Philip Dodd takes a look at the use of art in architecture and how it could transform cities in the future
It??s 1979 and the Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping goes to Shenzhen, on the bay opposite Hong Kong, to signal the economic opening up of China; 30 years later, Shenzhen is now at the forefront of another stage of the transformation of China. A major redevelopment is taking place there, bringing together retail and hotel, conference centre and cinema. At its heart is a major museum designed by the distinguished Japanese architect, Maki.
The former Chinese president Hu Jintao said recently that Chinese culture would be at the heart of the country??s development over the next ten years and Shenzhen??s use of art and art institutions to help transform the city economically and socially as well as culturally is just one example of what is happening not only across China but across the world. From Daugavpils in Latvia to New Jersey in the US, from Brumadinho in Brazil to London in the UK.
I remember talking in the early 90s with the English sculptor and artist Eduardo Paolozzi who told me with amazement about the transformation of the place of art in the life of cities over his working lifetime. ??You can??t imagine?? he told me ??how small was the art world in the immediate post-war period, how few people were committed to it??. He compared that time with the subsequent thirty years when public art began to blossom. After all his own public work can be seen in northern European cities as different as Munich, Edinburgh and London.
Well, he would be surprised at the quantum leap in interest in art that has happened over the last ten years. In ways unimaginable to him, art is now seen as an engine of urban economic development.
Every city now wants an art fair ?? London has a new one in Art14 London whose second edition is this month; many developers, if they want land, are obliged to integrate art into their development; boutique art hotels are popping up everywhere (ten alone will be built in the free trade zone in Shanghai which will be finished by 2017) and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton are blurring the line between commerce and culture, as when LVMH staged exhibitions of Yayoi Kusama in its shops all across the world. Art has so many advantages for a city. It can develop the brand of a city at a time when cities compete with one another for talent and investment. It attracts cultural tourists and is an agent of regeneration.
Daugavpils in Latvia is a classic case study of art as regeneration. With generous EU funding and the indomitable will of a small group of people, the Mark Rothko Art Center has been founded (Rothko was born there before he lit out to the US). The city is wagering that this art centre can kick starts its economic and social regeneration.
Daugavpils is representative except in one regard: the money is largely public sector money. What characterises the present moment is the emergence of the private sector embrace of art.
That??s why Art14 is bringing together key private sector players from all around the world to debate in private how art can transform cities in a variety of ways. Maybe the day of public art is dying; maybe we should be urging developers to build small cinemas where artists?? films and videos can be seen for free; to erect large digital screens on which local talent can showcase their work. Art is only going to become more important to city life. How is the question we need to answer.
Philip Dodd is Chairman of the Board of Advisors of Art14, founder of the Global Private Museum Summit, Chairman of Made in China (madeinchinauk.com) and Director of The China Art Foundation (thechinaartfoundation.com). He is formerly Director of London??s Institute of Contemporary Arts (1997-2004) and is an award-winning magazine editor and BBC broadcaster. While at the ICA he gave early exhibitions to Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. He has worked between China and Europe for the last ten years, advising on a major cultural/commercial complex in Shenzhen developed by China Merchant Group, initiating the forthcoming design fair, Design Shanghai, staging art exhibitions and advising city governments on creative industries. He is Visiting Professor, University of the Arts London and author of numerous books, catalogues and essays.