It’s like entering a “time machine” Frank Guo says as he walks from PEM’s sleek, glass Atrium into Yin Yu Tang, the museum’s historic Chinese home.
A few weeks ago, Guo along with other staff from China’s Guanfu Museum, visited PEM to film a documentary about Shanghai’s global influence. The Guanfu Museum, one of China’s first private museums, is preparing to open a new branch inside the 128-story-high Shanghai Tower.
The film crew gathered in the Double Happiness: Celebration in Chinese Art exhibition gallery as Guo and PEM’s director, Dan Monroe, discussed the museum’s centuries-old connection to China. Monroe passionately explained how an exchange of art and culture is a powerful tool to help China and the U.S. move beyond “stereotypes and shallow perceptions.”
Fortuitously, our guests from the Guanfu Museum arrived just in time for PEM’s hugely popular Lunar New Year Festival, where Guo and his film crew captured Lion Dances amid the crush of eager spectators.
Our visitors also spent a significant amount of time touring the museum with Daisy Wang, PEM’s curator of Chinese and East Asian art, who shared select objects from the collection.
This included vintage ladies’ garments, such as a blue silk dress that would have been purchased at a Shanghai department store in the 1930s. The dress came with its own connection between East and West with a Western style lace-lined slip:
Of particular interest were selections from PEM’s photography collection, including the largest and most important American museum collection of 19th-century photographs of China. Through the lenses of photographers from around the world, these black-and-white images and panoramic views of a growing Shanghai offer insight into China and its people during a period of dramatic change.
Shanghai has, of course, grown and changed beyond recognition from these early photos. Shanghai Tower, where the new Guanfu Museum will be located, is ranked among the top three tallest buildings in the world.
Just a few months prior, PEM’s Chief Marketing Director Jay Finney spent time with the Guanfu Museum staff on their own turf. Some reports have said that a new museum is built every day in China. The race to build new museums in China is keeping pace with the staggering growth of the art world there in general. Both are reported as evidence “that the government has identified art and culture as a pillar to buttress China’s national identity and position as a world superpower.” Chinese museum professionals often feel a special kinship to PEM, in part, Finney says, because our ties to China go all the way back to the museum’s founding in 1799.