Rising, Sparkling, Upcoming – 10 of Asia’s Best New Museums

COBO Challenge

A rolling stone gathers no moss, and art is that rolling stone. 2019 brings new museums aplenty, while many of Asia’s youngest institutions simply go from strength to strength. With venues from Bangkok to Yinchuan, Doha to Shanghai (and two right here in Hong Kong), wherever you go there’s art to see. Some are upcoming, and some are rising and sparkling – here’s the top ten:


M+ Hong Kong

It’s still upcoming, and so close we can almost taste it! Uli Sigg’s munificence will achieve its due apotheosis in 2020 when the doors finally open on Hong Kong’s most audacious cultural investment of the 21st century. The part subterranean structure has just “topped out,” turning a fresh, innocent face to Hong Kong harbour and the world. The jewel in the crown of the West Kowloon Cultural District has big dreams: Herzog and de Meuron’s complex will house 17,000 square metres of exhibition space, three cinemas, a lecture theatre, a learning centre, a museum shop, performance spaces, cafés, a mediatheque and a public roof terrace. There’s a lot to show – M+ is set to encompass 20th and 21st century visual art, design, architecture, and moving image from Hong Kong, the Mainland, Asia and beyond. Visitors who have already boldly navigated the building site to visit The Weight of Lightness: Ink Art at M+ or the current Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint at the Pavilion have already been teased into a state of great anticipation.


Tank Shanghai

Upcoming in March 2019 is a an architectural first for an art museum: Tank Shanghai will operate in that magical intersection of art and heavy industry which the Tate Modern once pioneered. Occupying 60,000 square metres on West Bund, the repurposed oil tanks will be set amidst verdant parkland. Each tank will have its function: art gallery, music venue, themed restaurant etc. Tank Shanghai represents the first gallery worldwide to be formed of converted oil tanks: the resultant cultural hub will introduce the public to art, whilst merging the city into nature. Intriguingly, these tanks once powered the journeys of China’s earliest jet-setters from Shanghai’s historic Longhua Airport; the commercial acumen of Chinese collector Qiao Zhibing is driving this flight of fancy. Qiao is patron of many international artists: he has invited several of these, including Olafur Eliasson, Danh Vo, Theaster Gates, Martin Creed, Anish Kapoor, and Marina Abramović over to the site to discuss possible installations.


Powerlong Art Museum, Shanghai

A sparkling late 2017 addition to Shanghai’s teeming arts scene is the Powerlong Arts Museum. 65 year old Powerlong founder Xu Jiankang is certainly fizzing with energy (his conglomerate develops batteries among other things), having already opened the Xu Gallery in Shanghai and a museum in brewery city Qingdao. Visitors to his new Powerlong Art Museum in Shanghai will be greeted by the metallic shimmer of Zhan Wang’s scholar’s rocks in the foyer, and the spiralling splendour of a Guggenheim-style winding staircase at the core. Within the 23,000 square metres of space in ten halls “a systematic study of Oriental aesthetics in the modern era…” is being unleashed. Flamboyant arsonist Cai Guo-Qiang and small critters-enthusiast Qi Baishi are both among the highlights of the Powerlong collection. Currently on show are two marvellous exhibitions: Korean Abstract Art: Kim Whanki and Dansaekhwa, and 40 x 40 From 1978 to 2018, Art History Shaped by 40 Artists, curated by Lu Pang. On view till early March 2019.


K11 Musea, Hong Kong

New World Development’s re-imagining of Tsim Sha Tsui’s waterfront isn’t just a matter of polishing that Bruce Lee statue or building that imposing skyscraperVictoria Dockside, a USD2.6bn, 3 million square foot art and design district is being realized by over 100 creative minds, including renowned landscape designer James Corner and New York architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox. K11 Musea is at the heart of the redevelopment, a fusion of immersive retail and museum-like experiences designed to offer Instagrammable immediacy and high-end cultural credibility. The complex will include a 50,000 square feet “living walls,” a living lung to joust with our city’s ever-present particulates. A world crossroads for sophisticated millennials, Musea will host screenings on its 25 foot tall LED screen, and present a “world-class public art collection.” The door is open to both future and past, through a 2,100-square-foot Sunken Plaza, modelled on Roman amphitheatres. We can all enjoy the classical drama in Q3 2019.


Centre Pompidou Shanghai


The Pompidou Centre in Paris is undergoing a EUR100 million restoration, but its building work on the international imagination is only just getting started. Branded Pompidou Centres are set to open in South Korea and Brussels, adding to Malaga in Spain, which was opened in 2014. The cornerstone of the international story is likely to be its upcoming spring 2019 opening in the David Chipperfield-designed, 25,000 square metre, West Bund Art Museum. The unique entente envisages the Pompidou Centre showing its world-renowned collection of modern and contemporary art in China, with the intention that Chinese artists will then be given space in the mother ship in Paris – cultural collaboration between China and France was discussed extensively by Presidents Macron and Xi in their 2017 meeting, so this ship is set for plain sailing, with no icebergs on the horizon.


