This year at Cannes, China’s internet celebrities made global headlines when they created traffic jams on the red carpet, refusing to leave the spotlight. These influencers or “key opinion leaders” (KOLS) are known as “wanghong”—“wang” meaning net and “hong” meaning “popular” or “trendy.” But however comical we may find this display of internet-powered narcissism, we cannot ignore the increasingly intimate relationship between the attention economy and cultural consumption and most importantly also the artforms which have evolved to serve this relationship. The increasing importance of internet celebrities and social media marketing has changed the direction of exhibition-making, which is trending towards Instagrammable content over artifacts and education.
Across the globe, we are seeing this trend play out, both the choice of touring exhibitions in fixed institutions but also in the uptick in “pop-up” exhibitions held in independent spaces referred to as “wanghongzhan” “internet celebrity exhibitions” in China. Though in the West, there is still much hand-wringing over the “spectacularisation” of the museum, and its impact on the museum experience, China seems to have less angst over this issue given the practical-minded approaches of private museum directors, cut off from state funding. These directors also rightly recognize the unadulterated delight of visitors and the sharing of “such delight” can act as important tools of audience development. They also recognize that this seductive “eye-candy” can exist alongside more serious forms of culture and act as the “honey” which draws viewers to the more challenging shows.
In this article, I will address both the stand-alone pop-up initiated by separate entertainment companies and the experiential exhibitions hosted by institutions, given that, in the case of China, the development of these two forms is deeply intertwined. I will lay out some of the history, controversies, challenges and, at the same time, attempt to provide a profile of some of the key actors and the content they have presented so as to provide UK stakeholders with a sense of how and where to enter the market.
Eye-Popping Good Fun: Kusama and her Children
The “Kusama effect”—the rise of the spectacular exhibition—began to truly catch hold in 2013, propelled by Kusama’s blockbuster exhibition at Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA)—a small private museum in People’s Park, which was often struggling for funds and recognition. However, during the few months of “I Dreamed a Dream,” the Museum’s space was jammed with visitors, with queues snaking out into the park, all lining up for a glimpse of the be-speckled exhibition hall. The art community complained about the lack of academic context, noting the omission of her early performance work in New York; and some remained smugly on the sidelines feeling superior about not participating in this populist, and brightly colored “temple fair,” but despite the feelings of the cultural elite, Kusama’s work spread like a pox around the country (as it has around the world), marking the beginning of a roaring trade in experiential exhibitions both in contemporary art museums and shopping malls in China—both venues desperate to increase footfall.
Forgeries and Imitators: Demand for Experiential Exhibitions Spawns a Market for Fakes
Such was the popularity of these colorful, experiential exhibitions that they began to proliferate everywhere in both legal and unauthorized form. In 2018, a dual exhibition of Yayoi Kusama and Takeshi Murakami began making the rounds, travelling to Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Shanghai, Tianjin, Qingdao, Changsha, Xinjiang, Zibo, Chongqing, and Suzhou. Qingdao Dangdang Trading Company and Micro-Oxygenation Art (Mo2Art), the two companies responsible for the unauthorized exhibition, had recreated many of the artists’ works and installations and even included interpretive text, images and signatures of the artists to lend an aura of authenticity. The project, however, was not terribly-well executed and many online commentators online were able to easily spot the fakes. An attorney for the Yayoi Kusama Foundation went to investigate and the exhibitions were subsequently shut down. 
Prior to this, Random International became the victim of IP theft, “It’s Raining Rain Rooms in China,” as The Art Newspaper reported in 2017, remarking that there were roughly 8-10 unauthorized copies of the Rain Room installation in China including the “Rain Zone” at the Dream Park amusement park Shanghai; many of them were produced by Binghuan Entertainment Company, which was renting them out as attractions to various venues.
There were, however, some less bold imitators, those who did not use the artist’s names but created exhibitions based on Kusama’s “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity,” mirror rooms. Bearing a more than a coincidental resemblance to Kusama’s work were: “Northern Europe and Starry Sky” in Beijing, “Van Gough’s Star Art Exhibition” in Chongqing, Shanghai Bund Starry Sky Optical Illusion Gallery, in 2019 and the Museum of Lost Love in Beijing in 2019. (Note this museum was based on the concept of the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, which actually toured a branded show to Shanghai in 2018, the Beijing version was not affiliated to the Zagreb museum, but featured a mirror room added in for good measure even though this had little connection to the concept.)
