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In Terms of Each City Wanting to Become an International Art Capital, Compare and Evaluate at Least Two of These Asian Cities: Beijing, Hong-Kong and Singapore
It is difficult to underestimate the meaning of art in our lives but this study will specifically eliminate the role of art in urban life and how cities represent creativity in today’s world. There are many works of art and their classification and forms can take a long time to describe but it is also important to define the exact criteria of a city that becomes so-called international capital of the worldwide importance. Art is the symbolic, frequently visual representation of the spirit of time and social processes. Some of the art works concentrate on the emotions, feelings and experiences of one individual, while others are descriptive of the entire epoch demonstrating small details of life in that particular period. What makes an art unique is that it has no boundaries of representation.
What is an International Art Capital?
Defining what an international art capital is, it is reasonable to review the definitions of “art” and “capital.” Art stands for the application or expression of human imagination and creativity skills that is typically represented in the visual form, such as sculpture but not limited to it – the art of music appeals to the hearing instead of eyesight. Some of the art forms are mixed together and appeal to the aesthetical feelings received with the help of eyesight, hearing and moral touch. The produced works of art are primarily appreciated for their emotional charge and power or beauty. The greatest art pieces are frequently concerned with moral imperfections of humanity that concentrate on both the weaknesses and the strengths. Art is a range of works produced by such imagination and skill and a creative activity that results in the production of sculptures, paintings, drawing, music compositions and other forms. Nowadays, the forms of art have changed significantly and may be classified according to many features.
“The arts” stand for different branches of creative activity including painting, dance, literature, photography, and music. The subjects of art concern are history, literature, languages and other products of human creativity, its processes and reflections of social life (Currid, 2007). Art is also frequently contrasted with technical and scientific subjects implying that art is oriented at the irrational component of the human nature in general.
The capital is the most important city or town of a region or country. It usually carries the administrative and governmental functions but the informal capitals also exist. Apart from the centralized political importance, capital cities are places that are associated with a specified product or activity more than any other areas.
The international capital is a city or town that extends its influence and significance beyond the borders of the original country representing a vast region or a continent (Hall, 1998). It usually implies that the life of the capital is also influenced by the flow of incoming foreigners, who come for touristic, educational and business reasons (Skorska, 2011).
Therefore, an international art capital is a city or town that is most likely to be associated with art and creative activities. International art capitals are not always the official capitals but, as a rule, capital cities chosen by size become art capitals of international importance too due to the attracted investment, tourists and better funding (Economic Review on Human Capital, 2002). Sometimes, the official capital of the country has lower art-related potential than the other informal capital (like the example of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg).
Obviously, many cities strive for the unofficial title of the international art capital, as apart from its prestige it also attracts tourists, art lovers and investors from all over the world. Business meetings and conferences of nationwide importance are frequently shifted to delightful cities with rich art potential, and such cities become the face of the country, the continent and the culture of the inviting nation.
It is interesting that city life is primarily reflected in public art that make the place more beautiful and welcoming, add dimensions to the places of public use, stimulate the creation of educational positive environment, promote environmental friendliness, enhance the appearance of public transportation, improving the outlook of pedestrian sidewalks, streets, roadsides, and public gateways. Public art of the city is also a representation of pride and patriotism in terms of corporate citizenship, a valuable instrument of expressing the values and priorities of the local community or the host culture in general (Brooks & Kushner, 2002). Art diversifies the ways, which the local community and the environment may interact, and it is also a way to extend the public assets by improving the space definitions and identifications. Public art stimulates the positive impacts of the educational environment and expands the sight-seeing opportunities (Duxbury, 2006). In the majority of cases, there is no need to pay for the tickets or dress up to experience public art. There are also no restrictions on whether you can experience it all by yourself or in a group.
The Competitiveness Parameters for Evaluation
The selection of the evaluative criteria for analyzing the international art importance of each city depends on the classification of the forms of art that exist. For instance, young citizens would say that graffiti is a form of art, while those citizens, who are more conservative, would say that such creativity is closer to barbarianism. Therefore, we will start with the classification not to miss any art representation in the evaluated cities. Art is defined by the pleasure we get from our senses while experiencing it.
So, art can be visual (all kinds of painting, drawings, graffiti, calligraphy, sculpture, mosaics, sand drawing, photography, environmental art with empty cans, etc.), musical (songs, sounds, background noises), literary (fiction, non-fiction) and mixed (theatre and cinema).
