Philip Tinari, Director of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art: “Moving toward the modern is very much in keeping with UCCA’s mission of bringing great art to its public and creating connections between China and the wider world”
Born in Philadelphia, Philip Tinari holds a B.A. from the Program in Literature at Duke and an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard. Writer, critic, curator and expert in Chinese contemporary art, Tinari has been serving as director of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art (Beijing) since 2011.
UCCA organizes the most important exhibition of work by Pablo Picasso ever to take place in China: Picasso. Birth of a Genius (15 June-1 September 2019), curated by Emilia Philippot, which brings 103 works from Musée national Picasso-Paris to Beijing.
Philip Tinari has taken on many roles in the art world: he has mounted more than sixty exhibitions and organized a wide range of public programs and development initiatives. He has brought to China international figures including Robert Rauschenberg, Elmgreen & Dragset, Haegue Yang, William Kentridge, Taryn Simon, and Tino Sehgal, and has tracked China's evolving art scene through retrospectives and surveys of artists including Zhao Bandi, Zeng Fanzhi, Liu Wei, Xu Zhen, Wang Keping, Wang Xingwei, Kan Xuan, and Gu Dexin, as well as exhibitions focused on emerging artists such as The New Normal: Art, China, and 2017, ON | OFF: China's Young Artists in Concept and Practice (2013). In 2009, he launched LEAP, an internationally distributed, bilingual art magazine published by the Modern Media Group. He is a contributing editor of Artforum and was the founding editor of that magazine's online Chinese edition. He also serves on advisory boards including the Guggenheim Asian Art Council and the gallery committee at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.
Doors had the opportunity to sit with Philip Tinari before the opening of the Picasso. Birth of a Genius exhibition and ask him a few questions about the future of UCCA, Chinese contemporary art, and the influence of Picasso in China.
UCCA is presenting “Picasso. Birth of a Genius” this June. How do you feel about showing the works of one of the most important artists in art history in an establishment that is usually more centered on contemporary art?
Moving toward the modern is very much in keeping with UCCA’s mission of bringing great art to its public and creating connections between China and the wider world. This exhibition will only deepen our public’s appreciation for the more contemporary shows that are our more normal offering.
What expectations do you have concerning this exhibition? What feedback are you hoping to receive from it?
I have always believed that if we accept that China is a global presence and power, and as Beijing is its capital, exhibitions of this caliber and quality should be a regular occurrence. For many reasons, they are not. More than anything, I hope that the artistic renown of Picasso will attract audiences to UCCA who might not otherwise know they are interested in art, and that we can convert at least some of them into art lovers and repeat visitors.
The first Picasso exhibition in China was organized at NAMOC (National Art Museum of China) in 1983, and the exhibition at UCCA is the first in Beijing since then: How has the 1983 exhibition influenced local audiences? Why is it relevant to show Picasso at UCCA today?
It’s interesting that the 1983 exhibition is not as widely remembered as say that of, for example, Robert Rauschenberg just a few years later. In that early reform era, things were evolving quickly and certain leading artists were experimenting, but there was still not a real “public” for modern art. We are delighted that some of the works included in that initial show will be returning to Beijing more than 35 years later. The context today is much changed, with an audience that includes both sophisticated viewers who regularly travel abroad, and many more who will be encountering these works, and this type of exhibition, for the first time.
It’s important to note that this is not a “touring exhibition,” but rather a focused presentation from a great museum collection organized and curated specifically with the Chinese audience in mind. The curator, Emilia Philippot, is using a collection she knows so well to tell a story about how Picasso became Picasso. And this story is especially relevant in China today where so many people are thinking about the meaning and importance of creativity, vision, and innovation.
How has Picasso's work influenced Chinese artists?
Honestly, I think that Picasso’s innovations and contributions have affected the entire conversation around modern, and then contemporary, art worldwide. His specific influence on China is explored in an essay by Wu Xueshan that appears in the exhibition catalogue, but more than this I think what is key is how Picasso created a global conversation around modern art that all artists since have, directly or indirectly, been a part of.
You have been serving as director of UCCA Beijing since late 2011 but have been living, working in and with China prior to that. Since your earliest involvement with the art scene in China, what major changes have you witnessed?
The most notable change is how contemporary art has evolved from something practiced and discussed by a small circle of insiders into a cultural industry with its own institutions, media, markets, and other actors. I think the role of contemporary art in China is special—it becomes a place for the society to give form to its current joys and anxieties, and to discuss and envision its collective future. Without this evolution, UCCA and this exhibition would be unthinkable.