Generative and Spectacular: The Success of TeamLab
China has a seemingly endless market for the spectacular if the success of TeamLab is any measure. The Japanese multimedia collective producing psychedelic, generative installations—swirling with floral motifs—blew into China like a warm-front from the East in 2007, which has been more or less parked over the country raining sunflowers, leaves, and waterfalls across its various art spaces over the past 12 years. The collective has staged close to 40 exhibitions in both art institutions such as UCCA, Pace, Tank Shanghai, M+ and as well as a series of pop-ups in malls and parks. Though the main markets in the first-tier cities have been quite saturated, there may still be room within second and third-tier cities, or for similar kinds of installations within first-tier cities which provide an equally-absorbing digital experience but with more narrative structure and theme.
Spectacle and Audience Development
For the institutions staging these events, exhibitions must be at once spectacular but also possess some academic value; the How Museum in Shanghai has discovered this sweet spot, between Instagrammable content and serious exhibitions, and is using it as an audience development strategy. Given its location near the Middle Ring Road in Pudong and it’s relative youth as an institution, in a crowded city with over 10 contemporary art museums, it has to fight much harder than other museums to attract the visiting public. In 2018, the Museum made the clever choice of staging a Leandro Erlich Exhibition (Erlich had shown recently at the West Bund Art and Design Fair), attracting a pilgrimage of visitors who came to see and be seen. Erlich is not a mere constructor of selfie-backdrops, but a respected artist and the exhibition’s legitimacy was helped by the support of Continua Gallery with locations in Beijing and Italy. At the same time, Erlich’s compelling illusions—for instance, a re-creation of the clock tower of the former Shanghai Art Museum where visitors can pose on the clock face—closely resemble the forms found in pop-up exhibitions such as the “Museum of Ice Cream,” opened in Manhattan in 2016. One visitor to the museum mentioned that it was a kind of “two-for-one” deal attracting visitors with the Erlich exhibition, who with the same admission ticket could also take in the well-curated, yet academic exhibition of Joseph Beuys. In this way, the museum achieves some goals in terms of audience development bringing in new kinds of visitors than those who would normally be attracted to the Beuys exhibition, those who might be pleasantly surprised by the Beuys show. Other exhibitions such as that of Quayola, who uses robots to carve out semi-pixelated versions of 16th-century masterpieces and Daniel Arsham, with his room-sized installations which distort time and space, also help to attract new audiences—with their strong Instagrammability. But How Museum is certainly not the only museum to employ this eye-candy strategy; Long Museum (West Bund Location) staged two spectacular exhibitions of James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson, and Yuz Museum hosted the Rain Room—in fact, it is a strategy being rolled out around the globe. UK stakeholders should take note as there are certainly more artists in the UK capable of producing the same kinds of sensational visual effects, who haven’t yet had exposure in China. Though the market for Rain Room, Kusama and Murakami are beginning to mature, audiences will soon be looking for the next new trend.
Pop Culture and Brand Power
Beyond the realm of contemporary art, there are other opportunities for exhibitions which cater to a non-art demographic, for instance, the Paul Smith Exhibition by the Design Museum in London which has been touring China since 2017, is part of the greater trend of fashion pop-up art spaces, but one which brings more than just experience and bling, but context, interpretation and artefacts, which makes it more difficult to replicate. The exhibition is framed around Smith’s creative rise to fame and features a wall of flats-screens featuring a dizzying array of fashion images (nicknamed the Paracetamol room for its headache-inducing potential), over 70,000 buttons, recreations of Smith’s various studios and a charming monochrome 3-dimensional “sketch” of the first room where he held his inaugural fashion show—unattended by one lone visitor. Paul Smith rides on the popularity of fashion exhibitions in the past, for instance, exhibitions of Vivian Westwood, Chanel, and others, but the exhibition is less experiential than it is information-driven, in contrast to the average fashion pop-up (Chanel Mademoiselle Privé, Swarovski’s infinite brilliance) fashion/selfie backdrop found in shopping malls. Despite its lack of jaw-dropping backgrounds, Paul Smith manages to inspire with a compelling story, that of the underdog designer who became a global name. Such storytelling is seldom found in homegrown exhibitions, and in this realm, the UK and its exhibition makers have a strong competitive advantage.