There are also types of art, when the observing individual may become the participant of the creative work (photography, the art of hairdressing, make-up and fashion, body art, design, etc.) Applied art stands for the subdivision of visual art that implies both aesthetics and practical application (architecture, fashion, make-up and hair dressing, jewelry design, wood crafts and interior design).
Performance arts mean that they are represented rather by the action of one or more people than the object. It can be dancing (that is also divided by its styles into ballroom, belly, Latin, hip-hop, contemporary, salsa, line, flamenco, or jazz funk dancing), singing (that is represented in the form of pop, rap, rock or any other songs, and opera singing), movies and theatre plays (of all genres), and music (pop, rock, rap, hip-hop, blues, country, folk, soul, independent, classical and gospel music).
Some scholars also tie other sensual pleasures to art (for instance, the art of winery, perfumery, cooking, restaurateur, etc.) but these are not classical forms of art, so they will be mentioned only partially.
Therefore, the criteria of city evaluation should be related to the representation of these art forms available for both public and private experience. These are typically establishments for art representation and other important elements of the art infrastructure. Therefore, the most important criteria for the evaluation of the international art capital are (Throsby, 2010):
- The number of active art galleries, exhibition centers, museums, theaters, movie theaters, opera houses, cultural and art centers,
- The number of activities related to art including festivals, art exhibition tours, performance activities, and other related actions of public access;
- The amount of visitors (including tourists and citizens) attending the art institutions and activities mentioned in the previous two points;
- The number of commercial institutions representing art (souveni shops, art pieces, CDs and DVDs with performance recordings or movies);
- The overall number of individuals contributing to the creation of visual arts and performing arts including actors, singers, musicians, artists, architects, sculptors, designers, writers, poets, composers, dancers, designers, barbers and stylists that received some kind of recognition and popularity in the city (citizens, individuals coming from other cities and foreigners);
- The number of acting official and non-official art communities or civil communities that are related to art creation in one way or another including youth and civic organizations, online communities and discussion boards dedicated to any form of art, art and hobby clubs;
- Regulations to attract investments from auction houses (like Sotheby’s);
- The number of educational institutions dedicated to art creation and evaluation (colleges and universities of arts, dancing academies, art schools for younger children, singing schools, etc.);
- The rate of citizens’ involvement in any art-related activities (whether it is performing arts, creating arts, observing them or taking part in making arrangements for exhibitions);
- The infrastructural support for any activities related to arts (city online resources, mobile applications for the interested art-lovers, etc.);
- The rate of cooperation with other art capitals of the world (could be New York, Vienna, Paris, Minneapolis, Chicago, etc.).
This study will specifically concentrate on evaluating three big Asian cities – Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore using two criteria that are quite significant in terms of city art life. These criteria are the amount of art-related institutions (mostly galleries, museums and art exhibitions) and the number and scale of the international art festivals arranged in the city.
These specific criteria were chosen because the first one reflects of the infrastructural support for art in Beijing, and this information is easy to access as it applies mostly to the art available for public observation. The second one reflects on how active the native citizens are and also helps to see how many foreigners are coming to the city to experience arts. The third one reflects on the independent artistic life in Beijing and the initiatives that act to support art apart from the official institutions and events. These three kinds of information seemed to be feasible for access and easy to interpret for evaluation.
The capital of China is notable for involving more and more artists, critics and curators from various countries with the help of good platforms for their interaction. Beijing counts up to:
– 10 major museums of general purpose (including the Palace Museum, Miyun Museum, the Ethnic Museum, Chagping museum, the Capital Museum, Tongzhou Museum, Chinese Ethnic Museum in Beijing, Mentogou museum and the Exhibition Hall of Ethnic Cultural Palace);
– 23 museums oriented at the representation of arts and crafts;
– 18 museums dedicated to science and technology advancements;
– 17 museums that are dedicated to the celebration of famous people;
– 40 museums that are dedicated to other specific delights (for example, the Great Wall of ChinaMuseum).
As for international art festivals, exhibitions and other participative activities, Beijing hosts the following events dedicated to art: Beijing Art Festival, Beijing Arts Fair, Beijing Biennale and Beijing 798 Art Festival.
For example, the establishment of Beijing Biennale fest in 2009 was directed by Zhu Qi, an outstanding art critic and art map director, and the curator of the project was Marc Hungerbuhler, who is the founder of ‘The Artist’ network in New York. Even the managers of the project come from different backgrounds, so such activities can be judged of as essential, influential and important on the international level (Biennale Foundation, 2012). The festival itself emerged after China’s victory in the Olympic Games of 2008 and the acceptance to World Trade Organization. The purpose of the festival is to demonstrate the potential that lies in the cooperation among cultures and the benefits brought by plurality. The style promoted is biennale with the contribution of China in it, and it uses the experience from other international biennale festivals as its basis. The project innovates, supports and promotes the development and growth of easel art, and, therefore, is a sufficient contribution to the development of human civilization in general and world arts in particular.
