There has been a veritable boom in the number of Asian museums over the past ten to 15 years. Here, in one handy guide, is our pick of the private foundations, state museums and small non-profits, both new and old.
Our list is not exhaustive but we hope it provides a useful overview of the most important or innovative Modern and Contemporary art institutions. Click the following links to jump to the regions: Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.
The flagship project of the $3bn West Kowloon Cultural District, M+, has been highly anticipated since the concept for the museum was first announced in 2005. M+ has the potential to transform museums in the region. Scheduled to open next year, it will be housed in an enormous building designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, overlooking Victoria Harbor. The museum has been buying actively across disciplines and now owns around 6,000 objects. The collection was buoyed in 2012 by the donation of 1,510 works from Swiss collector Uli Sigg, then thought to be the largest private collector of Chinese art in the world. The M+ Sigg Collection comprises work by 325 artists dating from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), to works by the No Name Group (mid-1970s) and the Star Group (late 1970s), precursors of the Chinese Contemporary art movement which began in 1979.
Yet to open, Tai Kwun will be Hong Kong’s center for heritage and arts. Born out of a partnership between the Government of the Hong Kong Administrative Region and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the project involves the restoration of the Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Two new structures are being built, designed by internationally renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. The center, which is expected to open next year, will ultimately stage six to eight curated exhibitions a year along with public programs, a multi-disciplinary residency program with five studios open to local and international artists, and an extensive education program.
Hong Kong Museum of Art
Tasked with the preservation of Chinese cultural heritage, the museum is managed by Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Currently closed for refurbishment, the museum is scheduled to reopen its collection of more than 16,000 objects—from Chinese paintings and calligraphy works to antique Chinese treasures—next year.
Founded as an artist-run space in 1996, a year before Hong Kong was handed back from the UK to become a Special Administrative Region, this independent institution has long played a pivotal role in shaping the development of Contemporary art in the region. Para Site has a reputation for staging edgy exhibitions of work by local and international artists, often exploring geopolitics.
Asia Art Archive
Founded in 2000 by Claire Hsu and Johnson Chang, who also founded the Hanzart TZ Gallery, the Asia Art Archive has grown into an important Contemporary art powerhouse documenting the recent history of art across Asia. An independent non-profit organization, it now has a vast collection including essays, exhibition catalogues, books, periodicals and ephemera.
Founded as an artist-run collective in 1986, Videotage is dedicated to the collection and promotion of new media art in the region. Its exhibitions and cultural programs regularly bring together artists, scientists, academics and technology professionals. In recent years Videotage has integrated concepts commonly found in the start-up world such as its open source, multi-disciplinary festival Wikitopia, founded in 2010. Its Videotage Media Art Collection comprises video works and moving images as well as documentary materials relating to the development of media art, current affairs and social movements over the past 20 years.
The Centre for Heritage Arts & Textile, managed by the MILL6 Foundation, is part of The Mills, the largest privately-run heritage conservation project Hong Kong has ever seen. It is backed by the D.H. Chen Foundation and property developer Nan Fung Group. Scheduled to open next spring, Chat is housed in disused cotton-spinning mills in the city’s former industrial district, Tsuen Wan. Fittingly, the program will revolve around weaving textiles.
Founded by the Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector Budi Tek, the Yuz Museum is a non-profit organization under the umbrella of the Yuz Foundation, located on the West Bund in Xuhui District. The 9,000 sq. m museum, which was once an aircraft hangar, has staged ambitious exhibitions of international Contemporary artists including Yang Fudong, Huang Yuxing, Liu Shiyuan, Random International, Andy Warhol and Alberto Giacometti since its opening in May 2014.
The Yuz Collection of art from the East and West, comprises some of the most significant examples of Chinese Contemporary art to be found anywhere in the world. It is particularly focused on art made between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. The Western art holdings range from large-scale installations to German postwar paintings as well as work by young artists interested in public engagement. The collection reflects Tek’s belief that art is more important as a sensory experience than as a simple object.