Understanding the Potential for Pop-ups and Experiential Exhibitions
Just the other day, one of my contacts in China asked me for recommendations of interesting experiential exhibitions revolving around children and music, and last year when I was on a trip to Beijing, I met a young lady, a so-called “post-90s generation” working in a museum planning and exhibition design company who wanted my advice on doing a pop-up. She was absolutely frantic to realize this project within the next two months. At the time she had produced a kind of vague storyboard centering around a somewhat wishy-washy theme. But when her colleagues tried to dissuade her to say, “Let’s take some time to think this over,” she cried, “There are so many companies doing this already. If we don’t get into the market now there is no way we can get a footing!” By the end of the day she had already secured a designer who agreed to work over the national holiday in order to complete the task. As we can see the market for pop-ups and experiential exhibitions is already in full swing, powered by new demographic shifts and a focus on the millennial dollar. The way I see it, it was a long time coming. There has long been a gap in the market between the stern, object-driven exhibitions of the state-run museums, the austere, overly academic exhibitions of contemporary art museums and the desires of the public.
Museums in China, both state and private museums are still catering to an elite audience— people who are interested in physical artifacts, history, and culture, who like to show off their cultural knowledge. But this focus means that they are ignoring the less committed cultural consumer, either those who have grown bored of overly-academic contemporary art exhibitions, dusty antiquities shows or those who seek to be entertained, to be told stories, to escape, to enjoy unique sensory experiences, to broadcast their exploits to social media. In her excellent TED talk, Museums thought leader and advocate of the participatory museum, Nina Simon shares an anecdote of a contemporary art curator in America who said they would be horrified to see the museum filled with Sunday hobby painters, but Simon argues that this is exactly the demographic the museum should be targeting.
Re-evaluating Audience Demands
A survey from the US-based consultancy, LaPlaca Cohen found that for American museum-goers, the top ten motivating factors were: 1. Having Fun 2. Interest in the Content. 3. Experiencing New Things. 4. Feeling Less Stressed 5. Learning Something New. 6. Interacting with Others 7. Feeling Transported. 8. Feeling Welcome 9. Gives Life a Deeper Meaning. 10. Connecting to My Community. We should note that only two of these factors pertained to learning. If the success of these pop-ups is any indication, audiences in China may be motivated by some of the same factors as their American counterparts. Another report by UK consulting firm BOP emphasises the transition from exhibition to experience quoting Shanghai Museum assistant director Mr Li Zhongmou , “. . . Chinese museums are now becoming aware of the shift from ‘research into historic objects’ to ‘research into people,’ and will increasingly value audience research.”
Demographic Shift Towards Millennials and Families
The popularity of these kinds of attractions has been fuelled by a “cultural consumption boom.” There has been a modest rise in per capita cultural consumption—30 GBP between 2013 and 201&—but the small dollar figures may be offset by the increasing number of institutions offering free admission as visitor numbers continue to climb every year. By contrast, food consumption has remained stagnant or flattened out which means that consumers may have more disposable income to invest in these cultural activities.
This is combined with the over-riding trends of the growth of the middle class and also the power of the millennial viewer. In China with 43.2 percent of museum-goers falling into the post-90s generation (29 and younger), with 24.9 percent of viewers born after 1995 (24 and younger). By comparison, in the UK, the Audience Agency reports only 16 percent for the 16-34 year old demographic, which leads us to speculate that given the tastes of young people for immersive multimedia experiences, the power of this young demographic tip China further in the direction of Kusamification (or immersivity). Another factor driving this trend is the incredible hunger for new trends and the astounding adaptability of the Chinese consumer according to a 2016 report from McKinsey, “Overall, Chinese consumers are adopting new products, services, and retail experiences at rates unseen in developed markets.” The report uses the rapid adoption of WeChat as an example. And though there is an overall dip in consumer confidence, the report claims that the consumer market is expanding in the direction of “experiences” and towards balanced lifestyles and spiritually-enriching activities in other words, “The focus is shifting to prioritizing premium products and living a more balanced, healthy, and family-centric life.” What can be drawn out of this is that children are often a key driver motivating Chinese parents to pack everyone into the bus, uber or taxi, to have some quality time on the weekend. Often the destination is the shopping mall, a site which is struggling to maintain visitors since the boom of e-commerce which began a decade ago.
