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China’s first contemporary photography museum is putting local artists in focus

Launched in December, the Lianzhou Museum of Photography (LMP) is designed by Chinese firm O-office Architects. Photography: Chaos Z. Courtesy of O-Office.

One might expect a striking new art museum to pop up in Beijing or Shanghai – but not a small mountain city in northern China. The Lianzhou Museum of Photography (LMP), which opened in December, offers a window into the world of contemporary Chinese photography beyond the blockbuster names of Ai Weiwei and the late Ren Hang.

It all started in 2005, when museum director Duan Yuting first formed the Lianzhou Foto Festival. ‘From the early years of the photography festival, scholars, experts and curators from the photography, art and intellectual communities advocated the establishment of a photography archive in Lianzhou,’ explains Yuting of the initiative, which has grown exponentially over the past 13 years. ‘The original intention was that, in addition to presenting photographs at the festival, we should build an archive.’

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Qilian Range – 11, 2015, by Zhuang Hui

Designed by Chinese firm O-office Architects, the new museum launched with four solo exhibitions, including two focused on Chinese artists. Beijing photographer Zhuang Hui, a key figure in China’s New Photo movement in the 1990s, is presenting a series of landscapes and portraits. Elsewhere, there’s an intriguing display by Zhang Hai’er, whose Bad Girls portrait series subverts mainstream notions of sexuality; the Guangzhou-born artist rose to prominence in the 1980s for his experimental shooting style.

The museum also features exhibitions by New York-based Scottish photographer Albert Watson, who has captured fashion and celebrities since the 1970s – among them Steve Jobs, Kate Moss and David Bowie (a rare image from 1996 is worth a detour). French photographer Baptiste Rabichon, meanwhile, is exhibiting photo-collages of lilacs and roses alongside mysterious silhouettes.

Lianzhou Museum of Photography. Photography: Chaos Z. Courtesy of O-Office

The Lianzhou Foto Festival has previously featured California photographer Reagan Louie, who has shot extensively in Asia; Canadian conceptual artist Suzy Lake; Beijing-based Chen Wei, who documents steamy nightclubs; and Los Angeles artist Amalia Ulman, renowned for her Instagram self-portraits exploring role-playing in digital art and social media. The festival’s roster is certainly a promising sign of good things to come for the museum.

The goal of LMP is not only to draw tourists but pay homage to the locals. ‘Photography may help Lianzhou once again, giving a considerable boost to its economic and urban development,’ says Yuting. ‘We are certain that photography will take root and flourish in this beautiful city.’

The design concept is rooted in the urban context of old Lianzhou. Photography: Chaos Z. Courtesy of O-Office

Installation view of Baptiste Rabichon’s floral photo-collages. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

Qilian Range, 2014, by Zhuang Hui

The main exhibition hall. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

Installation view of Zhang Hai’er’s Bad Girls portrait series. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

Tang Cuiying, Guangzhou, 1994, by Zhang Hai’er

The inaugurating exhibitions feature a mix of local and international artists. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

Inspired by the ‘large Lianzhou-style houses’ in the old city, three continuous sloped planes cover the building. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

The architects used several locally-produced materials unique to the area, including dark gravel, steel plate, light brick walls, and green tiles. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

The museum is located on Zhongshan Nan Road in Lianzhou’s old city, linking Zhongshan Bei Road, Jianguo Road, and Chenghuang Road. Photography: Chen Xiaotie. Courtesy of Lianzhou Museum of Photography

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