Architectural Reverie: Sifang Art Museum

SLIDESHOW: The philosophy behind the Sifang art site is to allow 20-plus architects to explore their creativity and promote forward thinking, which is often constrained in China’s restrictive society.

The Sifang Parkland, Nanjing, China, incorporates stunning site-specific artworks by more than 20 international creatives.

Lu Xun, along with his real-estate mogul father, is on a mission to break free from an aggressively urbanising China. The Sifang Parkland, Nanjing, China, is a US$200 million project spanning over 115 acres of forest land that incorporates stunning site-specific artworks by more than 20 international creatives including dissident artist Ai Weiwei; Chinese Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu; Japanese architect Arata Isozaki; Italian designer Ettore Sottsass; and leading UK-based architect David Adjaye.

In the centre of the site is the Sifang Art Museum, an impressive 21,528-square-foot exhibition space designed by New York architect Steven Holl. Over the course of a decade, Xun has built up a fascinating contemporary art collection, including some 300 works by international giants such as William Kentridge and Danh Vo. Lu Xun’s collaborative haven of art, architecture, design and nature offers an international spirit in breath-taking natural surroundings.

He talks to Billionaire about the venture.

Why did you decide to build a public museum in a location that would require a long journey, especially from an international perspective?
Where did the inspiration come from? We wanted to create a destination in China that brings together the best of today’s international art and architecture. Back in 2003, we fell in love right away with this beautiful and lush site, which is located right next to a national forest park, about 30 minutes from the city of Nanjing. My father and I thought it would make the perfect blank canvas to develop the land in a way unlike any other in China.

How did you come about acquiring this untouched land?
The site was completely natural when we first set foot on it. The winding road leading up to the site was constructed by us before we invited the architects in. We divided the natural site into 24 lots on the master plan, and to be fair we asked the pool of international architects to pick a site number randomly from a box. This is a moment I’ll never forget. After the draw, each went to survey their respective site. All of them came back very excited.

How many visitors does the museum receive?
I’d say around 500-plus visitors on the weekends, but a lot less on the weekdays. I want to improve this. We foresee a growth of visitors after our hotels and nearby facilities officially open by the end of 2017. There will be a little under 200 rooms to stay in the private estate, including a boutique hotel designed by Liu Jiakun and 20 designer villas for family vacations. All of our museum shows are carefully curated to engage the audience with current issues of today, and every artist brings in a specific idea with their own interventions, improvisation and appropriation.

What is the philosophy behind the Sifang art site?
We wanted to counteract rapid urbanisation in China. Worthy architects had no position nor opportunity to realise their ideas and this really disturbed us. It was almost out of necessity that we felt we must do something to nurture the arts. Through our concept of commissioning 20-plus architects, it really gave them a chance to explore their creativity and promote forward thinking, which is often constrained in China’s restrictive society.

How has this art collecting and curation changed you as an individual?
Simply put, ‘art’ has been life changing. It encourages me to study more, think deeply, foster curiosity, and inspires ambition. Art opens my mind while refining my senses.

What do you buy for your collection and why?
When did you or your family start collecting? I collect contemporary international art but with a strong focus on China and Asia. The collection includes paintings, videos, sound, performance and large-scale installations — anything that an artist can produce. My father’s historical documents and archival collection from 1912-49 is the most important collection of its kind. One day we will build a permanent home for this collection.

How will China evolve as a global art destination?
China historically has had very prominent artists such as Ai Weiwei, Chen Zhen, Yang Fudong, and Zhang Xiaogang but with very little system to support them. Recently we have seen a flourishing scene of galleries and private museums in Shanghai and Beijing, which has rightfully earned them the status of the newest art destinations. However, we still have a long way to go before the system matures to support artists at all levels and to achieve the right balance between art and the art market.

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SLIDESHOW: The philosophy behind the Sifang art site is to allow 20-plus architects to explore their creativity and promote forward thinking, which is often constrained in China’s restrictive society.