The Emergence of the Stand-alone Pop-Up
The pop-up exhibition, as a stand-alone was greatly influenced by the Museum of Ice Cream, in New York City created Maryellis Bunn in 2016, as up until then China had not seen much of the same kind of “purpose-built” selfie-backdrop experience, rather only exhibitions which were visually compelling but acted as stand-alone artworks, with or without the presence of a camera i.e. the Kusama and Turrell-type of exhibition. This selfie-backdrop made for a perfect stage for the KOLs, some of whom were even incorporated into the structure of these “wanghong” exhibitions as “artistic directors.” In this way, these “wanghongs” gained status as creative directors or curators in exchange for bringing their ample online following to the marketing efforts of the exhibitions. For instance, the exhibition “Wavelength,” co-organized by Cube Consulting and Powerlong Museum, named supermodel He Sui to as an artistic director, what was her actual role in creating the selfie-friendly contemporary art exhibition is anyone’s guess. Already China has spawned a number of companies specializing in individualized pop-ups. Some of them are of the fly-by-night variety, like the aforementioned sponsors of the fake Kusama and Murakami exhibitions, but others more legitimate, yet most focus on easily-digestible content. UK stakeholders looking to get involved in providing pop-up exhibitions, interpretation or exhibition design, would do well to understand the advantages and disadvantages of China’s local exhibition design companies and the kind of exhibitions they have produced.
Companies: ZJZM Dreamer China正经做梦
ZJZM stands for the Chinese name “zheng jing zuo meng” 正经做梦 which translates as “truly dreaming.” This company is a relatively new outfit composed of millennials, self-described “dreamers” and “activists” with backgrounds in art, architecture, and design. Its aim is to create not only experiences but experiences that power the sale of ZJZM merchandise—which reflects the lives and concerns of millennials. Their CEO Tim Zheng was raised overseas and there is definitely an international flavor to the branding of their projections. Their first pop-up, “Legit Dumpling House,” at Sanlitun in Beijing in 2018, has been described as a dumpling parallel world. It features a swing where visitors can have themselves photographed swinging on a clove of garlic (Miley Cyrus-style) against the backdrop of a neon sign which says “Got Mint?” and or lounging in a pool of blue and white dumplings. The Legit Dumpling House doesn’t serve any legitimate “dongbei” cuisine, rather the exhibit is more of a platform for the brand, and it’s hipster design products—plastic sticky-tape with the words “shut up” printed on it, or its big-pharma-inspired T-shirt brand Happy Drug. ZJZM’s second pop-up, “Mad-Camp” 疯人院 played heavily on this medical theme with employees in lab-coats handing out potions, padded rooms (bouncy castle-style) and other scenes set to invoke the theme of madness. Putting aside the moral dubiousness of staging an entertainment experience around mental illness (the Chinese name for the experience translates as mad-house or asylum), we can see that the experience is more about the pressures of living in society, or at least the pressures faced by millennials. One room features walls stacked with keyboards and the words 杠精 “gangjing” internet troll and 人肉他 “renrou ta” “search them out!”— the Chinese equivalent of “doxing” which involves exposing the true identity of an individual online to invoke citizen’s justice for what the internet has decided is inappropriate behavior. The exhibit is not so much about any syndrome found in the DSM, but really more about how society induces anxiety and depression. “Mad Camp” also includes scenes of binging, indulgence and guilt—a giant room full of salted-egg flavored chips, which drip eerily off the wall and a wall-sized drug store receipt listing purchases of all sorts of health tonics, slimming medicines and whitening products. Another wall features an array of individualistic, mildly-edgy sayings such as “I am designing my own insanity,” “Don’t hate what you don’t understand,” “Eat the rich,” “I’ve got a story to tell,” and “I’ll date myself.” In one part of the exhibition, an archway is ringed by an arc of outstretched hands, proclaiming “I’m dramatic,” which underlines the current of individualism, expression, and creativity which flows through the exhibition. In a vlog about the exhibition on the platform Bilibili, one KOL sidles up to a station where an employee asks her to express herself handing over a small chit. She takes the time to jot down some painfully generic wishes of peace and wellbeing. At the end of the vlog, the “wanghong” wearing a high school uniform, sends celebratory wishes to all the high school students who are finishing their high school entrance exams—hinting to these toiling young students that the exhibition offers a kind of aspirational creative outlet—one which is, of course, well-confined to an hour-long visit.
