Citing ‘growing cultural and political disparity’, Chinese museum is unplugging its Berlin outpost

The Times Art Center in Berlin, a private art space located in the German capital, is closing its doors after four years of activity. Its organizers cited rising global tensions, the pandemic and economic uncertainty as reasons for the decision.

As the first and only twin space of a Chinese art museum in Berlin, the Guangdong Times Museum branch in Guangzhou, China, received funding from a single entity, the Hong-listed real estate company Times China. Kong, owned by a husband and wife duo. Shum Chiu-hung and Li Yiping. In 2017, the couple were listed as newly minted billionaires by Forbes.

Xi Bei, artistic director of the Times Art Center Berlin, told Artnet News that the decision to close, which was “technically financial”, was made earlier this year. “This decision stems from the past years of political, economic and cultural crises,” Xi said. “The impossibility of mobility between countries (for us especially between Europe and Asia), economic instability and recessions” were part of it, added the director. As a not-for-profit entity registered in Berlin, the art space was funded by a single entity, the Times Group, and charged no admission fees.

She noted that there is a “growing cultural and political disparity that will likely also impact cross-cultural projects like ours in the years to come.”

View of the installation “The D-Tale, Video Art from the Pearl River Delta, Episode I, Times Art Center Berlin. Photo by graysc.de.

Real estate moguls and Times Museum founders Shum Chiu-hung and Li Yiping got into culture in 2010 when they opened their Rem Koolhaas-designed institution in Guangzhou, which also serves as a bridge between apartments luxury high rise. The group is also one of the main sponsors of the Guangzhou Triennale. Their company, the Times Property Group, is one of the largest in Hong Kong and part of a large conglomerate that operates throughout China.

The decision to close the Berlin site also appears to align with the cooling of relations between China and the West, as well as the financial realities of broader macro-economic factors. China’s property market, once a major pillar of the world’s second-largest economy, has been weakened in recent months due to downward pressure on demand, Reuters reported earlier this year. Times Group Property Holdings stock, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, fell 73.6% last year, according to Bloomberg.

Since 2018, the small institution has hosted several exhibitions by Chinese artists based in Berlin, including one growing cohort. The latest exhibition, which ended on June 26, featured works by Hong Kong-based artist Wong Ping. Ping’s exhibit took an ironic look at how gentrification is affecting urban development in China; he was inspired by a man who, while trying to save his own home from demolition, covered it with posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The small museum had also established relationships with other Chinese contemporary art curators and artists active across Europe. In 2018, for example, Hou Hanru, director of the Maxxi Museum in Rome, curated a major multi-part investigative exhibition on video art from the Pearl River Delta. The show featured Hong Kong-based artists Chow Chun-fai, Ellen Pau and Natalie Lo Lai-lai, situating Hong Kong’s history not from the perspective of British colonization, but rather related to its culture. Cantonese derived from its proximity to the Pearl River. Delta, a low-lying area in southern China now home to over 10 million people and many of the country’s largest megacities.

The decision to shut down came with a note of trepidation, with Xi citing in an email to supporters that the shutdown was the result of a “historic moment of global crises, when socio-political turmoil [sic] is already affecting or will soon affect every aspect of our lives.

Xi said she hoped the closure of the Berlin space would not mean a complete shutdown of all activities and that it would be temporary. “For our projects planned for the second half of this year, we are looking to find alternative modes such as digital possibilities to present the program in close collaboration with the Times Museum [Guangdong],” she says.

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