A new edition to the rich cultural landscape of China, He Art Museum (HEM) is now well underway with the museum slated to launch on 1 October, 2020 in Shunde, Guangdong with a building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.
TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of He Art Museum
Founded by collector and businessman He Jianfeng, the museum will open in his hometown of Shunde in Guangdong. It’s core collection—comprising of over 500 artworks amassed by the He family over the past decade—is largely focused on Chinese modern and contemporary art, which makes up about 75 percent of the collection while 25 percent is comprised of international contemporary art—including Western heavyweights such as Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and Anish Kapoor.
Committed to bringing global contemporary art to its local audience, as well as encouraging greater community engagement with Chinese art and native culture, the core collection will be rehung annually while up to four temporary exhibitions will be organised each year under the helm of lead curator Feng Boyi.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando—whose previous projects outside of Japan include Shanghai’s Aurora Museum, Taichung’s Asia Museum of Modern Art, and Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester, among many others—the 16,000 square-meter HEM has been created with a circular design and unique features that embodies both elements of the architectural style of Lingnan as well as the museum’s philosophy of balance and harmony.
Back in January, Shao Shu, Director of HEM and a representative from Tadao Ando Architect & Associate spoke with CoBo Social about the museum’s inaugural exhibitions, educational programming, and the sustainability efforts being built into the building’s design and operations.
Why was Shunde chosen as the location for HEM?
Shao Shu: He Art Museum is based in the hometown of its founder He Jianfeng, who dedicated the museum to promoting Lingnan culture.Lingnan Culture is indigenous to Shunde and HEM therefore serves as a platform to showcase rare Lingnan School art, which is a fast disappearing style of painting, and to advocate the continuation of this art form.
The architecture of the museum is very special. It takes the concept of harmony as a point of departure. Would you be able to share more details about the architecture, the layout, the special architectural elements?
Tadao Ando Architect & Associate: Tadao Ando researched extensively into China’s ancient history and Lingnan’s architecture to inform the design. Ancient Chinese architecture was heavily influenced by the philosophy that the sky was round and supremely divine, many ancient buildings were therefore circular. Lingnan’s architecture also makes use of skywells and courtyards, its design compliments the rivers and water gardens which are a characteristic in Lingnan architecture. HEM’s design pays tribute to these ancient ideas, its circular form is symbolic of traditional Chinese architectural philosophy; the pond surrounding the museum is a gesture to evoke Lingnan water gardens and HEM’s geographic location on the Pearl River estuary.
Why was Tadao Ando selected to lead the project?
TA: Tadao Ando’s studio has a unique and longstanding history of designing museums and galleries. Ando holds a persistent attitude in cultural infusion and his unique way of applying local history, culture and intricate design elements, amalgamating these into a contemporary architecture.
Are there any sustainability efforts in the construction and operation of the museum?
TA: Shunde is situated in a subtropical climate and cooling the building can be very challenging—the design of the fence roof cuts glare and the glass specified greatly reduces radiation heating up the building. Compared to other buildings of this size and use, energy conservation at HEM surpasses over 50 percent and has been awarded a two-star certificate of Green Building Design Label by the Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Construction in Guangdong.
The scope of the launch exhibition, “From the Mundane World” appears quite large and ambitious. What is the curatorial premise behind it as the opening headliner?
SS: HEM’s launch exhibition, “From the Mundane World,” extends the original attributes of “worldly scenery” to production, consumption, ecology, environment, examining the situation of human civilization in the laws of nature. The exhibition presents contemporary artworks focusing on the ecological system between human and nature, with a local perspective on cultural sustainability. It will be on view on the second to third floor.
What are some of the highlights of this exhibition that visitors can expect to see?
SS: For the exhibitions featuring our collection, we carefully select local and international contemporary artworks. The theme of these exhibitions is a variant of “Western Knowledge Spreading to the East,” a unidirectional description of the relationship of communications between modern Chinese and global cultural. The happenings of Chinese contemporary art since the 1980s presents the influences of “Western knowledge” and the increasing awareness of old and new Chinese cultural traditions, reflecting the cultural resources, knowledge structure and the ways of expression in Chinese contemporary art that were seen through international lens. Our European, American and Japanese works, as a whole, will illustrate the concept of materials.
Aside from the main exhibition programming, what other initiatives and projects are being planned to meet the Museum’s dedication “to the collection, exhibition, research, education and dissemination of knowledge about modern Chinese art and global contemporary art”?
SS: Research and Collection: research based on our collection, research about Lingnan culture; Exhibition: Tadao Ando’s exhibition; Dissemination of knowledge: Museum 2050; Education: Forums about the HEM collection and workshops held by artists, and more.
Would you be able to share any further details on the forthcoming Museum 2050 Symposium? Why did HEM decide to take on the role as the host organisation for 2020?
SS: Strategic cross-border institutional collaborations, on the one hand, can position our Chinese contemporary young artists on the international stage; on the other hand, Shunde audiences can have access to excellent work from other countries locally, which helps with the enhancement of public art in the community. In 2020, HEM will cooperate with the Museum 2050 team to launch the “Museum 2050 X HEM” symposium in Shunde. The symposium aims to create a platform for research on the key issues of Chinese cultural organizations in the future from a native perspective. Also, it aims to gather the youth around the nation to communicate and share ideas, which provides rich resources for an energetic art community.
He Art Museum
6 Yixing Rd., Beijiao New Town
Shunde District, Foshan City
*In line with public health guidelines, social distancing measures are in place and all visitors must purchase tickets online prior to their visit to the museum.
Please visit http://hem.org/ for regular opening hours and ticketing after Golden Week. Please note, tickets must currently be reserved via HEM’s WeChat account at HEMloveu or by email firstname.lastname@example.org 10 days in advance.