The high school student population has become a key demographic for these kinds of exhibitions given that they are eager for new forms of age-appropriate entertainment and also legitimately stressed out about their life prospects being cut short by a poor result on the high school entrance exam. Another company, Yeguanjia, has, along with food-themed exhibitions on instant noodles and their own version of the Museum of Ice Cream, also mounted a “pressure-release exhibition” “jianyazhan” 减压展 which has similarities to the exhibition by ZJZM. The pressure-release exhibition has become a popular subgenre of the pop-up in China—one which has been producing spinoffs and proliferating with the speed of Kusama’s polka-dots. Yeguanjia’s pressure release exhibition opens with a cartoonish image of the figure from Edvard monk’s “The Scream,” where visitors walk through the gaping mouth into a smaller room lined with shelves of small “Scream”-ing figurines. It also features golden toilets, and bathtubs filled with gold coins to be tossed up in the air, and a room where money rains from the ceiling—an allusion to the pressures of keeping up with the Zhangs and the Wangs. To “release the pressure” visitors can take a baseball bat and bash beer bottles into smithereens, or whip porcelain bowls into the mouth of a shark. (Actually, the breaking of glass and porcelain has become a kind of sub-sub-genre of pressure release exhibitions popping up all over China in smaller attractions throughout first and second-tier cities.) There is also PVC-encased sumo wrestling, and a black-lit pillow fight room, but despite the variety, this exhibition had lower production values than the ZJZM; in fact “Mad Camp” is a much more sophisticated variation on this theme.
Most of Yeguanjia’s pop-ups tend towards a fairly low common denominator. For instance “Eternal Legends” features nine classic scenes of Roman Holiday, Casablanca, Singing in the Rain and Modern Times, including 60 Hollywood idols and 400 artifacts such as Marylin Monroe’s iconic gold dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, umbrellas from Singing In the Rain, and a mint-green Vespa from Roman Holiday. In order to target the young demographic, it includes scenes from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, (the Mendel’s Pasty Box scene) and a wall featuring classic kiss scenes from films.
Another Yeguanjia production, “Cats Invading Earth,” provides a different kind of tactile “interactive experience,” one aimed at youth, and the growing market of animal lovers and pet-owners—this is the same demographic which frequents the Guanfu Museum in Beijing, whose courtyard of once feral-now-pampered cats, is one of its biggest attractions. “Cats Invading Earth,” features numerous real cats, several international cat competitions, opportunities to have one’s face painted with feline features, a colouring area for kids and parents and cat cosplay—cats being reluctantly put in uniforms—participants must, of course, must sign a waiver.
Yeguanjia may not be the most original content producer given that they launched a “shanzhai” (counterfeit) version of the Ice cream Museum, but Li Wenlong the founder of the company countered that the American Ice Cream Museum was predated by ice cream museums in Korea and Japan. While he maintains that this was not copyright infringement, he takes personal credit for the pressure-release exhibition phenomenon, taking umbrage with companies in Chengdu and Beijing which have mounted pressure release exhibitions of their own. As we can see, with the case of the Ice Cream Museum, Yayoi Kusama, Rain Room, and other knockoffs, it is still something of a Wild West when it comes to intellectual property. One way for UK practitioners to stand out in this market (and not have their IP spirited off by other companies), is to continually come up with new concepts, with strong storylines, real artifacts, and difficult-to-replicate technologies. Also, it is best to hit a number of Chinese cities in one go if a tour can be arranged as such. That way, imitators don’t have enough time to spring into action. Another point of differentiation is attitude, something conveyed through the ZJZM brand, but which does not necessarily apply to Yeguanjia, which is more vanilla and mass market. Attitude and strong branding can be difficult to replicate, whereas a series of polka-dot backdrops are relatively easy.
Moving further up the value chain is Shenzhen-based Blooming Investment. The company offers a mix of high culture and mass-market programming and seems to be really testing the market with different kinds of concepts. Their exhibitions include an experiential exhibition of the Dunhuang Caves, along with more mundane, pop-culture, mass-market offerings such as pop-ups featuring the immensely popular googly-eyed minions—known as “little yellow people” in China. Blooming could be an interesting collaborator as they seem more interested in importing high-value content, working with organizations such as TeamLab and the Barbican.
