From promoting luxury brands to upping the footfall in shopping malls, commercial influences are prompting questions about the future of art in China

Fashionistas visiting the Today Art Museum this summer had the opportunity to fork out 50 RMB for the privilege of viewing “When Elegance Meets Art,” an exhibition featuring over 400 pieces by the French jewelry company Van Cleef & Arpels. Inside, they painstakingly posed for the perfect shot with a ruby pendant, pored over descriptions of each piece’s history, and checked out the items like they were browsing a catalog.

Chinese art museums are increasingly relying on commercial exhibitions like this to keep their doors open. Meanwhile, market forces are driving luxury malls to use art exhibitions to lure shoppers through their doors and make their stores profitable.

Strapped by a tax code which offers few incentives for charitable contributions, and unable to rely on art-loving philanthropists, museums must get creative to maintain revenues. Luxury brands offer “rental income” for many museums, “Rui,” a contemporary art professional in Beijing, told TWOC on condition of anonymity. These exhibitions are almost completely organized and curated by the brand, rather than museum staff. “Essentially, brands want to rent spaces in internationally recognized museums in order to enhance their images,” explained Rui.

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Emily Conrad is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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