From Art to
Consumerism
An Overview of
Chinese Pop-up
Exhibition Culture

Magnified by selfie culture, pop-up exhibitions have been increasingly demanded in China. From art galleries to newly established museums, to shopping malls and cafes, pop-up exhibitions evolved from new media art to a prominent visual culture that challenges traditional structures of museums as well as the boundary contemporary art. In this publication, I will identify Chinese pop-up art’s major origins from fine art and its transition to commercial applications.
Around 2014, a group of contemporary artists entered major museums in China with their experience-based exhibitions that turned out to be perfect selfie backgrounds. While there was much conversation over the impact of “spectacularisation” on the museum experience, Chinese museum directors introduced pop-up forms as a marketing strategy, knowing that these seductive installations could effectively build a large audience and draw them into other forms of art. [5]
Other than fine art, Chinese pop-up was also largely influenced by American pop-up museums that emerged as an adaptation of the Pop-up business model after 2008.[3] The earliest pop-up experience was adopted by the food and retail industry,  intending to promote brands to as many people as possible in a short period of time. As the economic recession was felt by the museums, American curators decided to attract public attention with pop-up exhibitions. These pop-up exhibits turned to be short-termed due to the need to cut costs in the recession. Local adaptations were often made when these “instagramable”, experimental curating methods travelled. In 2018 the Museum of Cup Noodles opened in Shanghai, resembling the widely appreciated Museum of Ice Cream in the US.
The rapid growth of pop-up visual culture raises important questions about the purpose of a museum and how this new form of art fit into museum spaces. The proliferation and the lack of originality also cause legal conflicts over authenticity.