1. Visual Arts

St. Petersburg, Tampa museums collaborate for 2014 contemporary Chinese art show

During a recent trip to China to meet potential participants, Tampa Museum of Art director Todd Smith photographed a work in progress in the studio of Sun Xun.
Published Aug. 10, 2013

An exhibition coming to the Tampa Museum of Art in summer 2014 that features young Chinese artists was a big deal when it was announced several months ago.

Now it's going to be an even bigger deal.

In an unusual collaboration, the group show, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will be a joint one with the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, at the same time with the same artists.

Tampa Museum director Todd Smith and MFA director Kent Lydecker have already finalized a checklist of art and will work together on fundraising and marketing for the show, estimated to cost more than $200,000. The museums will work with a single budget and share sponsorship money but will each sell individual tickets and keep their own attendance revenue (though they'll probably offer a joint ticket deal).

"This collaboration between Tampa Bay art institutions is a rare and perhaps a singular event," said Dewey Blanton, director of strategic

communications for the American Alliance of Museums, a not-for-profit support organization in Washington, D.C., with more than 3,000 member museums and a rigorous accreditation process.

Art museums frequently work together organizing shows, but typically, the museums are in different markets so the exhibition travels to separate venues, ending a run at one before beginning at another. Or museums in the same market will cooperate on shows that complement each other.

"My Generation: Young Chinese Artists" is being conceived as a single show divided between the Tampa Museum and MFA. The combined special exhibition space totals more than 10,000 square feet, which will also make "My Generation" the largest temporary art show to be mounted in the Tampa Bay area. The closest approximation to this new agreement was in 2004 when the Museum of Fine Arts and the Orlando Museum of Art coordinated concurrent shows of Dale Chihuly's studio glass installations. But those museums are 90 miles apart and considered different markets.

Twenty-seven artists will be represented, with multiple works from each artist. All are part of a generation born in or after 1976 under the one-child policy and have come of age in an era that is more tolerant of experimental Chinese artists.

Most of them aren't overtly political in their art as are many older contemporary Chinese artists, because they haven't had to endure the deprivations and harassment of earlier generations who experienced the repressive Cultural Revolution. So they often are more self-referential. And they have had a lot of exposure to art throughout the world and its history, so their influences are usually broader. And, said Smith, the fact that none of them has brothers and sisters has figured significantly in their development.

"It's often one of the first questions they ask: 'Do you have siblings?' " he said. " 'What's that like?' "

Smith traveled to China in the spring with arts writer, teacher and contemporary Chinese arts expert Barbara Pollack to visit studios and galleries and meet artists who might be part of the show. Pollack has been retained to curate the show and write the catalog. (Catalogs always add luster; they signal the uniqueness and seriousness of an exhibition.)

Even though emerging contemporary Chinese art by new artists is getting a lot of international attention from collectors, U.S. museums have been slow to showcase it, preferring the more established names such as Ai Weiwei.

"There is a conservatism in the art world," said Lydecker. "We like to categorize. A curator is a Ming Dynasty ceramics expert, for example. They want to know, 'Is this Asian? Or is it contemporary?' But artists are always out in front of categories."

After its 2014 run from June through September in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Smith and Lydecker hope that at least one other museum will rent it, and Smith said he's in discussions with several about the possibility of its traveling.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.

Cui Jie


Cui Jie, born in 1983, is a painter who uses urban subjects, such as Escalator #2, part of the "My Generation" show, for both graphic purposes and social commentary about alienation in highly populated city settings. They could often be anywhere in the world, and the artist sometimes adds a detail such as the bodyless shirt that appears as a soulless presence in this painting.


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