“Mysterious Dunhuang” produced by Blooming, represents a rare foray into high culture for a pop-up, encroaching upon the territory of the traditional art, history and archeological museums, with some original artifacts—a giant Buddha head weighing over 1 ton, which required 25 art handlers to move—along with rooms filled with projections and reproductions of the murals according to Blooming chairman Yang Wenze. The images of the murals were the work of the Dunhuang Academy (the organization in charge of the study and preservation of the Mogao Grottoes) which sent painters into the caves over the course of ten years to make reproductions. The exhibition represents an accomplishment in the field of the accessibility and the preservation of heritage given that the caves are in jeopardy due to the volume of tourists which can potentially bring new microorganisms into the caves, and dramatic shifts in temperature and humidity. Spanning the space of ten basketball courts, the exhibition aims to replicate seven caves from the Mogao Grottoes in their entirety, with over 100 murals, which have not yet been seen by the public due to their fragility.
Blooming has also experimented with more family-friendly, pop-culture content with “Despicable Me: A Minion’s Perspective,” an exhibition in 2018 in Shenzhen created by Universal Brand Development and Beast Kingdom Co.— a distribution and exhibition company from Taiwan. Following the film’s release in 2010, the minions have begun to populate China’s pop-cultural landscape. The exhibition held at Shenzhen’s OCT Creative Exhibition Center featured a number of key scenes from the film including Scarlett Overkill standing proudly on a pink stage, Bratt wailing on the guitar and Felonius Gru’s Lab where visitors can view a digital diagram of “fart gun construction.” Following the prompts of a digital interactive, visitors can then select different foods to create a most-potent and smelly concoction; the digital interactive then spits out a score, rating them on the noxiousness of the gas produced. The exhibition features a number of digital interactives that kids can bang away at, asking viewers to construct their own Minions or figure out simple picture puzzle interactives to reconstruct scenes from the film. The exhibition also encourages physical activity through a digital hopscotch-type game, and footprints printed on the floor designed to have children jump down the hallway with two feet. The exhibition winds up with one of the pop-up exhibition staples—once popularized by IKEA—a giant ballroom filled with yellow and white balls.
Visitors exit through the gift shop, one which sells high-end minions merchandize, which one vlogger found to be too expensive, given the other opportunities to buy Minions merch in nearby stores. But perhaps this exhibition, mounted by Universal and a Taiwanese licensee of the Despicable Me merchandize (Beast Kingdom Co), is only the appetizer, to whet the appetite for the purchase of authentic goods at the end of the visit. In any case, it highlights the important role of revenue streams and business models. While some pop-ups are built around an existing IP, others use the exhibition content to generate new IPs, (such as with ZJZM and “Mad Camp”). And whether the viewers come to see the horse itself, take a selfie with the horse or to buy the jewel-encrusted cart pulled by the horse, is a question of little relevance as long as the public feels they have had an enriching experience of some kind.
This kind of exhibition also provides a lesson in terms of demographics. While an exhibition based on a children’s film may attract mostly a family audience in the West, in China, it attracted both families and young couples as in China the attraction to animations and cartoons tends to extend quite aways beyond adolescence.
This is a key consideration for attracting maximum viewership, a question worth considering in another pop-up exhibition by Blooming Investment, “Game On 2.0” an exhibition curated by the Barbican which not only boasted the “biggest collection of playable video games in the world,” 150 in total including Space Invaders, Final Fantasy, Donkey Kong and others, but which also provided enough history and cultural context to make it interesting enough for non-gamers. The exhibition featured old game consoles, arcade game classics such as Pac Man and Pong, and a replica of the PDP1 mainframe computer from MIT where the first computer game was developed, providing a rich context on the evolution of gaming, from home consoles such as Nintendos and Play Stations, to the marketing of games, to original drawings of characters such as Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. The exhibition stepped timidly into the topic of the global development of gaming exploring the proclivities of gamers in different markets—for instance, the love of shooting games in North America vs. the interest in dating games in Japan—but perhaps did not go far enough.
“Game On 2.0” could have benefitted from some localization China’s gaming history was significantly different from that of Japan or the US where a ban on foreign game consoles in 2000, put a snag in the development of the industry and where most games were online RPGs played in “wangba” or internet bars. Though there was a culture of arcade games during the 80s, console games were seen as a kind of “electronic heroin,” viewed as deeply suspicious by parents who heard horror stories of children tumbling down a “game hole” being unable to recover. In his critique of the exhibition writer and gamer Freelee remarks: “‘Game On’ is all about arcades, consoles and corresponding games, not ‘games’ in the mainstream cultural context of China. In China, ‘games,’ in most cases, refer to computer games and mobile games, that is, ‘online games’ and ‘mobile games.’ This situation being that the Chinese cultural industry is ‘decoupled’ from global trends.”
