The Centre Pompidou —that inside-out modern art machine in the heart of Paris’ Marais district— is on a course of global expansion. In recent years, Europe’s biggest collector of modern and contemporary art has opened annexes across the continent, from Spain’s southern coast to downtown Brussels, but the Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum, which is set to open in China this November, promises to spread the museum’s brand to an altogether new market.
Located on the banks of Shanghai’s Huangpu River — i.e. at the nexus of China’s contemporary art scene — the structure might seem to project thoughtful art contemplation in a building of glass and muted colors, but it’s set to receive a bout of feverish attention. As UCCA’s blockbuster Picasso exhibition in Beijing showed this summer, Chinese millennials have a huge appetite for western art and the Centre Pompidou’s first offering —featuring more than 100 masterpieces by artists such as Gerhard Richter and Cai Guoqiang — is hotly anticipated.
The project has been realized through partnership with West Bund Group, a state-owned enterprise whose modus operandi is to catalyze a so-called cultural corridor along the river. It will join the ranks of Yuz Museum, Long Museum West Bund, and HOW Art Museum in serving the ever-growing cultural appetites of the city’s cosmopolitan young.
As museums worldwide have welcomed a surge of culturally-oriented Chinese travelers, such institutions are increasingly considering opening satellite branches on the mainland as a viable way to connect with this audience nearer to home. The Rodin Museum announced plans to open a Shenzhen branch earlier this month, London’s National Gallery has run multiple popup exhibitions across Shanghai, and the British Museum authorized its IP for use in an upmarket hotel in Qingdao, East China.
The Centre Pompidou’s Chinese partnership, however, is far more ambitious than other western forays into China and when the David Chipperfield designed museum opens to the public it will mark the culmination of years of proactive engagement with the country. In 2016, Shanghai Exhibition Center played host to Modern Masterpieces from Centre Pompidou, a wildly successful exhibition whose 71 artworks (a piece a year from 1906 to 1977, the birth year of the Centre Pompidou) gave visitors a rich sample of the 20th century’s defining artists and movements. This was followed by an internationally-minded exhibition featuring more than 60 artists held in Chengdu and the creation of an extensive arts community in Datong, an industrial city in northern Shanxi province.
These on the ground efforts have been mirrored by a digital strategy that has stepped up in recent months. The Centre Pompidou launched on Weibo and WeChat in late 2018 and is considering other social media platforms. Intent on thoroughly adapting to the WeChat environment for its Chinese visitors, the museum is developing a WeChat Mini Program for end of 2019, which aims to bring rich curatorial insight to the fingertips of its visitors through texts and audios as well as maps and general museum information.
The Centre Pompidou’s futuristic architecture was the ideal backdrop for an event co-sponsored by Alibaba Group and Bonjour Brands that introduced 140 products created through collaboration between 30 Chinese brands and 35 French designers. The event, Bonjour Tmall, was popularized across Chinese social media with a video released by Tmall on Weibo receiving more than one million views.
If, as the saying goes, location is everything, Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum stands in an enviously advantageous position. Nestled at the epicenter of Shanghai’s thriving arts scene, the museum’s name and location should suffice in driving a steady stream of foot traffic. Even still, the Centre Pompidou’s Chinese partnership is a bold and unprecedented move. If its’ efforts are successful expect a host of other major international institutions to follow suit.
Additional reporting by Diana Cerqueira