Tek is seeking to turn the Yuz Museum into a fully-fledged public institution run by a board of trustees. Currently, Chinese law makes a clear distinction between public museums supervised by the state and private museums run by individuals or companies, so there is little scope for private museums to succeed their founders—which Tek is attempting to change.
Rockbund Art Museum
The museum was founded in 2010 as part of the Rockbund Urban Renaissance project to revitalize and redevelop 11 historical buildings in downtown Shanghai, at the triangle where Suzhou Creek flows into the Huangpu River, an area known as Waitanyuan. The project is being managed by the Shanghai Bund de Rockefeller Group Master Development Company for the Chinese property company Sinolink Worldwide Holdings.
An international advisory committee comprised of renowned curators and experts helped put the museum on the map, and its Art Deco building (built for Britain’s Royal Asiatic Society in 1932) was brought to new life by architect David Chipperfield’s renovation of its interior.
The Contemporary art institution has been playing a pivotal role in shaping Shanghai as the art capital of China, with solo presentations of work by leading Chinese and international artists, including Cao Guo-Qiang, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Huan, Song Dong, as well as Philippe Parreno, Félix González-Torres and Mark Bradford. The museum runs vibrant educational and research programs and has presented the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award for Emerging Asian Artists since 2013.
Founded by the collectors Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, the Long Museum is a vast private museum occupying two spaces in Shanghai, one in Pudong and one on the West Bund. The collection comprises traditional, Modern and Contemporary Chinese art, as well as Contemporary art from elsewhere in Asia and Europe. Its exhibitions draw from the collection as well as other institutions, focusing on the contrasts between Eastern and Western art, between ancient and Modern.
Power Station of Art
The Power Station has quickly established itself as a local cultural landmark since opening in 2012. It is the first state-run Contemporary art museum in mainland China and is also home to the Shanghai Biennale. The museum is housed in a former power station located by the Huangpu River in Nanshi (which was also the Pavilion of the Future in the 2010 World Expo). It opened with a bang, showing work from the Centre Pompidou’s collection, and has continued with a vigorous exhibition program, including solo presentations of important Chinese artists, such as Yu Youhan and Li Shan, or shows in collaboration with other institutions, such as the retrospective “Datong Dazhang” (2015-16), which was organized with the Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art. It has also staged architectural exhibitions of the work of Toyo Ito, Renzo Piano, Sou Fujimoto and designer Thomas Heatherwick.
Established by the chairman Zhang Guiping of Suning Universal—a property and hotel business—this museum opened last November, following three years of construction. A private museum, its collection includes thousands of antique works dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) as well as Modern art.
Founded in 1952 and originally housed in the former Shanghai Racecourse Club, the Shanghai Museum has been located in People’s Square since 1996. It features a collection of more than 120,000 pieces of ancient Chinese art including bronzes, sculpture, ceramics, jade carvings, paintings and calligraphy.
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art
Founded in 2007 by the collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens, UCCA was sold last year to a group of Chinese investors, including advertising billionaire Jason Jiang. The non-profit center is located in Beijing’s 798 Art District. Since its inaugural exhibition, “’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art”, UCCA has staged a focused series of shows of Chinese contemporary art, including “Breaking Forecast: 8 Key Figures of China’s New Generation Artists” (2009-10), “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” (2013), as well as solo presentations of Chinese artists including Liu Xiaodong, Wang Jianwei and Wang Xingwei. It has also introduced local audiences to work by international artists, with exhibitions dedicated to Olafur Eliasson, Tino Sehgal and Tatsuo Miyajima, among others.
Today Art Museum
Founded by Zhang Baoquan, the CEO of the Jindian Group property company, in 2002, the Today Art Museum is a private, non-profit organization that aims to promote Contemporary Chinese art.
Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art
Compared with Beijing and Shanghai, the arts scene in Guangzhou is a little more under the radar, despite its long history of art production. Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art is a young institution located in the Guangzhou Redtory Art and Design Factory District, formerly an industrial area by the Pearl River. With more than 4,000 sq. m of exhibition space divided among six exhibition halls, it has been hosting exhibitions which are more avant-garde and edgy than the blockbuster names often seen at more established institutions in Shanghai and Beijing. Last year’s “Time Test: International Video Art Research Exhibition” was a large-scale, research-based show which presented an historical overview of video art made in the West and East from different periods. RMAC runs a diverse public program comprised of talks, screenings, performances and concerts which attract large crowds of young people.
Guangdong Times Museum
The location of the Times Museum in Guangzhou is an intervention in itself: its exhibition space occupies the 19th floor of what otherwise looks like an ordinary residential building, with a lecture room and offices on the ground and 14th floors. The museum has earned praise from artists for its dynamic curatorial approach, bringing interdisciplinary artistic practices together with research-based thematic exhibitions. The museum, which opened in 2010, also functions as a research center and think-tank, and runs residency programs which allow arts and cultural practitioners to produce site-specific works.
OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) is a group of museums founded in 2005, located in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Shenzhen (the latter serves as the headquarters of the state-owned enterprise OCT Group, which has businesses in tourism, cultural industries and real estate). The institution runs an array of dynamic exhibition and public programs that put Contemporary art in a global context. For example, a large-scale group exhibition “Digging a Hole in China” (2016) explored the differences between the concept of Land Art, as understood in both a Western art historical context and in modern-day China. The organization also has its own collection of Contemporary art, primarily by artists from mainland China.
Arario Museum, Seoul
With low ceilings and maze-like corridors, the Arario Museum houses the Contemporary collection of the Korean entrepreneur Kim Chang-Il. Originally an office building constructed in 1971, the building was transformed into a museum in 2014 and now regularly displays works by artists including Nam June Paik, Hyung Koo Kang, Lee Ufan, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Art Sonje Center, Seoul
Art Sonje Center is a Contemporary art museum located in the old district of Seoul. Since it opened in 1998 it has acted as a bridge between Korea and international art scenes, arranging for foreign exchanges for local artists and showing international art. The center has a reputation for challenging and thought-provoking programs.
Ilmin Museum of Art, Seoul
This private art museum is located in the heart of Seoul within the former headquarters of a leading Korean newspaper, Dong-A Ilbo. The museum, which was founded in 1996, is run by a non-profit organization named after the pen name of Kim Sang-Man, the newspaper’s former president. The museum is also home to South Korea’s only documentary archive, which has a collection of more than 400 films and video art by artists from South Korea and the rest of the world.
Daelim Museum, Seoul
The Daelim Museum began as Korea’s first photography museum but has grown into an institution which also showcases design and Contemporary art. It is located in Tongui-dong, a residential area near the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace. In 2015, a new branch called D-Museum was opened in Hannam-dong.
Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul
Established in 2004, the Leeum comprises two parts of the museum, housing traditional Korean art and Contemporary art. Museum 1 was designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta; Museum 2 designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel; and the Samsung Child Education & Culture Center by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
Asia Culture Center, Gwangju
Located in Gwangju, this center is a relatively young, state-affiliated institution that aims to promote Asian culture through exchange, research and education. It opened to the public in 2015 and has a diverse year-round program at its various buildings. Its Arts & Creative Technology Centre runs labs, studios and residency programs, for which it provides state-of-art equipment. It also facilitates the creation and distribution of art, including the production of the acclaimed theater piece Ten Thousand Tigers (2014) by the Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen.
Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo
Opened last year, the Yayoi Kusama Museum was founded by the eponymous avant-garde artist and run by her foundation. The museum’s collection of Kusama’s works is presented in two exhibitions each year, together with lectures and various other events. The museum promotes Kusama’s own ethos of love for humanity and world peace.
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
Having no permanent collection, Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum focuses on temporary exhibitions. In both small-scale solo and larger group shows, the museum exhibits art by Contemporary—primarily Asian—artists and covers a variety of genres, including: fashion, architecture, design, photography and video. It is on the 53rd floor of a 54-story tower developed by the museum’s founder, real-estate mogul Minoru Mori, who died in 2012.
