K11: A Good Attempt But Cannot Replace Museum


In the highly commercialized society, art may be regarded as a method to improve commercial benefits. Artistic shopping centres like K11 are examples of this phenomenon. Although this combination can be regarded as a new attempt, we still need the museum to appreciate the real art. The museum is the preservation of human memory and cultural heritage. The concepts of “disavowal” and cultural capital make the art originally distance from the market. By comparing the museum and K11, people can better distinguish these two models and understand the importance of museums.


K11 represents the breakthrough of a new shopping trend; however, the exhibitions in these malls are the methods for attracting more consumers, which are quite different from exhibitions in the museum. This paper will introduce the model of K11 as an example of artistic shopping centres and figure out how it combines art and commerce. And then compare this model with the traditional museum from three aspects: their aim, function and settings.

Exterior of K11

  1. General Introduction to K11

With the rapid development of The Times, people pay more and more attention to the spiritual life and the quality of life. K11, an artistic shopping mall, integrates art resources into the commercial, public space and creates an independent art area in the mall. On the one hand, it retains the independence of art and the quiet space it needs. On the other hand, people come to the mall for art exhibits, which increases the profit of the mall.

Exterior of K11 _2

1.1    Background of K11

Shanghai K11, the first artistic shopping centre in mainland China, was opened on June 28, 2013. Then, other K11 shopping malls in different provinces in China have sprung up. The founder Adrian Cheng said he did not view the K11 as a mall, but rather as a “Museum of the Modern City”. K11 is dedicated to changing life with art, integrating architecture and business, and bringing the new shopping experience to the audience. According to K11, the three core elements of it is art, humanity and nature.

1.2    What they do for art

In the overall design of the K11 shopping mall, there are many spaces for art exhibit and lectures. Taking Shanghai K11 shopping mall as an example, there are three floors used for art exhibitions. The shopping centre has six floors above the ground. They try to create the artistic atmosphere in the shopping mall so that the customers can see sculptures at the elevator entrance, the abstract painting on the wall of corridors, the free book bar and the artistically designed rest area in various spaces. The landscape setting style of the whole shopping mall is unified, and some art pieces of the same style appear in different places for many times, which shows a sense of unity in details. For example, there is a kind of glass lamp with candles, which starts from the entrance of the underground dome and is arranged at regular intervals at the corners of elevators and shops on different floors. K11 makes itself as an art playground where culture, entertainment, shopping and living revolve around art. They allow the public to appreciate art during their shopping and leisure time by providing various multi-dimensional spaces.”

Media-Dali Exhibition in K11

Except for the external art decoration, K11 has invested in providing a platform and opportunities for the development of local young artists. It not only offers young artists works but also holds art exhibitions for them regularly. Backed by financial support, K11 foundation will also continue to promote K11 art space workshop and K11 art village to encourage audience participation and increase the exposure of local artists and art projects. In the aspect of promoting cultural exchange, K11 uses various resources to introduce more works of international art masters, and regularly holds various exhibitions of domestic and foreign masters, which are open free. At the same time, they recommend Chinese artists to Paris fashion week every year and establish a solid relationship between local and international art festivals.

For many young artists, there is difficulty in finance to spread their work in professional venues like art galleries. The integration of art resources and commercial, public space makes it possible for artists to show themselves. Small restaurants and branded shops can become places for artists to showcase themselves. On the one hand, it can reduce artists’ economic pressure; on the other hand, the exhibition in public space enables artists to communicate with audiences of different ideas and types to a greater extent. This communication turns passivity into the initiative and expands the influence of the work of art

  1. Compared with Museum

The museum is serious. It is a place for the public to think about art. Serious curators work there and create a serious place for enabling the audience to have access to art. Museum works as an interface to the cultural interpretation, cultural meaning system and cultural history.

2.1    Different aims between artistic shopping malls and museums

In essence, however, artistic shopping malls advocate what they do for art; there is no doubt that they have to make a profit. By using elements of art, they can attract more audience to promote their brand and benefit. Through the creation of an artistic atmosphere, K11 successfully attracts consumers into the mall and reached expected effect. In K11, art serves a business purpose.

However, the museum is a holy temple for culture. According to Charles Landry, “Museums can tell us who we are, where we came from and where we are going. So we can reconnect our roots along the way.” In a museum, the dimensions of time and space are compressed. The experience of the audience in a museum is like a process of decompression, and its rules are different from real society. Such differences can form a critical or critical experience (the museum, as a heterotopia, can be regarded as semi-idealistic, and the deviation between ideal and reality is the reason for the criticism), thus affecting the development of culture.

