Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
|Location||798 Art Zone, Beijing|
|Visitors||851,347 (2014) |
|Founder||Guy and Myriam Ullens|
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art or UCCA (simplified Chinese: 尤伦斯当代艺术中心; traditional Chinese: 尤倫斯當代藝術中心; pinyin: yóu lún sī dāng dài yì shù zhōng xīn) is a leading Chinese independent institution of contemporary art. Founded in 2007 out of a commitment to bring Chinese contemporary art into global dialogue, it has since become a cultural landmark for Beijing, a conduit for international exchange, and an incubator for new talent. Located at the heart of the 798 Art Zone in, China, it welcomes more than one million visitors a year. Originally known as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, UCCA underwent a major restructuring in 2017 and now operates as the UCCA Group, comprising two distinct entities: UCCA Foundation, a registered non-profit that organizes exhibitions and research, stages public programs, and undertakes community outreach; and UCCA Enterprises, a family of art-driven retail and educational ventures. UCCA's work grows from its core belief that new art can change lives, broaden perspectives, and enrich the conversation between China and the world.
In November 2007, out of a commitment to bring Chinese contemporary art into global dialogue, Belgian art collector Guy Ullens and his wife Myriam Ullens invested major resources in the founding of UCCA. UCCA’s opening exhibition, curated by Guy and Myriam Ullens, alongside Foundation director and veteran of the Chinese avant-garde Fei Dawei, was entitled “’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art,” and was the first museum show to explore this artistic movement of the 1980s. In 2008, French critic and curator Jérôme Sans arrived as UCCA’s first director, taking steps to open the Center to a larger public with bold, popular exhibitions by key Chinese and international figures including Yan Pei-ming, Mona Hatoum, Qiu Zhijie, Olafur Eliasson, Liu Xiaodong, and Wang Jianwei.
In 2012, UCCA began its second chapter under the joint leadership of May Xue and Philip Tinari, focused on bringing the Center closer to its public and honing its operational model. Together, they introduced initiatives such as the Patrons Council, the first donor group of its kind in China, and the annual Gala and Benefit Auction, which quickly became a key source of support for the Center’s ongoing development. The exhibition program continued to grow in scale, featuring internationally-recognized artists including Gu Dexin, Tino Sehgal, Xu Zhen, Liu Wei, William Kentridge, Robert Rauschenberg, and Zeng Fanzhi, as well as periodic research-based surveys and an ongoing series of project-based solo exhibitions focused on young Chinese artists.
In June 2017, a group of China-based investors came together to restructure UCCA, separating its commercial and non-profit functions, ensuring its long- term presence in the 798 Art District, and securing its future vision. In 2017, UCCA Director Philp Tinari served as guest co-curator at the Guggenheim exhibition, alongside Alexandra Munroe and Hou Hanru, “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” the most comprehensive institutional survey show of Chinese art ever to be mounted in the United States, and a corrective to what Tinari views as narrow, American views of Chinese Contemporary Art.
Site and Space
UCCA spreads across the original chambers of Factory 798, which is now Beijing’s 798 Art District. designed by East German architects from the Dessau Design Institute—the postwar institutional successor to the Bauhaus—and first opened in 1957, UCCA’s spaces maintain traces of their industrial past. Fully renovated by architects Jean-Michel Wilmotte and Qingyun Ma in 2007, UCCA occupies a total area of 8,000 square meters, including a Great Hall of 1800 square meters, other exhibition halls of different sizes, a 150-seat auditorium equipped with film projection and simultaneous interpretation facilities, a store, a café, a children’s education center with eight classrooms, and further areas for gatherings, meetings, and evens. In 2018, UCCA has enlisted the help of OMA to completely redesign its spaces, adding a research library, a new café, and a completely upgraded entrance area and exhibition halls.
UCCA’s four main spaces play host each year to around fifteen exhibitions of varying scale. Educational and interpretive programs expand the reach of these displays, bringing viewers into closer contact with the ideas behind the work on view. As an international museum operating on Chinese soil, UCCA has a focus on recent developments and historical movements in Chinese contemporary art, pairing this with exhibitions devoted to major trends and figures from around the region and the world.