Arts Initiative Tokyo, Tokyo
Six curators and art producers established this non-profit organization in Tokyo in 2001. It manages an independent Contemporary art school, MAD (Making Art Different), focusing on curatorial studies, art and communication. AIT does not have a space to host exhibitions but often collaborates with other institutions to organize exhibitions.
Benesse Art Site Naoshima, Seto Inland Sea
An ensemble of museums and art projects spreading across three islands—Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima—which lie in the Seto Inland Sea, Benesse Art Site Naoshima was initially intended to revive deserted islands which had been polluted by illegal waste dumping during the post-war economic boom. Backed by the publishing and correspondence course company Benesse Holdings Inc, and the foundation started by its former chairman Soichiro Fukutake, the project was conceived in the mid-1980s by Soichiro’s father Tetsuhiko—who founded Benesse—and the mayor of Naoshima, Chikatsugu Miyake.
The first building to open was Benesse House, designed by Tadao Ando, which houses a hotel and the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum— now called the Benesse House Museum. During the 1990s there was a focus mostly on outdoor site-specific works, including 1998’s “State of the Art” project, where artists converted existing buildings into works of art. The Chichu Art Museum, which houses James Turrell’s light installation Open Sky (2004), opened in 2004 followed by the Lee Ufan Museum, dedicated to the Korean master, in 2010. Both were designed by Ando, whose buildings have become as celebrated as the art they contain.
The project has since spread to Inujima and Teshima. The Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, containing only works by Yanagi Yukinori, opened in 2008. This was followed by the Teshima Art Museum in 2010. Designed by Ryue Nishizawa, co-founder of the Pritzker Prize-winning firm SANAA, it houses only one work of art, Matrix (2010) by Rei Naito, a room formed of curved concrete walls with an aperture which opens to the sky.
Since 2010 the Setouchi Triennale, also known as the Setouchi International Art Festival, has taken place on the islands every three years.
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, Sakura
Located in Sakura, Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art grew from the collection of Katsumi Kawamura, the former president of the Japanese ink and resin manufacturer, DIC Corporation. Kawamura began collecting in the 1970s, focusing on Japanese art as well as amassing an expansive array of works by Western artists. The museum now owns more than 1,000 works of art, including seven of Mark Rothko’s “Seagram Murals” series, which were created by the artist in 1958 (the other nine are in Tate Modern in London). Distinct in both format and scale from Rothko’s earlier works, these seven paintings all hang in the same room, as the artist intended.
Gallery Soap, Kitakyushu
Founded in 1997 in a former cake factory in Kitakyushu, Gallery Soap is an artist-run space that stages solo and group exhibitions of local and international artists such as Peter Halley, Takuji Kogo and Noritoshi Hirakawa.
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei
One of the largest Contemporary museums in Asia, this institution has staged and hosted international exhibitions since opening in 1983. It has been the site of the Taipei Biennial since its inauguration in 1992 and since 1995 has organized the unofficial Taiwan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
National Palace Museum, Taipei
Formed largely from the collections of Chinese emperors, the National Palace Museum has more than 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial art and artifacts, including the famed Jadeite Cabbage carving from the 19th century. The museum also owns a vast number of paintings dating from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Modern era. Originally established in 1925 in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the collection has been shipped and stored in various locations during the decades that followed. It is now housed in Taiwan. It launched the Grand Palace Museum Project in 2011, aiming to both grow its exhibition space in Taipei and improve the city’s environment.
Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (MOCA Taipei), Taipei
The country’s first museum dedicated exclusively to Contemporary art, MOCA Taipei is housed in a former elementary school that became an iconic government building before its 2001 reincarnation as an art museum. The exhibition program showcases contemporary Taiwanese and international art. The institution is managed and operated by the Contemporary Art Foundation, a civil organization founded by entrepreneurs and commissioned by the government.
Taipei Contemporary Art Center, Taipei
Founded in 2010 by artists and cultural practitioners, this art space, which receives support from the local government, aims to showcase Contemporary art and promote critical discourse. So far it has held more than 400 events including forums, workshops and performances.
