View of Futian central business district, Shenzhen. Photo by Yida Xu.


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Shenzhen might be the most famous art-related city that no one really thinks about. It is well-known due to the suburb of Dafen village, whose artist-residents at one time produced more than half of the oil paintings existing in the world—all of which are, of course, duplicates of masterpieces. What most are not aware of is that the young city also houses several generations of important Chinese artists, including Liang Quan, Zhou Li—both of whom have recently shown work at White Cube gallery in London—and Li Liao, who was shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Asia Art prize in 2013. As Hong Kong gathers momentum due to Art Basel Hong Kong and other developments in the art industry, neighboring Shenzhen is similarly generating interest due to China’s development policies, which employ cultural endeavors—art, design and related tourism—to boost the economy. This has resulted in the government providing more leasing options for arts organizations as well as increased funding toward culture related activities.

How can a city grow from nothing to everything in just a few decades? The short answer is: economics. China is the secondlargest economy in the world and Shenzhen may as well be a financial representative city for the country. In the course of its urbanization over the past three decades, Shenzhen’s population has matured to 12 million with a GDP of RMB 1.95 trillion (USD 287 billion). And when a certain portion of the population is upper-middle class, the art market can be mean to match.

In a country where government policy means serious business, art is the new black when it comes to Shenzhen’s trends and growths. According to the 12th Five-Year Plan, put in place by the Communist Party of China, by the end of the year 2020 the total number of museums in China will reach 6,000, almost twice as many as there were in 2010. As one of the leading cities in China, Shenzhen needs its own solid art infrastructure to accompany the already-booming art scene, of which there are several biennials, including the Shenzhen- Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/ Architecture, the Shenzhen Ink Art Biennale, and the Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale.

Unlike other top-tier art saturated cities such as New York or London, Shenzhen excels in its abundance of affordable, luxurious spaces. One area to watch is the Overseas China Town (OCT), which is filled with a series of art galleries, including the Shenzhen branch of Hive Center for Contemporary Art, one of the largest galleries in mainland China, and the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, which has a long history of supporting contemporary Chinese art. Due to its geographical location and its easy-to-find spaces, artists and dealers are looking at Shenzhen as a stop on the way to or from Hong Kong. Many industrial complexes, such as those in the tax-free zone and OCT, are now developing studio spaces for artists and galleries.

Even though the city has fewer academic institutions than neighboring Hong Kong or Guangzhou, these cities now share their resources thanks to the highspeed rail connecting them. The recent establishment of Boxes Art Space in O’Plaza was a collaboration between a commercial company and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. The iniaitive presents monthly programs in the shopping mall, not only displaying artworks in cubes distributed in the center, and also in a dedicated space on the roof that showcases curated exhibitions. Additionally, the upcoming opening of Design Society, a branch of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, will certainly add to the rich history of architecture and design in Shenzhen, which is already known as the design capital of China.

Last but not least, there are also nonprofit organizations such as the Frank F. Yang Art and Education Foundation (FYF) that promotes contemporary art by sponsoring a number of art-education programs. For example, in 2016, FYF hosted talks about Robert Rauschenberg. These lectures were inspired by a major Rauschenberg exhibition held the same year in Beijing, at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, where Frank Yang is a board member. FYF also presented an independent curatorial program and a few critically acclaimed exhibitions, including “Everything You Need to Know about the FY Foundation.” Curated by independent curator Biljana Ciric, the exhibition questioned how physical environments can challenge the nature of an artwork, and featured a strong roster of international artists such as Lee Kit, Li Liao, Danh Vō, Liam Gillick, Tracey Emin and Yang Xinguang.

With its ever-growing attention on contemporary art, Shenzhen is quickly developing to facilitate all manner of private, nonprofit and commercial environments, such as new contemporary museums to the Shenzhen International Art Fair. Who knows what will happen in another 30 years? One thing is certain: there will be more art.

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