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An Interview with Lin Han on the Collection-Based Strategy at M Woods Museum

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An Interview with Lin Han on the Collection-Based Strategy at M Woods Museum
Lin Han, Founder of M Woods Museum (Image courtesy of M Woods, Beijing)

M WOODS is an independent, non-profit art museum founded in 2014 by collectors Lin Han and Wanwan Lei, and co-founded by Michael Xufu Huang. Housed in a former munitions factory in Beijing’s 798 Art District, M WOODS opened to the public with a permanent collection based on the founders’ private collection of international art. Considering private collections as the backbone of private museums, the role that collections play in museums’ development and growth strategy is assuming increasing importance. Indeed, the exhibition program at M WOODS is drawn predominately from the museum's collection, which ranges from ancient Chinese stone carvings to international painting, sculpture, and video. The diversity in form and timeframe of the artworks is explained by the term "FAT" coined by the museum founders that stands for art that is Free, Alchemical, and Timeless.

M Woods, Beijing (Image courtesy of M Woods)

Having entered into the art world at a relatively young age, what kind of responsibilities do you assume as a collector and founder of an art institution?

I think everyone can say pretty words in this regard. I prefer to take more specific and smaller steps, instead of thinking what may be the most relevant duties. For example, we are trying to provide more opportunities for people to visit the museum for the first time and to enjoy themselves, which is quite a specific objective. It’s not hard to keep them visiting the museum, but it’s hard to increase the number of new audience. I hope to build a large new audience group soon.

Image courtesy of M Woods

The first artwork you bought was a painting by Zeng Fangzhi at Sotheby’s in 2014. Since then, the collection has considerably grown in number. What kind of relationship do you have with the art market? Do you have a preference in buying art at auctions or galleries?

It’s about two identities that one must bring forward at the same time when taking decisions. One identity represents myself as a collector, the other as the founder of M Woods Museum. Certainly, my collecting activity can be more interesting, but as the founder, one has to consider what is the significance of the collection for the public in the future, and in what ways it will be coherent to the museum’s direction.

The increasing number of national and international art fairs, museums, auction houses and galleries, especially in China, is shaping the art world and market. How is this affecting your approach to collecting and your management of the museum?

Whatever strategy or form you choose, learning art is always a good approach to understand art. For me it doesn’t matter whether auctions or fairs are more and more numerous – it will not influence my basic attitude towards art. The basic thing of art itself will attract me the most.

Image courtesy of M Woods

You and your wife Lei WanWan, together with Michael Xufu Huang, founded M Woods Museum. Can you describe the collaboration between the three of you? Which are the roles that each of you play in the development of the museum?

My wife and I have a similar idea about collecting. Michael Xufu Huang has a different background and interests. Although he is from Beijing, he grew up in the US and the UK under a Western culture. He is 7 years younger than us, and 7 years is a generation gap in China. He is more interested in how art and technology interact and the new possibilities that such interaction may produce. We are more focused on the timeless and permanent qualities of artworks. So we work together and complement each other through our different interests.

Kader Attia (Image courtesy of M Woods)

The museum is located in the 798 art district near many other prominent galleries and art institutions. How has the 798 art district changed throughout the years? In what ways are you trying to engage with the local community?

This is what we are trying to do most, as we hope that M Woods doesn’t stay at the white cube stage. We hope it can walk out and connect to the community. We participated to the Beijing Gallery Weekend last year, and the event brought together all the galleries in the area. Everyone opened the doors, there was an art performance, on-the-spot music performances and around 5,000 people attended that evening.

In 2015, M Woods received the official not-for-profit status. What is the significance of this title to the operation and running of the museum?

I think it was an important step. As the economy and society are recovering and entering a new stage in history, and as China is a country having a millennial history and culture, I believe it’s my duty to revive the art. So it was a coherent decision, also to art itself, as well as a legal one. The legal framework in Western countries is different from that in China. So we can’t copy someone else’s path, but have to look for new possibilities and alternatives under the current legislation to further develop our museum.

Amalia Ulman, installation view, 2017 (Image courtesy of M Woods)

The exhibition ‘Heart of the Tin Man’, which inaugurated in June 2017, presented a series of works that explored current Internet and technological practices. What has been the curatorial approach? How did the exhibition relate to the identity of the museum?

Experimentations are important for us, and the show was held not just for the form but for new possibilities. Internet is a highly mature technology, which is very much into our daily lives. We are experiencing a new era, where more and more people’s life and work will be probably replaced by or complemented with machines. This phenomenon is already influencing the art world to a great extent and I think museums should encourage discussions in this regard. This kind of exhibition is still hard for the public to understand, as it would have been simpler for most to enjoy paintings and sculptures. Even so, we are prepared to get more people to experience the exhibition. It doesn’t matter if they can’t understand the exhibition, what is important is that they have the chance to think and reflect back on it, or else it would have been a waste of time.

Sean Raspet, installation view, 2017 (Image courtesy of M Woods)

Considering the rapid development of private art museums in China, which are the challenges and opportunities you are facing? How does M Woods Museum position itself within this context?

First of all, we have more opportunities than challenges. Indeed, the context of 5 years ago presented far more challenges and uncertainties. This may also be due to the fact that we are now at the third year of the museum’s activity, and thus we can see more clearly now. The biggest challenge for us is how to bring M Woods to the next stage. We have solved the survival problem, which is the most difficult. Now we have new dreams. There are also new demands and expectations, so there is a need to set higher objectives. We hope to revive China’s art because of museums like M Woods.

 

 


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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