Exterior of Louvre Museum http://www.woolfinterior.com/blog/2017/10/23/the-louvre-museum

Not only do museums and artistic shopping malls have a difference in their aims, but also their functions and settings are different.

2.2    Different functions and settings between artistic shopping malls and museums

First,the core function of a museum is to define the objects the definition of objects. Museums have realized the classification and naming of things by people, thus influencing people’s cognition of the world. The naming of things completes a level of definition of world order and highlights the authoritarianism of god. At the same time, the influence of typology on the museum is mainly reflected in the construction of the “art community”. Museums of all kinds are constantly producing communities and promoting this identity. This function is both politically influential and socially influential. It is known that the earliest modern museums were like storage rooms, with no concept of the exhibition. Museum later realized they could organize the exhibition according to the classification, completing the “performance” for objects of interpretation. The museum experience can deeply affect people’s understanding of things, to produce a cultural concept. While the understanding of the cultural concept and criticism have the more professional division of labour organizations and personnel to complete, but the influence of museum exhibition can still not be neglected. However, if people see a painting in the mall, they may think it is just a kind of decoration. The dialogue of the artwork in the museum space acknowledges that these artworks are art, not merely something you’d find in a mall. The artworks in the Hirshhorn take on a whole new meaning because they are within the Museum. The Museum itself provides some of the meaning for the art. This symbolic space is especially necessary for works like Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge. Referencing our visit, the Hirshhorn is a container for art.

When it turns into experience in museum visiting, we can divide the behavior of museum visiting into four levels, namely construction, deconstruction, reconstruction and verification. The audience at these four levels has different experiences and social influences. In this way, the diversity of cultural expression is realized, and the museum can be regarded as an important institution for the reproduction of social and cultural diversity. This diversity and the equality of the museum audience in the museum space is generally regarded as an incubator of democracy.  But, speaking of the exhibition in the mall. People will treat it as a way to show personal taste. In 2014, Claude Monet’s first Chinese special exhibition “Impressionist Master Monet”, co-organized by the Monet Museum in Paris and K11 art foundation, is on display. During these two months, according to Businessweek China, this exhibition had attracted more than 260,000 visitors, with a maximum of 6,000 visitors in a single day. Almost half of the visitors said that they just follow the trend on the social account and they are attracted by delicate photos by internet celebrities. To this extent, the exhibition is devalued as a kind of way of realizing the identity on the social platform or setting some online characters. Therefore, it is common that you can see many people just take a selfie in front of these paintings and pay more attention to personal photos rather than artworks.

Third, the museum can help discover the silent information hidden behind the art works. There are two forms of recording past human experience: books and objects. Social development can change all the social rules of the previous social stages, but it cannot avoid the redefinition of the symbols which represent the particularity of human culture, such as experience and tradition. When a museum collects a piece of work, this behaviour can be regarded as symbolizing this work. Even if this object almost loses its use value, the museum can excavate its record value as much as possible. When a museum collects a painting,this painting can avoid being a decoration hanging in the home of potential buyers. And since this painting works as the interpretation symbol of its time, art genre and author, the museum has to shoulder the natural obligation of the excavation of recorded value information. Modern society tends to construct history, present and future as a system. Therefore, the historical material symbols have the value of being reused in the current society, and such utilization relies on the museum. Then the preservation has become a question. Museum has a through the system to keep and repair these precious artworks. In this aspect, shopping malls are quite immatured. They are not built according to the security level of the museum. The transportation channel may not be wide enough, and the drainage system was not complete. Maintenance and security are important issues waiting for artistic shopping malls to deal with.

