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17 April 2014

Asia: Europe's Art Lifeline 

European museums are increasingly looking to Asia to create cultural connections – and to tap new sources of funding.

Wealthy Asian art collectors have become a powerful segment of the European culture marketplace, helping to drive record auction prices for the works of impressionists and modernists. In addition, the largest American and European museums have been partnering with Asian museums, particularly in Hong Kong, to bring classic Western art to Asian aficionados.

Now smaller museums are joining the trend. Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, which attracts 1.5 million visitors a year, organized a touring exhibition that celebrated Europe’s most colorful Impressionist in museums across China.

The Hong Kong Science Museum hosted an exhibition from the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence. Dozens of similar exhibitions have opened in China, Hong Kong and other Asian locales. While the prime motive is to widen the audience for Western art, museums are also finding patrons among Asia’s economic elite.

Given the constraints on arts funding across Europe, Asia can be a lifeline. Even the Louvre in Paris has seen its public support cut in recent decades despite being one of the world’s most celebrated museums. Once funded entirely by the French government, the Louvre now draws more than half of its funding from elsewhere. When a recent fundraising drive fell €4 million short, the Louvre turned to wealthy patrons in Hong Kong to close the gap.

For those who appreciate fine culture, there’s far more happening here than just exhibitions attracting crowds and museums finding donors. Elite culture is becoming a bridge, bringing distant societies together and strengthening the ties between peoples.