The project is significant in the following ways:
- It finds the point of contact between national interests, international trends and arts providing resource benefits in serving the interests of the society and humanity in general;
- It promotes exquisite and unique arts by giving independent evaluations and finding new art talents all over the world while letting the observers get familiarized with different art representations;
- It develops entirely new art forms and shortens the cycle of arts regeneration using the tool of active innovation;
- It opens the opportunity for native Chinese contemporary art creators to demonstrate their arts to the world;
- It builds the bridges of understanding among cultures and allows a lot of cultural exchange.
There are some social benefits brought by the festival too:
- Providing protection for the diversity and deepness of the world cultures and enhancing the advanced concepts and their normalized supplementation with the help of international transmissions in different directions;
- Removing the obstacles for converging thoughts and pioneering ideas that are initiated by various countries and nations with the help of the exchanges in visual arts that have no language barriers for understanding and comprehension;
- Promoting and guarding the peace of humanity with the help of multicultural gatherings and sensual pleasures brought by art;
- Using the geological spaces of the hosting country, illuminating the local culture along with national art and giving a new vision of it, winning more important for art and creative people in the world cultural circles, and extending the cultural vision of the native citizens;
- Making the city popular and celebrated, improving its cultural content and stimulating economic growth with the help of local tourism acceleration;
- Fulfilling the basic functions that should be carried out by powerful cultural bodies to the multinational society.
All of the stated functions may apply to any art festival or exhibition that takes place in Beijing and stimulates the interest of attenders.
The most famous artistic community in Beijing is a part of Chaoyang District, Dashanzi that is called 798 ArtZone and hosts a flourishing artistic community. The chosen area is no accident: the community functions between the old military factory buildings withdrawn from service and representing an unusual architectural style (Beijing 798 biennale asserts Beijing’s position as an international art capital, 2012). The area is frequently compared to SoHo and Greenwich Village of New York. The former factory served as a home for the artistic community struggling to fight for its existence as it wasn’t supported by the government in the 1990s. The movement was gradual, and soon, the foreigners also joint the area shifting their studios. The vast spaces attracted artists, who generally preferred high ceilings and the unusualness of the place.
It is also notable that 798 Art Zone (also called as Joint Factory 798) also serves as a platform for international art exhibitions, such as Transborder Language in 2004 combining performance art and poetic elements, Blue Sky Exposure, Temporary Space, the first Beijing Biennale of 2003, Dashanzi International Art Festival, famous self-cementing performance by He Yunnchang, and Rabarama, Italian Shape.
Another famous art community of Beijing is Songzhuang Art Community that is an artist village located in the eastern part of Beijing – Tong Zhou District. It is also a place for Chinese avant-gardists, and the total amount of artists residing there is about 400. The area consists of multiple farmhouses, and the artists also have totally different ethnical backgrounds. The life in this ‘village’ is unrestrained, and no rules are to follow. For example, the artists sleep during the daytime and work at night. Computer or any other gadget is a very rare object to find. The same is relevant with TVs, newspapers or music players as the artists concentrate primarily on their work.
CaochandgiArtVillage is a center of contemporary art, and its main focus is photography. That is why PhotoSpring, which is the most important photographic event of Beijing, took place in this village (Mina, 2012). Some of the artists in the village, such as Liu Yi, attract the attention of the government to the violent measures that are traditional for legal prosecutions in China.
Therefore, we can see that Beijing really grew as an international art capital, and not only because many creative people come here to represent their arts and experience the local ones, but also because many foreign artists come to reside in the area. The main art directions are oriented at Chinese ethnicity, protesting violence and avant-gardism. The assessment of all three criteria reveals that they are mutually inclusive and supporting, which is a sign of harmonious and balanced development of art life in the city.
Although Hong-Kong has a long history of being an important commerce and manufacturing center, now its role has gradually changed, and it also has a claim for the status of the international art capital. Although it goes beyond our chosen criteria, it is interesting that by now Hong Kong has taken the third place as the world’s most important art auction spot after New York and London. However, the city has not been taken as a serious competitor for the role of the international art capital due to the lack of former art tradition here. The attempts of the art lovers to attract attention to this unusual destination have reached certain success (Bodick, 2012).
