Georgina Adam interviews Wang Wei about her two museums in Shanghai for the Financial Times. In the process, Wang not only reveals how the PRC is encouraging private museums to help build the country’s cultural infrastructure but also how the process is merely an accelerated version of what happened in the West, particularly the US, where a private collector was the first to make the case for the preservation of a body of work. In Wang’s case, that’s Chinese Revolutionary Art:
Wang is director of both establishments. “Our idea initially was to have only one museum,” she says, speaking through an interpreter, “but the government came to us, encouraged us to open another and gave us a discount on the land, on condition that we make a cultural project. I probably would have been happy with one,” she smiles. “These museums are a lot of work!”China is racing to catch up with other countries in building such institutions – indeed, is in the grip of a “museum boom”.
At the moment the country has just one museum per 395,000 people, and one per 200,000 in Shanghai. By comparison, Paris has one for every 16,000 people. To achieve international standards, China needs to construct 40,000 museums – probably not a realisable goal. But the authorities may believe that by helping private collectors such as Wang to establish their own establishments, they can drive up the figures.
Wang and her husband are living examples of the Chinese dream: both came from modest families. Although, Wang says, her father was a skilled craftsman, her childhood was dominated by revolutionary art. “I grew up looking at a red art badge of Mao,” she said.
Her husband Liu – worth $900m last year, according to Forbes – made his fortune initially through making and selling handbags, and then through investments. As the couple’s wealth grew, so did their art spending, initially on calligraphies and traditional works – such as a Qing zitan-wood throne bought for $11m in 2009 – while Wang was accumulating revolutionary art. “I wanted to document a historical moment, because no one else had,” she says. “There is no other museum of this art.”
Wang Wei on the second Long Museum (FT.com)