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  • Feb 04, 2014

Canton Express: Chinese Art Collector Donates Complete Works of Pioneer Exhibition to M+

Installation view of “Canton Express” from “Z.O.U.—Zone of Urgency,” curated by Hou Hanru at the 50th Venice Biennale, 2003. Courtesy Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzou.

Prominent Chinese art collector, Guan Yi has donated 37 works to M+, Hong Kong's much-anticipated museum for visual culture. Dating from 1979 to 2005, the collection, which comprises of mainly '85 New Wave, conceptual and large scale installations, traces key moments in the history of contemporary Chinese art.

Voicing his commitment to the public sphere, Guan, a former businessman who is hailed as one of the region’s most influential collectors, says that his decision to gift the works to the museum was easy. “Art is ultimately destined for enjoyment by the general public, so it is inherently natural to make a donation to a public institution,” he said.

A large portion of the donation is made up of "Canton Express," a major component of the landmark exhibition "Z.O.U.--Zone of Urgency" curated by Hou Hanru for the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. In “Canton Express” 17 artists from the Pearl River Delta—an area that has been commonly referred to as “the factory of the world”—responded to rising political and social tensions in the onslaught of rapid transformation. Historically home to a major port, in 1979 the area was designated a Special Economic Zone and it has therefore bore witness to the ongoing collision of local and global influences. The experimental nature of works in the exhibition reflect this transient environment.

In one of the projects, Playing at Home/Playing Away: The Maze of Reality (2003), for example, Hu Fang and Zhang Wei, of Vitamin Creative Space in Guangzhou, set up a transcontinental dialogue between visitors with two stations—one in Shenzhen, China, and the other at the Biennale—providing a window onto the each others' worlds, thus allowing a truly international conversation to play out. In another work, artist-writer Ou Ning, of the now defunct U-theque, and virtual reality interventionist, Cao Fei, detail the effects of urban sprawl though the eyes of 13 artists in their experimental documentary film San Yuan Li (2003). Banned in China, due to government's fear that it would shed light on sensitive local issues, the film was highly lauded at the Biennale and throughout Europe.

Other artists whose work will take up residence in M+’s exhibition halls include Chen Tong of Libreria Borges, a research center and archive in Guangzhou, Chen Shaoxiong, famous for his hypothetical Olympics which offers a humorous commentary on national spectacle and Yang Yong, whose homage to American photographer Nan Goldin cinematically documents Southern China’s youth culture.

That many of these artists continue to be some of the most respected artists emanating from the region today, and the breadth of their works, demonstrates the 2003 exhibition's prescience. In addition to these, Guan will also contribute works by China's heavyweights including members of the Stars Group, ’85 New Wave, Huang Yong Ping, Wu Shanzhuan, Gu Dexin, Zhang Peili and Wang Guangyi.

As M+ gathers momentum for its opening in 2017, these additions, complemented by the 2012 donation of 1,463 works from Swiss collector Uli Sigg, promise to make the museum a true testament to the history and growth of the visual culture in China.

Ming Lin is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.

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