Passion Points: Arts/Culture
Interview with Xiaoming Zhang, the energetic specialist who heads Sotheby’s recently established Chinese Contemporary Art Department.
You often hear the term blue-chip artist in connection with the Chinese contemporary market. Which artists would you describe in those terms?
The Chinese artists that are considered “blue-chip” are Zhang Xiaogang [known for his Bloodline series], Fang Lijun, Cai Guoqiang [who created the Light Cycle installation that illuminated Central Park in 2003], Liu Ye, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun [whose painting The Pope set a new record when it was sold for $4.2 million in 2007]. I would also include Japanese artists Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.
There have been several openings of cultural venues in China, particularly Shanghai and Beijing. What are the ones you’re most excited about?
One of the most influential collectors, Guan Yi, recently opened the Guan Yi Contemporary Art Warehouse (www.guanyi.org) by appointment to art collectors, curators and students. In Shanghai, you have the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), a beautiful museum situated in the middle of people’s park. And in Beijing, there’s the Today Art Museum (9 Wenhuiyuan Beilu; +86-136-622-161-46), which opened in 2006.
Are there destinations you would consider underrated when it comes to their art scenes?
I would not consider Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong underrated, but when it comes to their art scenes, it’s like encountering three different cultures. I’m always amazed what a mysterious and secretive place Shanghai is. I was born there and return all the time and still I discover new artists and collectors, even when I think I know it all. Maybe it’s because Shanghai has always been the commercial center of China while Beijing has a long history as being the cultural heart. In Beijing, it’s much more open and everyone knows everyone. You have big galleries with big events and big openings and lots of buzz. Hong Kong is unique again. I’m always struck by how the local gallerists are serious promoters of Hong Kong artists, who are underrated in my opinion. The gallery spaces tend to be smaller but they do an amazing job for their artists.
How can a traveler get access and research an art-focused trip?
If you’re in Shanghai and Beijing, a great resource are the cities’ magazines called That’s Shanghai and That’s Beijing. They list all the galleries and exhibits and special events. And in Beijing, if you meet one artist, he or she will probably offer to take you to some galleries.
What are some of your favorite galleries in each place?
In Beijing, I like Long March Space (www.longmarchspace.com), the Chinese Art Archives & Warehouse, known as the CAAW (www.archivesandwarehouse.com), Galerie Urs Meile (www.galerieursmeile.com), which also has a branch in Lucerne and the Beijing Art Now Gallery (www.artnow.cn). In Shanghai, I like to visit the ShanghArt Gallery (www.shanghartgallery.com) and in Hong Kong the Hanart TZ Gallery (www.hanart.com), Grotto Fine Arts (www.grottofineart.com) and Osage Gallery (www.osagegallery.com).
What about Art Fairs?
I attended ShContemporary, Shanghai’s first contemporary fair that took place in September 2007, and it was pretty amazing. It’s a Western-run fair but it had a global perspective, not just Euro- and America-centric, and it integrated the Asian contemporaries beautifully. It was directed by Lorenzo Rudolf, the former director of Art Basel, and Swiss gallerist Pierre Hubert.
Where else do you travel regularly for your job?
Besides China, I go to Taiwan, Singapore, Switzerland, London, Belgium. I’m on the road a lot because our active collector base is very international.
What are some of your favorite museums outside of Asia?
In Europe, I love the Centre Georges Pompidou and Tate Modern. I look for Chinese art in all the cities I visit, and it’s fascinating to see collections in such places as San Francisco, Seattle or Denmark.
Where do you want to go next?
I travel three weeks out of the month, so I would say that I just want to go home.
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