Needless to say, there was a missed opportunity to localize this exhibition and make it truly speak to the nation of gamers, especially to discuss some of the social anxieties surrounding the addictive culture and resurrect gaming as a legitimate form of entertainment.
This is the challenge when presenting a traveling exhibition from abroad, to take into account the cultural context and it is for this reason that content-free, or content-light, pure experience or selfie-oriented exhibitions can be a safer bet. For instance, Blooming has worked extensively with TeamLab whose multimedia installations transcend age, gender, and nationality, bringing their work to Shenzhen, in the form of the “Dance! Art Exhibition, Learn and Play Future Park,” which featured the tropes we’ve come to expect from Teamlab—an animated aquarium installation, parades of animals their bodies composed of flowers with shimmering music in the background—plus a forest of hanging lamps in a mirrored room, which remind us distinctly of another Japanese artist. Blooming also experimented with a TeamLab restaurant concept, Hua Wu Xin Xiang, a dining experience where TeamLab’s projections animated the space of the table. At 2,700 RMB, per person for the evening seating, this endeavor presented a different and potentially lucrative approach to revenue generation.
All of this is to say that the
market for pop-up and experiential exhibitions is ripe for innovation and
disruption. To date, we have yet to see a multi-dimensional layered pop-up such
as those produced by the Meow Wolf artist collective and immersive
entertainment company in Santa Fe, or something with the edge of Bansky’s
Dismaland Bemusement Park, with its incredibly dark humor. Of course, something
like Dismaland would need to have its tone and humor adjusted for local
audiences, as would any good experiential exhibition. The market, however, is
not only in need of new content but also of UK technical skills, The BoP report
mentions that the boom in museum construction, but also the need for existing
museums to upgrade their displays has led to an increased demand for exhibition
designers, with UK companies such as Imagemakers being hired for exhibition
projects in China. According to the report, “Matthew Jones, China Creative Lead at Imagemakers, observes that
Chinese museum clients generally prepare less-structured briefs for their
exhibitions than is customary in the UK, and therefore expect private companies
to do correspondingly more in the way of background research to understand project
requirements. Many of these companies structure their service as a one-stop
solution that includes design, construction, fit-out and the supply of all
relevant equipment and technology.”
In either case, whether it is building on the strong reputation for design or
formidable skills in interpretation and story-telling, this new trend towards
the experiential should open doors for UK exhibition design companies, museums
and artists alike.
 A lot of the Chinese cultural elite within the contemporary art field still use Instagram in addition to platforms such as WeChat or Weibo, despite it being banned in China. The “INS” as the netizens call it is still going strong.
 Chinese Name: 青岛响当当贸易有限公
 “Fake Exhibitions of Yayoi Kusama Showing Up Everywhere; the Shanghai Exhibition Has Already Been Closed,” [trans mine] “duodi chuxian caojian mixheng yucun shanglong de jia zhanlan, shanghaizhan yijing beiting,”多地出现草间弥生与村上隆的假展览，“上海站”已被叫停, QQ.com October 26, 2018 (last accessed June 26, 2019, https://new.qq.com/omn/20181026/20181026A0XZP8.html)
 Zhang Yi, “Yayoi Kusama and Takeshi Murakami’s Joint Exhibition” was Fake? Yayoi Kusama Speaks Out Along with Industry Curators,”“‘caojian misheng X Cunshanglong shuanglianzhan’shi jiade? Caojian misheng biaotaile, yejie cezhanren ye you hua shuo,” “草间弥生×村上隆双联展”是假展？草间弥生表态了，业界策展人也有话说,” The Shanghai Observer, November 3, 2018, (last accessed June 26, 2019, https://www.jfdaily.com/news/detail?id=114155)
 Note: The original Art Newspaper article, by Lisa Movius, has since been taken down. Some of the contents of the article are reprinted in Chinese here: “it’s raining rain rooms in China,” thestandnews.com, November 6, 2017, (last accessed June 25 https://thestandnews.com/art/it-s-raining-rain-rooms-in-china/)
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