Our Conversation Series features intimate interviews with leading experts from around the world: collectors, curators, artists, gallerists, and museum directors.
In the beginning there was no internet, there was almost no information around. When I came to Shanghai, I also spent a few months, a year perhaps, just to find out who is working here. If you went to New York, it was much easier for every curator and every collector to find out what others are doing there. So for me it was kind of collecting material and made it public.
How did you discover some of China’s most iconic artists?
I say, there are good artists, and perhaps in the beginning just nobody paid much attention to them, so it wasn’t really a discovery. It was more trying to identify who was around. For the artists in the 80s and the 90s, some people stayed around. Even though it was difficult, they created works, so I have been looking at what they have been doing. Perhaps the interesting thing is that the are artists here are quite aware of the world. They are from a strong history, of the long Chinese art history there are pieces of contemporary art in China, and then sometimes they are seeing what is going on in the West. So I think they don’t live so isolated, like you can see if you look from Switzerland to China, you see these guys are far away. Perhaps guys like Uli Sigg he not too far away. He is looking at Switzerland or New York all the time, or Paris, so he can be quite an informed academic, kind of a global artist in an interesting sense.
What makes a good artist?
They move on a lot, they do something and a few years later they change, they develop. And for me it’s always the kind of artists who can challenge themselves, who are interesting. So Zeng Fanzhi makes a good painter. He [continues to] use the brush, but at the same time he is always challenging himself. So they need to be something better, and that is perhaps the spirit I like in an artist. The society changes, times change, so if an artist is sensible, most of them also change.
How has the market evolved since you arrived to China?
For us, when we started we knew that there was no market at all in China, even Hong Kong was difficult. So we did not really look at the market but the artists. We just tried to find good art, and the advantage of Shanghai was that it felt like everybody came here. If you had a place here, people sooner or later would come to have a look. The public was very very international, there were a few people specialised in collecting Chinese art. They came early, but besides that was just people who came [to China]. And so the public and people bought in the beginning were mostly international, perhaps European, Japan perhaps, Australia, America a little bit later, then over the years it changed, so we have now also quite a lot of Chinese local collectors.
What is your advice to young collectors?
I think it is to find out about [one’s] own personality, many can collect a lot and lot of collection and actually who collects is through the personality of the guy who makes it. Some people just want to have the best works, and they try to figure out what they are. Some other people are more interested in figuring out what’s going on, what the trends are, perhaps have a feeling about the future in this work, where this work develops and which way the artist develops. So they take part very actively to take big risk, because contemporary art is not decided, on this level it is an artist who makes a big risk, and it is a collector who makes a big risk. The risk is not putting a thousand dollars and losing it, the risk is seeing a good work and being right or just missing something. But I think whatever you do, as long as you make a decision, you can learn a lot of things. If you see a good work, at that time you thought it was bad, you didn’t buy it. Five years later, it costs a lot of money, then you think, “I was wrong”, or perhaps “I’m still right, it’s just a fashion”.
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