TheCube Project Space, Taipei
TheCube Project Space is an independent art space founded by curator Amy Cheng and music critic Jeph Lo which aims to promote the in-depth study of local culture while facilitating exchanges across different disciplines, both locally and abroad. The space receives support from local government.
National Gallery Singapore
Singapore’s ambitions to become the cultural hub of Southeast Asia are exemplified by the National Gallery, which opened its doors in 2015 after ten years of planning and construction. The massive institution is housed in the refurbished City Hall and former Supreme Court, symbolic landmarks of Singapore’s history. Since opening, the museum has staged major exhibitions in collaboration with world-leading institutions such as the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d’Orsay. It also has an important collection of ink paintings by late Chinese modern master Wu Guanzhong.
The Singapore Art Museum
Opened in 1996 in a restored 19th-century mission school building, the Singapore Art Museum was the country’s first art museum. Situated in the heart of Singapore’s arts and culture district, it has since become focused exclusively on Contemporary art, while its close neighbor the National Gallery Singapore oversees the largest public collection of Modern art in Singapore and South-East Asia. SAM has built a significant collection of South-East Asian Contemporary art, as well as focusing increasingly on international Contemporary art in recent years. It regularly collaborates with other institutions and also organized the Singapore Biennale in 2011, 2013 and 2016.
MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum
The first Contemporary art museum in Thailand, MAIIAM is a young, private museum located in Chiang Mai. Located in a former warehouse, it was founded by expatriate Parisian art and antiques dealer Jean-Michel Beurdeley, his late wife Patsri Bunnag and their son Eric Bunnag Booth. Their collection includes works by artists who have lived or worked in Thailand, such as Montien Boonma. Since opening in 2016 the museum has staged a number of temporary exhibitions addressing geopolitical issues.
The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre
Founded in 2016 by the artist Ti-a, this center positions itself as a “factory” of critical ideas promoting Contemporary art in local communities which are more accustomed to traditional arts and crafts. Located in Ho Chi Minh City, it is built from shipping containers and runs a series of multi-disciplinary programs, from curated exhibitions and workshops to talks, screenings and performances.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN)
Macan is the country’s first museum of Modern and Contemporary art, which opened in Jakarta in November 2017. The museum was founded by the Indonesian philanthropist and art collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo, and its inaugural exhibition “Art Turns. World Turns: Exploring the Collection of the Museum MACAN” showcased works of art by international and homegrown masters such as FX Harsono, Heri Dono, Kusama Affandi, and Raden Salèh Sarief Bustaman. The museum is also developing an education program.
Galeri Nasional Indonesia
Located in Jakarta, the Galeri Nasional Indonesia (National Gallery of Indonesia) was established in May 1999. It houses almost 2,000 works of art by both Indonesian and foreign artists, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Pierre Soulages and Zao Wou-Ki. In addition to the preservation and display of the works in its collection, the gallery has also mounted a series of successful landmark temporary exhibitions in recent years in a special building dedicated to rotating displays.
Ilham is a public art gallery committed to supporting the development and understanding and enjoyment of Malaysian Modern and Contemporary art. As well as exhibitions, the gallery’s program extends to music performances, academic talks and film screenings.
The Ayala Museum
Run privately by the Ayala Foundation, this museum stages exhibitions and runs programs on design, Contemporary art, music and history and owns a collection of archeological artifacts, textiles and ceramics.
Bellas Artes Outpost
Bellas Artes Outpost opened in the heart of Manila in 2017 as a satellite venue of Bellas Arts Projects, a not-for-profit foundation based in Bataan which supports the development of Contemporary artists. The outpost is a non-collecting, non-selling exhibition space which aims to foster a discourse between Filipino and international artists.
Pintô Art Museum
Housed in Mission-style buildings and set amidst lush hillsides an hour from the center of Manila, the Pintô Art Museum houses the collection of Dr. Joven Cuanang, the former director of Manila’s private St Luke’s Medical Center. The collection includes paintings, sculptures and installations by Filipino artists.