Shenzhen’s tallest skyscraper, Ping An IFC, may have won a Guinness World Record for “Highest Glass Floor Cantilever Observation Deck,” but the exhibition currently occupying its 116th floor won’t be winning any prizes for artistic merit.
“At Free Sky” is the latest offering from London’s National Gallery, which has been eager to charm Chinese Gen Zers and Millennials with a variety of pop-up exhibitions — and accompanying shops — that cater to a surging demand for quality art (and the requisite museum products). Leonardo Da Vinci, Titian, Van Eyck, Monet, and Van Gogh are some of the names presented in a show that reads like a comprehensive survey of the Western art canon — except every artwork that’s installed in this 1700-foot-high show space is a replica.
Inside the show, Renaissance masterpieces are housed in sleek white cubes, Van Gogh himself peers down at you from the ceiling, and there is a bounty of photo-ops, including a thigh-high cornfield and a real pot of sunflowers. But the fact remains that these are all copies of original works housed safely in the National Gallery in London. Unsurprisingly, locals took to Weibo and WeChat to express their disappointment at paying $25 to see an exhibit that could have been compiled by a high-end copy shop.
“This exhibition is not worth the ticket price,” said one KOL on Weibo. “All the works inside are a copy. It’s a shame that Shenzhen rarely has worthwhile art exhibitions.”
The past two years has seen a surge of Western museum interest in China, with institutions such as the Centre Pompidou, the British Museum, and the Tate Britain striving to capitalize on unprecedented levels of cultural engagement and spending. Although Shanghai’s reinvigorated West Bund art scene and Beijing’s 798 Arts District have dominated those efforts, Shenzhen has also received its share of attention with a Rodin museum scheduled to open in the southern Chinese city next year.
Meanwhile, the National Gallery has hardly remained idle. Since partnering with China licensing experts Alfilo Brands in 2018, it has held a mini-exhibition inside a Shanghai metro station, launched a pop-up store in Guangzhou, and sold products on Chinese e-commerce platforms. While its latest endeavor in Shenzhen looks to be something of a missed opportunity, it’s a reminder of the ever-increasing demands from today’s Chinese gallery-goers.