The Guangdong Times Museum in China’s Guangzhou region announced yesterday that it will close its doors after almost 19 years. The private museum is among China’s oldest and most respected private art museums, known for its thoughtful curation and academic programming focusing on southern China, as well as Southeast Asia and the Global South. The space will close after its current run ends River pulses, boundary currents on October 9, said on her WeChat channel.

The Times Museum has been at the forefront of shaping the art scene of the Cantonese Pearl River Delta (PRD) area of ​​southern China, including Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The region has a “historical culture as the frontier of Imperial China and post-1990s reform politics and real estate boom,” says deputy director and chief curator Nikita Yingqian Cai. “The Times Museum witnessed the transformation of this frontier over two decades. .” Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, the area “has never had a very strong art infrastructure or a large commercial gallery scene,” says Cai, “with the Times Museum being one of the oldest that has invested heavily in fostering the local ecology of contemporary time. art”. She adds: “For the region it is a great loss, and also for a generation of mid-career and emerging artists across China, because of our focus on curation and research. We’re not an entry fee-driven model.”

The high-rise that was home to the Guangdong Times Museum Photo: courtesy of Guangdong Times Museum

The shutdown is due to China’s economic downturn, the post said, with strict lockdowns and other Covid controls in the first half of this year further bringing a property sector into decline from mid-2021. The property developer backing the museum, Times China, has spent 200m RMB (£24.7m) into the museum since 2010. That year the company ended its partnership with the state-owned Guangdong Museum of Art and set up a non-profit arm to manage the Times Museum independently. In 2018, the Times Museum was the only Chinese institution to date to expand to the West, opening a space in Berlin that also closed this June.

Located in a high-rise building in the northern area of ​​Guangzhou, the Times Museum’s 1,200 square meter exhibition space on the building’s 19th floor will be closed, as will the 14th floor offices. A cafe and event space on the first floor will remain open and scheduled public programs will continue through November. Huangbian Station, a now independent side project started in 2012 by Liang Jianhua, curator of the Times Museum from 2011 to 2022, will continue.

An installation view of the exhibition Big Tail Elephant: One Hour, No Room, Five Performances in 2016 Photo: courtesy of Guangdong Times Museum

Recalling highlights from the Times Museum’s programming, Cai recalls the 2016 retrospective of the 1990s, in the footsteps of the Guangzhou collective Big Tail Elephant, which “inspired a new generation of artists who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Guangzhou”. She also highlights the All the Way South research network, which explores the Global South through research, dialogue and scholarship. “There is a rich history of Guangzhou’s interaction with Southeast Asia and with Africa through its once large African community, which we hope can inspire a new generation,” says Cai.

The museum will maintain a skeleton team including Cai, director Zhao Qie and administrative director Liu Qian. Its staff had already been reduced to ten from 16 in early 2022. The remaining laid-off employees are negotiating with the Times China Human Resources team to receive their legally mandated severance pay, equal to the salary of one month for each year worked. Times China has offered to pay the severance in April 2023 rather than upon completion, three of the staff involved said Newspaper Art anonymously. Cai confirms that the team is negotiating with the property company’s HR “as there is no cash flow to pay the allocation to a slot”. She adds: ” [jobs market] it’s not very positive, so they need that payment and I fully support them.”

The museum aims to reopen in some form next year, according to the WeChat announcement. This will require “the introduction of a different model,” says Cai. “There is a lack of space for this type of private museum, based entirely on corporate funding, with no support from the state. We will have to scale back and restructure, and tell a different story by integrating the cultural scene with the realities of China. I’m optimistic about a smaller-scale experiment, developing a more diverse ecosystem,” she says, adding that ultimately, “people are our most important asset.”

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