Forth, museums are classrooms for lifelong learning and important carriers for broadening the horizon. The museum narrows various cultures into a relatively small range, which not only works as a real library but also serves as a useful method for social groups to understand the world through selected works and samples. The museum is a place to display a variety of views and works of beauty. It should be able to touch people’s hearts with beautiful works, either intoxicating, shocking, sorrowful, introspective, touching and affecting your humanity, arousing your love and pursuit of beauty, and thus enabling you to have a broader experience of human nature and ideological realm. Nevertheless, when the art is connected to money or other mundane possessions, the art value will decrease. The concept of “disavowal” explains how artists and the artworld attempt to distance themselves from the commercial symbols and the market. In April 2015, the “Immortal Van Gogh” art exhibition was opened in K11. In the following days, nearly 20,000 people visited the exhibition, ranging from 60 to 70 people a day. In the following days, several restaurants, coffee shops and shops in K11 also launched the corresponding events and services echoing the theme of this exhibition. The art exhibition achieved the expected satisfactory effect in promoting the overall economic development of K11 and enhancing brand awareness. In this case, the art is devalued to serve commercial aims. In the mall, there is no sense of history and something “higher”. Artworks in the mall are beautiful, but this beauty is linked to the material. Thus, the art loses its soul. The essence of shopping malls is to make profits. The exhibition attracts the audience to change the brand image and improve benefits.

  1. K11 is an attempt, but the museum is irreplaceable

In terms of the overall positioning of K11, it aims to create a unique small luxury taste. Through the combination of art, humanity and commerce, the commodities will be turned into artworks for display, and the artworks will be transformed into commodities for purchase. Art is attached to commerce. There is no denying that artistic shopping malls are good attempts for new shopping models.

While, in terms of art value, these new shopping malls are extracting the value of art and they are commercial. Whatever artistic means they use to brand themselves, they are still “shopping malls”.

3.1    K11 has a good intention to make the public more involved in art.

a milk tea shop in k11

Since art and humanity have penetrated every corner in modern society, people do not only pursue material satisfaction but also increase their pursuit of soul and art. Therefore, exhibitions in the commercial centre are particularly attractive. Some consumers may not buy a ticket to go to the museum to see an art exhibition, but through the internal display of the mall, as well as strong publicity, the art exhibition will be more popular. The whole shopping mall is permeated with a strong cultural background, which looks like a museum full of artistic atmosphere. The concept of enjoying shopping and art at the same time, which will naturally attract more consumers to shopping. The K11 shopping mall is different from other commercial centres in that it features its brand and realizes more added value. With the word “art” in its name, it has already been different from other ordinary commercial Spaces. The bold and innovative cross-border cooperation mode overturns people’s traditional cognition of shopping centre and becomes the new lifestyle centre of Shanghai. All kinds of art sculptures are located on each floor of the mall, and there is an art gallery as a transition space in the corridor to appreciate artworks. Beside each work, there is an artist’s introduction and creation intention to understand the artist’s creation background, as well as some interactive installation to reduce the distance between the work and consumers. Although its fundamental purpose is to promote the sales of goods, it is easier to be accepted and recognized by consumers when it is displayed in artistic ways. Consumers are not simply go shopping. They can realize self-satisfaction and identity recognition through such consumption. Art exhibitions make the shopping experience in K11 become more recognized by consumers in terms of cultural communication, and the brand effect is more prominent.

3.2    The museum is irreplaceable whenever and wherever

To some degree, the practical function of museums is similar to that of history. In the 1980s, historians realized that the only way to overcome the challenge of historical skepticism was to connect the practical function of history with the most basic reality of human existence. Since then, some historians have often viewed history as a collective memory. They pointed out that without this memory, the actual existence of human beings is just like the infinitesimal point on the blade of a knife. In these transient moments, human beings can neither know themselves nor understand their relationship with the environment, thus losing the possibility of sober action in reality. It is history, the collective memory of mankind, that combines the narrowness of reality with the vastness of the past, and provides a solid foundation for our practical actions to understand ourselves and observe situations so that we can create reality and future based on the past. Today, when answering the function and social significance of the museum, the museum’s relationship with the basic survival of mankind should be focused. If history is the memory of human beings, then the museum is the preservation of human memory and cultural heritage. Alvin Toffler said that museums expanded social memory beyond the human brain, finding new ways to store it, and thus breaking out of its original limitations. From the perspective of preserving the memories of human beings, the museum is the eternal warehouse, the final form of this information storage, because it is more resistant to the erosion of time, and even the time decay adds its sacredness.

Palace Museum in Beijing


The appearance of the art shopping centre is exactly to stimulate consumers’ desire to go shopping. These shopping centres improve shopping experience through artistic ways. K11 has made a good attempt and has brought a lot of thinking to commercial real estate.  However, this model is not real artistic. It has the appearance of art but the core of commerce. Museum still has its meaning in this commercial wave. Since museums are closely connected to the existence of civilized society, it may never disappear and always occupy the predominance in our culture.


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