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Shanghai: City of millionaires is driving China’s museum boom

At least three major art institutions opened last year and a similar number are expected to open in 2013

Home to some of China’s most wealthy citizens and a municipal government supportive of the arts, Shanghai has emerged as a major beneficiary of the country’s museum boom. The most high-profile new arrival was the Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum, which is China’s first government-backed museum dedicated to contemporary art. Housed in a converted 19th-century power station on the Huangpu river, it is known locally as the Power Station of Art.

The flourishing museum scene is also driven by a new generation of private collectors who are showcasing their riches by building museums. Shanghai is home to the second largest number of millionaires in China, following Beijing, according to the Hurun China Rich List. The couple Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian, both of whom were born and raised in Shanghai, opened the Long Museum in December to present their collection of ancient, revolutionary and contemporary art. They plan to open another museum later this year that will be twice as big as the existing space.

The Long Contemporary Museum will be located in a new arts district called the West Bank Cultural Corridor, where the Indonesian-Chinese collector Budi Tek has also started construction on his Yuz Museum, which has 5,000 sq. m of exhibition space. Tek, who already has a private museum in Jakarta, says the decision to expand into China was partly down to his wife, who is Shanghainese. Tek and Wang both praised local government support for their projects, and Wang said the museums will receive subsidies once they have been open for 12 months.

The speed with which museums have opened is impressive. Hong Kong has been waiting for its first contemporary art museum since the 1990s, and it won’t be completed until 2017. But, there are doubts about whether the institutions springing up will be sustainable in the long term. Xinhua, China’s state news agency, reported last year that several of Shanghai’s 16 private museums were struggling, including the Shihua Art Museum, which housed a collection of ancient ceramic teapots. The museum was forced to close after a landlord reneged on a rent-free deal.