A question of language

Each language possesses a certain way of communicating that goes beyond even words. To put it another way, there are means of self-expression that are widely practised, and others that are not.

Not to lose face

While France is known for a certain verbal violence, in China head-on opposition does not tend to be practised because one must never lose face with their interlocutor, even if they’re disliked.

Emmanuel Macron

It is this perilous exercise, consisting of talking about things without addressing them directly, that the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, touched upon on 5 November, the day he personally inaugurated the West Bund Centre Pompidou in Shanghai.


The subject of censorship even provided the key moment of his speech: “There will be works that will be more difficult than others to display. But there will be silences and circumventions, an art of evasion that shall allow us to move forward (…) The silence and reserve (of artists) tells us what is important to us. It is in the tension between these irreconcilable things that we find the strength of our dialogue to build something universal”.

5 years project

In this way he justified the skills that will have been necessary to steer this project, which consists of installing, for a limited time-span of five years, a Centre Pompidou in the commercial capital of the old Middle Kingdom.

The only foreign museum in China

After the inauguration of the Ullens Center (UCCA) in 2007 in Beijing by a Belgian collector, which is now in the hands of the Chinese, the West Bund Centre Pompidou is currently the only major foreign museum in the country.

“Made in France” museum projects

It is accompanied by a huge array of other “made in France” museum projects, such as the installation (the signing is underway) of a Rodin Museum in Shenzhen, the 798 Cube museum project in Beijing in collaboration with the Giacometti Foundation and the Picasso Museum in Paris, and also an exhibition entitled “China in Versailles” of 200 objects in the Forbidden City in collaboration with Louis XIV’s chateau.

Serge Lasvignes

The Centre Pompidou, run by Serge Lasvignes, has invested 5 years to arrive at this project in collaboration with the official authorities of Shanghai and the private company in charge of the development of the West Bund area.

Bernard Blistene

On the issues surrounding censorship in China, the director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Bernard Blistene  retorts that each country has its own kind of censorship and taboos. “We could also talk about what can’t be displayed these days in the United States”. He alludes to, among other things, the fact that in 2017 a monumental artwork containing a number of living insects created by the French artist of Chinese origin Huang Yong Ping, who died suddenly on 20 April 2019, wasn’t able to be displayed at the Guggenheim in New York following a movement started by an animal protection group (cf. the report 18 December 2017).

Watch the video to find out more:

A building lacking in grace

In Shanghai, the building – a triple cube originally designed without a specific destination by British architect David Chipperfield – is significantly lacking in grace.

Marcella Lista

Luckily, the curatorial project led by French art historian Marcella Lista, the head curator of the project, contains absolutely exceptional works which punctuate an account of the history of modern art followed by contemporary art with 145 works across three galleries, each measuring between 700 and 800m2, whose layout will change every 6 to 18 months. For this the institution is delving into its abundant collections, comprising around 120,000 items. Moma in New York is the only other institution in the world that can pride itself on the possession of a more extensive archive.

Breathtaking modern art

While China is showing itself to be very active in terms of exhibiting contemporary art, the programming in the field of creation from the early 20th century is, however, much less rich. See the success of the Picasso exhibition over the two summer months of 2019 at UCCA in Beijing, which attracted 350,000 visitors.

The modern and classical contemporary ensemble of works presented by Centre Pompidou at the West Bund museum is absolutely breathtaking.

Historical journey

Each one of the initial rooms of this historical journey in eleven parts contains many masterpieces. The space dedicated to the arrival of cubism and abstraction features big names from these major movements, from Kandinsky to Kupka via Mondrian and Klee.

Constantin Brancusi

Further on, the remarkable “Kiss” by Constantin Brancusi sculpted from stone in 1923-25 which, in a cubic form depicting two fused figures, was placed near the famous readymade of the “Bicycle Wheel” created by Marcel Duchamp in 1913 (and reproduced by him in 1964), and a very dreamlike picture by Joan Miro from 1924, “Bather”, which traces the figure of a water nymph in the substance of the paint against a midnight blue background.

A collection on a dialogue

“We want to show that the collection is founded on a dialogue with the world and that it integrates numerous artists from the diaspora. We can endlessly rewrite the history of modernity. There is no museum in China that covers this entire period,” explains Marcella Lista.

Watch the video to find out more:

Postwar abstraction

See the section dedicated to postwar gestural abstraction featuring not only the French master of black, Soulages, but also the Italian Lucio Fontana with his Concetto Spaziale in which the canvas is riddled with holes in 1960, along with the Chinese artist who emigrated to France in 1949, Zao Wou Ki.

Pollock and Richter

The Centre Pompidou possesses four paintings by American painter Jackson Pollock and one of his famous “drip paintings” has made the journey to West Bund, as have two of the six canvases from the collection by the worthy veteran of contemporary German painting, Gerhard Richter.

Budi Tek

After visiting the new institution, one of the early Chinese collectors of contemporary art, Budi Tek – he’s just announced a collaboration with Lacma in Los Angeles and Qatar Museums to ensure the longevity of his institution, the Yuz Museum in West Bund, accompanied by a gift of a major work by Ai Weiwei to Lacma – was particularly enthusiastic. “This project is important for China. You’ll be surprised to see how quickly the Chinese learn.”

Watch the video to find out more:

Adeline Ooi

Adeline Ooi, director of the Art Basel Hong Kong fair and a keen observer of the Asian art scene, reacted with even greater enthusiasm. “There are no comparable offerings in the whole of Asia. Japan tends to exhibit post-impressionist art. Chinese private collectors aren’t displaying an array of artworks like this. You’d have to go back to the exhibition of the Guggenheim collection in Singapore in 1996 to see a similar group of masterpieces in this part of the world. It’s not possible for everyone to go to Paris. We should point out that the ticket for entrance to the West Bund Centre Pompidou is still accessible at 70 RMB. It’s half the average price of entrance to private museums in Shanghai.”

Watch the video to find out more:

Philip Tinari

Lastly, the director of UCCA Philip Tinari- the museum has just announced the opening next year of a space in Shanghai- is, in his own words, impressed by the power of French cultural diplomacy.

Watch the video to find out more:


The West Bund Centre Pompidou is set to exert a strong pull on the whole of Asia over the next five years of its official existence. “This is the first stage of our work. I think we can say that the result is strong,” concludes Bernard Blistene.


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