Tan Yue: Three years after graduation, I found my way home

The role of local art institutions in China has always been my interest throughout my research and practice since the very beginning. In the past decade, Chinese museums have been going through a very dramatic period of growth. Many art museums grow with support from private capital and the policies of local government. Some generous collectors are willing to share their private collections with the public by establishing a new museum or art centre. This has become a new trend in the past three years. Long Museum and Yuz Museum in Shanghai, Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing and M Woods in Beijing are all built on private collections. Collaborating with Victoria and Albert Museum, the first design museum, Design Society have just launched their brand in Shenzhen, and in 2017 is planning the largest ever V&A collections show outside the UK. 

Some institutions do not confine themselves to expansion within China, but broaden their scope to the wider world. For example, K11 has opened 4 art centres in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangzhou, and also successfully hosted a series of exhibitions to promote China’s young contemporary artists in Europe (eg Palais de Tokyo,Paris and ICA London). They also support some major biennials throughout the world. The varieties of museums not only offer possibilities and opportunities but also challenges. In the context of this enormous expansion, can a museum still create meaning, benefit society and work with the local community? Opinion has become increasingly critical. Arriving home in this climate, I was faced with a dilemma. How should I find my own way in these circumstances? Should I join one of these newly built large scale museums? I think I’ve found my answer.

After I graduated from AMAGS and finished my five-month internship in Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, I came back to my city and started my career as a curatorial assistant at Guangdong Times Museum, a leading non-profit institution in South China, founded in 2010. I work closely with the curatorial team in exhibition planning, research and project organisation. The exhibitions at Guangdong Times Museum are mainly research-based; experimenting with exhibition concepts and models to respond to the contexts of community, region and institution. They provide a discursive and productive exhibition platform, enabling emerging and mid-career artists, experts and scholars to explore artistic themes at once regional and farsighted, promoting and encouraging the production of contemporary art in China. The development of contemporary art in the Pearl River Delta is one major research direction; considering its history in terms of the social, economic and cultural context, and presenting local artistic practices against the backdrop of globalization. Our current major exhibition Operation PRD - Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows, is the first comprehensive retrospective of ‘Big Tail Elephants’, one of the most important contemporary artists’ group in Guangzhou. In an introductory panel, Hou Hanru, the co-curator asserts that “…the artistic culture of the Pearl River Delta Region has become not only a vital part of the Chinese and international landscape, but also an ‘alternate history’ that has revealed new vantage points from which to view culture and art.”

Recently, I started to curate a series of projects called Banyan Commune. Banyan trees have a particular meaning within traditional civil Canton (Pearl River Delta) culture. They act as temporary stopping places in the streets and alleys, open courtrooms and community centers. The contents and models of Banyan Commune’s exhibition reflect the recognition of the role such places play in Chinese society, and demonstrate art’s social relevance in the public sphere. The exhibition is visible just inside the street-facing glass wall at the main entrance to the museum. This space witnesses the seasonal and daily shifts of the surrounding neighborhood while serving as a window to connect the museum to the public. The community surrounding Guangdong Times Museum is a microcosm of the types of residential communities throughout China. Participation and openness are two major foci to the project. At present two exhibitions have been hosted successfully. The artists created two stunning projects based on their research on the neighborhood and social intervention. I always say I am so lucky to have joined Times Museum’s team and I enjoy working with a group of people of such enthusiasm and intelligence. They gave me the chance to understand my city on a different level and the passion to continue my career based in the region and local community.