For a bit of a change I spent a couple of hours on a visit to the Chinese National Art Museum. After the disappointment of similar museum in Chengdu my expectations were low. But it was actually a quite interesting visit. Here’s a small report of my visit to the Chinese National Art Museum.
Just a piece of advice before you read this. I’m not an art expert. I just like to visit Art Museums. I respond to some pieces. To others I don’t. A few weeks ago, in the middle of a conversation with a Chinese guy, he was quite surprised when I mentioned that I like Art and Photography. He made a comment like “But you are an Engineer!”. So that’s it, I’m an engineer, actually I know nothing about Art.
Chinese National Art Museum – The Place
The Chinese National Art Museum is in the Dongxeng district, centre of Beijing. The building is a mix of block architecture with ceilings imitating Chinese temple architecture. It is not appealing from the outside. But the inside is quite a modern and pleasant place with vast and well-lighted rooms in three different floors. There is a small shop and a coffee place. There is no admission fee if you show the passport at the entrance. Unfortunately there is little information in English, but one can still appreciate the Art.
Chinese National Art Museum – Exhibitions
The first floor is the largest, and for what I understood, it has the permanent exhibition. When I visited there was also an exhibition by art graduates. Due to lack of information in English it was difficult to me to understand what was what. There were many paintings, a small room with sculptures and few installations. Everything I paid attention to was from the last 10 years or so.
Although the paintings were contemporary, most of them looked like traditional and classical art of China. The main themes were the Cultural Revolution, landscape painting, Chinese calligraphy, and the depiction of ethnic minorities. Some of the techniques were modern but I felt that it was just revisionism. Maybe this is what state-approved art looks like in China. Anyway, there is skill and some of the paintings are beautiful, it just looks “safe”. Could not find anything in the fields of abstract or conceptual art.
A few art pieces grabbed my attention for being “different” than the rest. Two or three surrealist paintings that reminded me of Magritte. A collection of bronze sculptures with a small human figure in a sort of sci-fi landscape. A few hyper-realistic paintings with depictions of modern Chinese life.
In the second floor there was a retrospective exhibition of a Chinese painter from the 20th century called Yang Zhiguang. I could understand that he is/was a major figure in China. The paintings were pretty much about the Cultural Revolution but in the second room the works were about the Rome Coliseum or American Indians.
On the third floor there was an exhibition about a group or company called NAMOC. They seem to do small books, newspaper vignettes, some satirical work (whatever that means in China). It looked interesting but I could not understand much.
All around the place young kids (around 8-10 years old) armed with a set of pencils and a stool would sit in front of one of the paintings. They tried to draw what they see, the best they could. It was interesting to watch.
Chinese National Art Museum – Final thoughts
I cannot say that a visit to the Chinese National Art Museum is a must-see in a city like Beijing. But I enjoyed spending a couple of hours in there. It has some nice works and gives a perspective about the state-sponsored mindset in terms of art and culture. They make contemporary art that looks like classical and they build “new” old temples and ancient streets. They keep re-inventing the wheel and creating an escapism for the population.
In conclusion, all the art I’ve seen looked “safe” and revisionist. Thus, for bold and (real) contemporary art, a visit to the 798 Art District would produce more satisfaction.
Finally, here’s a small slideshow with a selection of works from the museum (photos by me).