The major museums, art galleries and exhibitions of Hong Kong are the following: the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Art museum of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Tsui museum of Art, University Museum and Art Gallery, 2P Contemporary Art, Gagosian, 10 Chancery Lane, Feast Project, Platform China, Hanart TZ, Videotage, Above Second, Hong Kong Science Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of History, and Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum (Agnew, 2012).
A new exhibition spot called White Cube originated from London and was recently opened in Hong Kong allowing Kate Hunt from BBC News to name the city “the emerging art capital” (2012). The building is a beautiful launch with two stores. It is remarkable that White Cube is very ambitious about representing the works of Asian artists and sculptors within its walls but surely, there is a special program regarding the imported pieces of arts from foreign countries. The influence of White Cube keeps on growing among European art lovers, and the exhibition is not only limited to demonstrating arts. It is also a great way to popularize the unknown new talents, introduce art education programs, add some newly created jobs and promote foreign exchange in terms of arts. One of the latest exhibitions is called London Pictures, and it reflects the interest for international art that takes place in Hong Kong. For example, another exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art was dedicated to Louis Vuitton, a popular Western designer, who is also interesting for Hong-Kong observers.
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The Hong Kong Museum of Art deserves further details due to its significance and history. Its major mission is to guard the cultural and art heritage of Chinese creators and introduce art into the lives of local residents. The collection of the museums includes calligraphy works, antiquities, old treasures, historically significant paintings, and the pieces of art provided by the local citizens. The exhibition galleries point out which collection will be focused on in the following month or two. In spite of the local-art orientation of the museum, it still has enough room for international exchange due to the sufficient number of exhibitions from all over the world (Lee, 2012). It also contributes to the art education of the public by funding corresponding programs to improve the knowledge in arts for those citizens, who are especially interested.
There are also many grand galleries and art exhibitions that will soon be built in Hong Kong. The projects have already started out, so there are many innovations expected. As for cultural and art events of international importance, they include the Hong Kong Festival of Art and Hong Kong International Art Fair.
The Hong Kong Arts Festival takes place annually for almost 50 years and wallows both Asian and foreign performers to demonstrate their creativity and imagination through any pieces of arts. There is also no limitation on the genre – you can find classicism, avant-garde, contemporary art and the electrifying creations. The festival lasts for a month, and the tickets can be easily booked on all events or the specific ones in any place of the world. The technology advancements make it easier to use, and there is a significant list of attending foreign ensembles and individual artists. It includes Moscow Art Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Mariinsky Theatre, New York City Ballet, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and many more.
Hong Kong International Art Fair served as a catalysis instrument for Hong Kong to become a lively art destination with the potential to become an art capital. In 2008, the fair was visited by art lovers from more than 30 world countries, and the balance between the Eastern and the Western art has been carefully maintained. The fair hosts different art galleries form all over the world, and enough attention is paid to both young emerging artists and the recognized ones.
The art communities in Hong Kong are Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation Limited that is aimed at educating young people and providing them with high-quality experiences of art and creativity (2012), Hong Kong Arts Community, the Academy of Visual Arts intended for high-quality education through international exchange, Public Art Hong Kong, which is a non-profit organization supported by Pao Foundation and primarily aimed at art promotion for the public, Hong Kong Arts Centre, which is a non-governmental and non-profit institution with self-financing, and SINO Art for talented artists of both local and foreign origins.
Therefore, Hong-Kong is at this current moment an emerging art capital that has weaker positions than Beijing in the eyes of the international art community. It does not have as many fundamental famous art museums with a long history. However, there are many initiatives, and the art lovers make great steps towards changing the traditional industrial face of Hong Kong. The local art communities are also very diverse, lively and supporting for the art development in the area. However, it is more difficult for the artists to find enough studio space, so they are forced to take usual day jobs, such as designers or architects. In Hong Kong, the art life depends much on the will of local Chinese millionaires, who have more preferences for the national pieces rather that the ones exhibited by the White Cube.
Evidently, as Hong Kong is geographically the center of Asian art market and the auctions of this city provide the very high revenues (third place) in the world, it lacks the history and art background of Paris, Vienna, New York or London. Apart from the commercial side of art, these cities have fundamental and attractive museums with long histories of functioning, and though the funding for art education has been cut due to the latest economic crisis, it is still an integral part of the culture in all these cities. So, Hong Kong still has space for further development as for emerging into an international art capital, it needs not merely markets but also a good infrastructure.