K11 Art Mall in Shanghai
As New York looks to contemporary China - the focus of this year's Armory Show - China's looking to early 20th century Paris. Mainland China is about to see its first large-scale exhibition of works by Claude Monet. And they’ll find it… in a mall.
The Chinese art foundation K11 announced they’ll be bringing some 40 original Monet paintings to the Shanghai K11 Art Mall in early March to be exhibited among its luxury stores such as Burberry and Valentino. The aim of the exhibition - which will also include twelve paintings by other Impressionists, on loan from the Paris Marmottan Monet Museum - is to “create new dialogues on Impressionism and the role of art in the Chinese society.” (Yes, it’s in a mall. Yes, it's fostering dialogues about the role of art in Chinese society).
“We are thrilled and honoured to be able to bring the first Monet show to Mainland China for the very first time,” Arian Cheng, chairman of the K11 Art Foundation stated in a press release. “We hope that this exhibition will . . . provide young Chinese artists, students of art and our community with the unique opportunity to rediscover and reinterpret Impressionism.”
Wisteria (1925) by Claude Monet will be exhibited at the Shanghai K11 Art Mall this March
As Jing Daily noted, Cheng’s claim that this will be Monet’s first exhibition in Mainland China isn’t completely accurate. The Shanghai Museum exhibited Monet alongside other French masters last year during the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute International Tour. But let’s not get caught up in the details: Monet! Mall!
But before we judge China’s seemingly gross debasement of Impressionist art too harshly, let's take a quick survey of other outlandish shopping centers. The Mall of America has an amusement park; the West Edmonton Mall has a wave pool; the Mall of Emirates has an indoor ski slope; and Las Vegas has a shopping center modeled after Venice, complete with red neckerchief-wearing gondoliers. K11's hook: bringing fine art to the mall. Perhaps it's a bit garish, but can we really hate on Shanghai for raising the bar?
In fact, K11 isn't the only shopping center to feature art a step or two up from Thomas Kinkade and Cassius Marcellus prints. The founders of Dallas' fashionable NorthPark Center were avid art collectors and the mall has long exhibited world-class contemporary art in its commercial corridors. And just last summer my colleague wrote about Utrecht's Hoog Catharijne shopping center, which launched the ambitious Call of the Mall, an exhibition which commissioned artists to make site-specific artworks interacting with the space and the concept of "mall" more generally. These aren't just exceptions; they're part of a trend. According to Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News, art exhibitions in shopping malls, well, it's a thing. And perhaps it's to be celebrated. The K11 exhibition, which runs through mid-June, will include educational programming, exposing more people to art they might not otherwise see (at least while shopping for a new Louis Vuitton bag).
“[Shoppers] want to get a taste of culture at shopping centers,” Cheng told the South China Morning Post. “They will get bored if the shopping malls display and sell only a variety of luxury items."
Then again, putting on Monet for bored shopper's passive consumption may do more to support art's position as Capital rather than, say, Culture. (more on this question in our recent interview with Xu Zheng)