The Center has presented more than a hundred exhibitions and attracted more than 4 million visitors. Beginning its curatorial program with “85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art”, it has presented large-scale group shows “Breaking Forecast: 8 Key Figures of China’s New Generation Artists” (2009), “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” (2013), and “Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names” (2014); along with solo exhibitions “Liu Xiaodong: Hometown Boy” (2010), “Wang Jianwei: Yellow Signal” (2011), “Gu Dexin: The Important Thing Is Not The Meat” (2012), “Wang Xingwei” (2013), “Xu Zhen: a MadeIn Company Production” (2014), and “Liu Wei: Colors” (2015).
It has also presented the international surveys “Inside A Book A House of Gold: Artists’ Editions for Parkett" (2012), “Indian Highway” (2012), “DUCHAMP and/or/in CHINA” (2013), and “The Los Angeles Project” (2014). It has served as a platform for the works of Olafur Eliasson, Tino Sehgal, Tatsuo Miyajima, Taryn Simon, and Sterling Ruby, introducing China to these significant figures in contemporary art.
UCCA organizes a wide range of programs and initiatives that aim to enrich and diversify visitor experience and improve public access to art. Events including lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, performances, workshops, festivals, and community initiatives allow the museum to function as an open classroom for the greater public, as well as further dialogue and exchange in the contemporary art world.
UCCA implements a number of community initiatives that aim to make art more accessible to the public. Recurring programs include discounted or complementary ticketing for visitors with disabilities or facing financial barriers, artist-led public programming, alternative gallery tours, and free chamber music performances by local conservatory students. Ongoing initiatives entail the development of digital and educational resources, and measures to provide access services for all of UCCA’s exhibitions and events.
UCCA’s research department focuses on organizing scholarly programming around UCCA exhibitions, and on organizing the ten years of archival material that the institution has already produced, with the aim of making it easily accessible online to students and researchers. In 2019, it will open a library and research space on its premises, featuring an extensive collection of physical and digital materials focusing on the three areas of UCCA’s own history, Chinese contemporary art, and art more generally, seeks to contribute to the curatorial, critical, and scholarly conversation in a more lasting way than the exhibitions from which they grow.
Founded in 2007, UCCA Store has become a platform for dialogue in the contemporary design industry, a supporter of emerging local brands, and a champion for an urban lifestyle. With a built-in bookstore and art space, the store carries handpicked design products from around the world, offering limited edition artworks, original designs, brand collaborations, furnishings, collectible books, and exhibition related merchandise.
The architectural regeneration in 2018 will significantly expand UCCA Store’s floor area, adding a café where visitors can enjoy design products and books. UCCA Store is also focused on developing a new range of accessible products in conjunction with the exhibition program, and on significantly expanding its digital footprint on platforms including TMall and WeChat.
UCCA also offers mainland China’s only independently developed, museum-based education program for ages 2–8, bringing together a team of artists, curators, and educational professionals, to create a set of workshops and art classes. Each year, UCCA Education mounts two Children’s Exhibitions, which are open to the public, and showcase artworks created by students.
In May 2014, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei accused UCCA of self-censorship when curators decided to omit his name from a public newsletter announcing the opening of an exhibition in memory of artist/curator Hans van Dijk. Ai had originally contributed three works to the exhibition, including the first piece he ever exhibited in Europe as part of an exhibition curated by van Dijk in 1993, but removed the works during the opening ceremony, "in defiance of UCCA's portrayal of Chinese contemporary art.”
In September 2017, the Guggenheim decided to pull three major works from “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World,” co-curated by Philip Tinari. This, together with the Walker Art Center’s recent move to dismantle Sam Durant’s sculpture “Scaffold” in response to protests, has art leaders concerned that museums are setting worrisome precedents when threatened with organized pressure tactics, and led to widespread debate about art, censorship, and cultural norms.
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Media related to Ullens Center for Contemporary Art at Wikimedia Commons