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Interview with Ning Li, Deputy Director of the Collection Department, China Art Museum (CAM), Shanghai

Catherine McDermott talked to Ning Li, Deputy Director of the Collection Department, the China Art Museum, Shanghai (CAM) about future plans for the museum.


Would you tell ICOM UK members about CAM?

CAM is the huge red pavilion building that has become a landmark in Shanghai and the city’s largest art space. CAM focuses on the research, collection, education and exhibition of Chinese modern & contemporary art.  For over six decades, CAM has established a strong network with Chinese national museums, art institute, art academies and private art organizations.


What is CAM’s history?

CAM founded in 1956 was formerly known as the Shanghai Art Museum and is one of the oldest art museums in China.  Until 2012 it occupied the former British Racing Club in People’s Square when the museum moved to the China Pavilion of the 2010 Shanghai Expo.  After extensive remodeling, and a name change to the China Art Museum, CAM opened to the public on 1st October 2012.  CAM became a member of ICOM in 2002 and then joined the council of ICOM-CIMAM.


What is your role in the CAM?

I worked as the Curator in the Academy Department for 13 years, and in 2016 transferred to the Collection Department as the Deputy Director.  My role changed from curatorial projects to researching collection and planning.  For example, CAM plans to cooperate with Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts with the “Hua Junwu’s Diary Researching Project”.  It began in 2017 and was arranged by Collection Department, including editing the manuscript (diaries), researching, publishing essays and the whole edition.  This co-operation project will continue until 2021.


What challenges face CAM in 2018?

Attracting and persuading artists to donate their works is a great way to develop our limited collection fund.  Because the research time of staff in art museums is limited we are always looking for partnerships with academics and institute to build co-operation projects.


What projects is CAM currently working on?

We actively work with the documents in the CAM collection and the many diaries and letters that artists donate with their original work.  These archive projects for individual Chinese artists, including publications, education programs and exhibitions, are planned to continue for the next few years.  “Hsiao Chin Coming Home- Retrospective Exhibition ”opened in March, with six decades of Hsiao Chin, a famous Taiwanese artist born in Shanghai.  The artist donates a series of art works to CAM after the exhibition; with these collections, CAM plans to establish the Hsiao Chin Art Research Center in the future, to develop the researching about Hsiao Chin and 20th Century Chininese Modern Art.  This program received the Ministry of Culture’s 2018 National Art Collection Award and financial support.

We also plan to make public more digital data to researchers and the public in the future.  For example, CAM plans to share partly digital data and upload it to website during the process of “Hua Junwu’s Diary Researching Project”.


What is your vision for the CAM in the future?

Now there are about 80 art museums in Shanghai today compared to five main art museums before 2012.  All these new art museums need more research more about audience needs researching not only for scholars, but also the needs of a wider Chinese public.

The vision for CAM is to develop beyond just a museum with galleries and a collection storehouse into something more like a cultural center, even an Art Mall.  The challenge is to connect these changes with our daily work in museum.

All pictures © China Art Museum, Shanghai. Photo by Zhao Dongyang.