist. The mainland still lacks a public art institution to match the calibre of New York’s Moma or London’s Tate Modern. Pooling resources could create a national institution that really is worth a visit.