shuiwei kunstkammer

The CEO of Shuiwei Holdings Ltd, Zhuang Weicai loves collecting. He has been collecting rocks, calligraphy, traditional paintings, teapots and tea, trees and Han Dynasty tiles and figurines for over twenty-five years. He even has a dinosaur skeleton. The fruit of his passion is housed in the Shuiwei Rock Art Museum, which is not a museum per se, but rather a contemporary cabinet of curiosities that reveals as much about Zhuang Weicai’s eclectic taste as it delights visitors. As a social fact, it also reconfigures how we think of collecting in an era of corporate museums.

Historically speaking, Cabinets of Curiousities (and yes, we are talking about items, rather than the feeling of curiosity) appeared in Rennaissance Europe. Precursors to the modern museum, Cabinets were nevertheless characterized by the tastes, experiences, and unexpected encounters of elites, who expressed and sought knowledge, broadly defined. Simultaneously, these collections also demonstrated the magnificence and power of a given ruler. Thus, for example, Rudolf II, Holy a roman Emperor brought dignitaries and ambassadors to his Kunstkammer in a ritual display of all that he reigned.

Cabinets of Curiousities have been studied by cultural critics and repurposed by artists. There have been extended critiques of Anthropology’s vexed relationship to the impulse to and practices of collecting. After all, many of the world’s leading natural history, ethnographic, and archaeological collections were a direct result of colonial occupation and subsequent looting slash removal of local items and their display as “curiousities” or “artifacts” in Europe and North America.

Here’s what I’m mulling today: what is the significance of Shuiwei’s Rock Art Museum?

Chronologically, the Art Rock Museum appeared well after the Rennaissance transition from individual to public collections. However, it is not a private art collection. It is a natural history collection that celebrates a traditional aesthetic that many educated Chinese have eschewed in favor of science and contemporary art. It is open to visitors throughout the week. And it really is more fun to visit than many of the stuffy museums that show off expertise rather than passion; the collection makes it obvious that Zhuang Weicai really does love rocks.

I haven’t reached a theoretical conclusion. However, I do think the Rock Art Museum does give insight into the different cultural logics that inform urban village style urbanization and official state directed urbanization. So, take an afternoon to visit and the explore Shuiwei itself. The Rock art Museum is located in the heart of Shuiwei, which is itself one of the best eateries in Shenzhen. Impressions of the Shuiwei Kunstkammer, below.

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tea time stories

Old Sui makes starkly whimsical woodblock prints the old fashioned modernist way — by hand, alone, and in a studio that is open to friends who drop by for tea and chats. He has collected over 1,000 teapots that when individually shelved and arranged seem oddly menacing. Not a first mind. At first, one sees artistry in the smooth lines and soft glow of each pot. However, as Old Sui opens a drawer to show part of the collection, and then another, and then says that the majority of the collection is elsewhere, the care and time necessary to make and care for a teapot gives way to numbers games and ranking; here are 50+ teapots, here are several dozens, the top  twenty or so have been displayed on a shelf that stretches around the room.

And the rest?

In a room at home.

I know the feeling of insatiable desire. I also enjoy aesthetic displays of objects. But. I am not a collector. Learning that Old Sui has set aside a room for private delectation? The intimacy of this knowledge startles me and my eye settles on a teapot crafted in black clay with flecks of golden sand. Continue reading