Louvre Abu Dhabi

Sparkling in the desert heat is another example of France’s international cultural diplomacy: the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a major tourist attraction for the Emirate since its opening at the end of 2017. Its exhibition programme has the geographical duality reflected in the museum’s name, and includes: “Roads of Arabia: Archeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia” (closing now), and “Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age” which continues until May. Two further exhibitions this year are “School of Paris,” and “The Thousand Faces of Luxury,” a history of luxe from ancient times to modern. Next year will bring “Chivalry and Fuusiyya” which explores chivalry in the Islamic and the Occidental worlds, and “Charlie Chaplin: Cinema and Avant Garde.” Whilst the dialogue between China and the west is of vital economic importance, mutual understanding between the Christian and Islamic traditions is an elusive elixir which the world urgently needs – the programme of the Louvre Abu Dhabi makes a fine contribution.


Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (“Museum MACAN”), Jakarta

China is not the only country with a rising, flourishing and expanding private museum scene: since Museum MACAN opened in Jakarta’s Kebon Jeruk, Jakarta has its first major museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art. Historically, Jakartan museum patrons like Rudy Akili, Oei Hong Djien and Ir. Ciputra, have sought to exclusively showcase the local scene, but at MACAN (means “tiger” in Javanese) industrialist Haryonto Adikoesoemo aims at the world. Not that Indonesia’s vibrant indigenous artists are overlooked: roughly 50% of Museum MACAN’s 800-piece collection is from Indonesia, the rest is from the US, Europe and the rest of Asia. So it is that work by Affandi and Heri Dono will rub shoulders with rest-of-the-world galacticos including Yayoi Kusama and Robert Rauschenberg. Batting away any suggestion that a permanent display of one man’s personal taste will lack the rigour of a state-run collection, Adikoesoemo points to his work as a trustee of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, and the benefit that publicly available art can have on increasing an understanding and empathy to art in society. The benefits are already on the way.


National Museum of Qatar, Doha

Upcoming for the end of March, 2019 is a real desert flower. Where better to educate visitors to Qatar than in the freshly restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim al Thani, the founding patriarch of the state of Qatar? This Jean Nouvel designed institution is modelled on a desert rose and looks like a sleek interplay of flying saucers. It arrives at a time where Qatar is simultaneously preparing for the joys of the World Cup 2022, and wrestling with an unwelcome diplomatic isolation from neighbouring Arab countries. The 430,000 square foot museum will be written in 11 “chapters” which narrate Qatar’s chronology and honour icons of its maritime heritage, such as the dhow boats, the backbone of its early fishing story. Highlights will include the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, and new commissions by Syrian artist Simone Fattal and French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. An immerse museum experience is envisaged, including a 220-seat auditorium, restaurants, a dedicated food forum to preserve culinary traditions, a research centre and laboratories, and a park filled with indigenous plants.


Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (“BACC”)

One of the prime venues for last year’s inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale, the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre continues to rise, a trailblazer across performance, music, cinema, literature and art. “Spectrosynthesis II – Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia,” opening on November 23 2019, will be the region’s largest ever survey of contemporary art on the subject of LGBTQ life. More than 50 artists, including Ming Wong, Danh Vo and Maria Taniguchi will feature, and there will be selections from Indian artist Sunil Gupta’s “The New Pre-Raphaelites.” Gupta, himself HIV positive, explores Greek myths and pre-Rapaelite visual language to portray same sex relationships in India. Samson Young will bring his “Muted Situation,” where the video of the unheard will underline how LGBT issues remain “on mute” in some societies. The BACC will be hosting talks, films and symposiums in its venue, an apposite moment in a country where, by the time the show opens, same-sex couples may have been granted the right to be married.


Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan

A sparkling star in the northwest, and the first contemporary art museum in northwest China, MOCA Yinchuan rivals Qatar’s entry in its whited other-worldly beauty: a sinuous flow of solid ribbon, 1,600 uniquely sized plates which seem to echo the shifting ecology of the nearby axis of desert, river and wetlands. A 15,000 square metre museum for an artistic dialogue between China and Islam, the venue was also host to last year’s second Yinchuan Biennale, and the “Starting from the Desert. Ecologies on the Edge” exhibition. There is a permanent collection of Qing Dynasty maps, and the museum investigates mankind’s experience of nature and journeys, solitary or communal, personal or international. The Biennale included work from Kyrgystani artist Aliman Jorobaev’s “The Great Silk Road,” and explored nomadism in Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s yurt- inspired installation “My Ger.” China’s interface with non-Han traditions and the rising dislocation between humans and the natural landscape guarantees fertile ground for the artistic programme.


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