Steven Holl Architects celebrates the opening of the Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing

The Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing, China opened on November 2nd with its inaugural exhibition, “The Garden of Diversion.” The 30,000sf museum is sited at the gateway to the Chinese International Practical Exhibition of Architecture (CIPEA), which brings together the work of 24 Chinese and international designers.

The museum explores the shifting viewpoints, layers of space, and expanses of mist and water, which characterize the deep alternating spatial mysteries of the composition of Chinese painting. Steven Holl Architects’ first project in China, the museum is formed by a “field” of parallel perspective spaces and garden walls in black bamboo-formed concrete over which a light “figure” hovers. The straight passages on the ground level gradually turn into the winding passage of the gallery above. Suspended high in the air, the upper gallery unwraps in a clockwise turning sequence and culminates at “in-position” viewing of the city of Nanjing in the distance. This visual axis creates a link back to the great Ming Dynasty capital city.

The courtyard is paved in recycled Old Hutong bricks from the destroyed courtyards in the center of Nanjing. Limiting the colors of the museum to black and white connects it to the ancient paintings, but also gives a background to feature the colors and textures of the artwork and architecture exhibited within. Bamboo, previously growing on the site, has been used in bamboo-formed concrete, with a black penetrating stain. The Museum has geothermal cooling and heating, and recycled storm water.

The opening exhibition at the Sifang Art Museum re-considers the utopian tradition of philosophical gardens in China. Within this evinced context the exhibition connects a variety of subject matter, such as the meaning of monuments and folly gardens, or the body, hedonism and experience economy.

The exhibition, curated by Philippe Pirotte, includes works made especially for the occasion by acclaimed international artists such as He An, Gabriel Lester and MadeIn Company / Xu Zhen, and emerging Nanjing-based artist Li Jingxiong. Next to these site-specific works, the exhibition features works on loan and from the permanent collection of the Sifang Art Museum by important international artists like Olafur Eliasson, Liang Wei, Yutaka Sone, Danh Vo, Duan Jianyu, Marlene Dumas, Kan Xuan, Anselm Kiefer, Mao Yan, Lucy Raven, Luc Tuymans, Yang Fudong, Zhang Enli, Zhou Chunya, and Zhang Peili.