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art talk:
RAM in Review

Since opening in May 2010, RAM has held just three exhibitions, but the museum has already established its artistic direction: it’s going everywhere.

RAM’s inaugural exhibition showed Cai Guo Qiang’s wonderful collection of homemade machines by ‘Peasant Da Vincis’. The gallery then took a big sideways step to exhibit Zeng Fanzhi’s sinister oil paintings, which hide beasts in the bracken of what might be a troubled subconscious. The current show diverges again, with more of an emphasis on light installations, video and photography made by artists from both China and abroad.

If there’s one unifying theme, according to RAM’s Shi Hantao, it’s the quality of the work.

RAM has so far shown established, rather than emerging, talent. Under the curatorial oversight of Lai Hsiangling, former director of the National Taiwan Fine Arts Museum, they’ve also brought in high profile guest curators, such as Chicago University’s Wu Hung, who curated the Zeng Fanzhi show, and Hou Hanru, Director of Exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Institute, who curates the current exhibition, ‘By Day By Night’.

RAM’s focus on what might be called ‘high end’ Chinese art is consistent with the broader Rockbund development. The art museum is just the first operational arm of an 11 building high-end property development project being undertaken by Sinolink, a publicly-listed Hong Kong company, in co-operation with the Rockefeller group.

Operating in this commercial context, Shi says that just as museum directors report to their boards, RAM presents its proposals to the board of the development company six months ahead of exhibitions.

“They will raise some questions about whether this is really good, and if it matches their project,” Shi says. “They are businessmen; they have to think about standards.”

“In any case, they pay all the money,” he adds.

Of course, all galleries have to be funded somehow. MoCA was established by a Hong Kong jeweller, and the Minsheng Art Museum is funded by China Minsheng Bank.

In fact, RAM’s funding model gives it a distinct place in the Shanghai art scene, as evidenced again in its current exhibition, ‘By Day By Night, or Some (Special) Things a Museum Can Do’.

Again, the level of funding has allowed for a large-scale, thoughtfully-curated show, with well-known artists invited to come to the museum and engage with it and its surroundings.

The most successful is Tu Weicheng, who asked local residents to help him ‘measure’ the neighbourhood around the museum with their bodies, poking fun at the sententiousness of urban planners and historians. He also took photos of tiny details in the streets around the museum and rewards visitors who can find the same spots.

These works, like Nedko Solakov’s obsessively documented overland journey from Sofia to Shanghai (accompanied by a toy frog, purchased in New York’s Chinatown), and the jubilant, gaudy chandeliers Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa installed in the old lanes opposite the museum, help cement the museum’s place both in the local area and in the Shanghai art scene.

That cultural cement is still a little wet though. The museum has just announced that it will soon close for several months for renovations. There’s no pretending RAM isn’t part of a property development.

‘By Day By Night’, until 3 January, 2011. RMB 15; concessions RMB 10. 20 Huqiu Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu. Tel: 3310 9985. Web:


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