Beijing kicks off large-scale art exhibitions after three-month shutdown due to COVID-19 epidemic
Published: May 21, 2020 06:03 PM Updated: May 21, 2020 12:03 PM

The Meditations in an Emergency exhibition Photo: Xu Liuliu/GT

Poster for Meditations in an Emergency exhibition Photo: Courtesy of UCCA


The press conference for Gallery Weekend Beijing on Thursday Photo: Xu Liuliu/GT

After shutting down all cultural venues for the past three months due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Beijing, capital city and cultural hub of China, is set to hold a series of new exhibitions starting on Friday. 

The Gallery Weekend Beijing, one of China's major cultural events, will comprise a number of exhibitions, guided tours and seminars over the weekend and into next week at two of the city's major cultural venues: The 798 Art Zone and Caochangdi Art Zone. 

"I think it is one of the world's first major cultural events since the outbreak of COVID-19, which has shut down art and entertainment venues around the globe and halted nearly all art exhibitions due to fear of the deadly virus," Wang Yanling, a member of the art expo's committee, told the Global Times on Thursday.  

While the rest of the world remains locked down and their cultural industries struggle to adapt, Wang said such an art expo "will bring all the artists and galleries hopes for the future and inspire art lovers to head back to galleries as they used to, albeit with proper personal protection equipment like face masks."

Although the art expo is resuming, it has not been able to escape the epidemic unscathed. It was originally set to kick off in March, and even though it is finally opening, no overseas galleries will be able to take part. 

"The number of participants has also dropped from 31 to 22," expo director Wang Yifei explained. 

"Additionally, major overseas curators, such as The Tate and Serpentine Galleries in the UK, will not be able to attend. We also had to cancel our on-site collaboration project with Zurich Art Weekend. "

The week-long expo will see exhibitions present works by renowned Chinese artists as well as several young promising up-and-comers at galleries and art centers such as the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, the Wind H Art Center, the Star Gallery and the Asia Art Center. 

The new Meditations in an Emergency exhibition at the UCCA's iconic exhibition hall seeks to raise questions about life during the COVID-19 epidemic as well as how people react to such life-and-death moments around the world. Medical workers who are still fighting on the dangerous frontlines against the virus around the world will be highlighted at the exhibition. Chinese artist Zhang Hui's painting Just Like in the Mirror 2 depicts the backs of two masked nurses as people pay their respect to them. 

With the implementation of strict safety measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing, China hopes to reopen cultural venues like theaters and museums to help people return to their normal lives and promote the recovery of these severely-hit industries ahead of the rest of the world. 

At the moment, major galleries and museums in the UK are just starting to consider reopening, which won't happen at least until July. Since the situation is even worse in the US, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced it hopes to reopen in mid-August or even a few weeks afterwards with safety measures such as reduced visiting hours and no guided tours so as to encourage social distancing.

"Hit by such a disaster, the whole art industry, no matter if it is in China or in the rest of the world, have to take measures to recover the confidence of the market and visitors," Wang said. 

"The sooner we can get back to normal, the better the results that we can expect in the future. What we are doing is also delivering a positive message to the rest of the world."