Shanghai Calling
Tatler Hong Kong|January 2021
For years the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art has been at the forefront of the art scene in Beijing—now it’s expanding beyond the capital
Oliver Giles

The Covid-19 pandemic hit museums like a tsunami. Institutions around the world were forced to close their doors for months on end, leading to huge losses in revenue, drastic cost-cutting measures and desperate calls for funding. But while galleries in the US and Europe floundered, one prominent museum in China was not only staying afloat—it was planning a major expansion.

“We are hoping to open our space in Shanghai at the end of the first quarter of 2021,” says Philip Tinari, director and CEO of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. “It is a very exciting moment for us.”

UCCA was founded in 2007 in a 110,000 sq ft former factory in Beijing’s 798 Art District, where it has hosted nearly 150 exhibitions and draws more than a million visitors a year. In late 2018, Tinari opened the museum’s first outpost, UCCA Dune, an underground, cavelike gallery buried beneath the beach of the popular resort town of Aranya on China’s Bohai Sea coast. Now, Tinari is opening a third space: UCCA Edge, a 50,000 sq ft space in Shanghai’s up-and-coming Jing’an neighbourhood. “For the first ten years we were very focused on Beijing, but we felt it was time for the institution to build a more national profile for itself,” says Tinari.

For Tinari, the opening in Shanghai is a moment of great opportunity and huge responsibility: he and his team will oversee all three spaces. “It is one curatorial department working on all of these locations. This is not a franchise model,” says Tinari, 41, who is American and moved to China in 2001. Some exhibitions will move between Beijing and Shanghai, but others will be devised for a specific venue. “Each space has its own character, but all of them share the same mission. Everything we do comes out of the idea that art can impact people’s lives, that art is an important way of making global connections and that art is an important way of understanding China’s place in the world.”

UCCA Edge will occupy three floors of a new 18-storey office tower being built by Hong Kong-based developer K Wah—a very different environment from UCCA’s sprawling, industrial headquarters and the subterranean Dune. “Both 798 and Dune are destinations,” says Tinari. “People come to 798 in the mindset to see art and go to Aranya looking for a vacation, but in Shanghai we’re right in the middle of the city, just an escalator ride away from the public.” The building sits atop the intersection of two subway lines, is walking distance from the People’s Square and a stone’s throw from the Bulgari Hotel and Joy City, one of the busiest malls in Shanghai.

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