12 Collectors Shaping the Chinese Art World
From founding art fairs and establishing private museums, to backing young galleries and young artists, China’s new generation of collectors aren’t just acquiring—they’re fostering growth across the arts ecosystem. Primarily born after mainland China’s opening-up in the late 1970s, they’ve been afforded key opportunities denied to their parents. The most significant has been access to international artists and histories through travel, communication, and, for many, studying abroad. For millennials in particular, growing up in a world connected like never before has given rise to a truly global generation.
At home, this group of 12 Chinese collectors have benefited from recent years’ establishing of a solid yet dynamic arts infrastructure in Greater China. A number of art fairs have solidified the region’s market for international contemporary art, among them Art Basel in Hong Kong, West Bund, and Art021. (The latter two open this week.) Local galleries have expanded and flourished and international galleries have set up shop in reaction to this increasingly vibrant art scene. Some among this dozen come from families with lengthy collecting backgrounds, and have applied their international outlook to steering their families’ classical collections to contemporary ground. For others, collecting began as a side project that has taken on a life of its own. A handful have incorporated a passion for art with commercial interests; many are now actively leveraging their status to support new generations of Chinese collectors, artists, and the art world at large.
A decade in the making, Qiao Zhibing’s collection is finally seeing the light of day. Although more senior than others on this list, Shanghai’s king of clubs is at the forefront of the next phase of the city’s youngest and most dynamic art districts, West Bund. Having long showcased international acquisitions in what must be China’s best-decorated karaoke bar, Shanghai Night, in 2015 the innovative entertainment mogul established Qiao Space in the riverside hub, where later this month he will team up with Hauser & Wirth to host
Multi-billion-dollar real estate and retail company New World Development boasts a somewhat unique string to its bow, thanks to Executive Vice-Chairman and Joint General Manager Cheng’s passion for art. The business empire, which was founded by Cheng’s grandfather, debuted the first “art mall” in Hong Kong in 2009, bringing the model to Shanghai in 2013.
Cheng’s own K11 Art Foundation, the “museum retail” company and platform for emerging contemporary art he founded in 2010, seeks to bring art to the masses by offering educational programs and exhibitions across its locations—including Wuhan K11 Art Village, which hosts a local artist-in-residence and artist exchange program. Having long nurtured a love of the humanities (he concentrated in East Asian studies at Harvard), Cheng first became interested in contemporary art around 2006. Working in Beijing at the time, he met many Chinese artists whose work he would later go on to collect. Over the years the cultural entrepreneur’s acquisitions have become increasingly global, and include pieces by
Not your average UPenn student, 22-year-old Huang is cofounder of M WOODS, the private not-for-profit museum he opened (along with Lin Han and Wanwan Lei) in the Chinese capital’s 798 arts district in 2014 with a goal to become “the MoMA of China.” In between cramming art history and running the museum, you’ll find him globe-trotting in search of new artists—often on research trips for the New Museum, where he’s currently the youngest member of the International Leadership Council.
Inspired by weekend visits to the Tate Modern during his high school years in London, Huang began collecting at age 16, acquiring a single piece a year. Today, his robust collection is very much focused on his millennial generation: “I grew up in a digital, tech-savvy generation and I consciously try to support young artists and those working with new media and the internet,” he says. To that end, he supported
“For me, it’s very important to meet the artist before purchasing; face-to-face communication is important,” explains Ying, collector and co-founder of ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair, which she launched with her husband David Chau in 2013. Ying’s engagement with the arts started from a young age—her mother worked at a national art and culture institution, and was close friends with realist painter Chen Yifei.
Over the years, Ying has been steering her family’s formerly classical collection toward modern and contemporary works, beginning with her purchase of a work by
Half of Shanghai’s best-known art couple, Chau began his collecting career on a decidedly modest path. “I started collecting at a very young age, with coins and sports cards,” he recalls. “So it was a natural progression for me to get interested in art collecting.” While attending the University of British Columbia, Chau helped organize Chinese artists’ exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery and soon developed a taste for early 20th-century artists like Leo Xu Projects and Antenna Space.
Collecting power-couple Lin and Lei cofounded Beijing’s private contemporary art museum M WOODS with Huang in 2014. “We arrived at collecting in different ways,” explains Lin, who studied animation design before founding an events company for luxury brands in mainland China in 2009. While Lin made his first purchase in 2013, “Wanwan has been around art and artists her whole life,” he says of Lei, who began her first of many gallery jobs at age 17 while earning her undergraduate art history degree at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Art. She also modeled for Chinese painter Liu Ye during this time.
“I had less exposure in my younger years but I started collecting when I realized I had so much to learn from artists,” adds Lin. “I think that art offers new energy—it is like the sun, or a light that enables people to see each other. This is why we collect and why we want to share the collection.” Lin’s first purchase was a mask painting by contemporary Chinese artist
Li was inspired to collect by her antique-collecting father. After majoring in painting at Shanghai University’s Fine Arts College in 2007, she began considering a collection of her own, picking up a work by
“I like to show art in a public space, a living space—not just a white cube,” says Chong. With this sentiment in mind, the UCLA alum regularly hosts exhibitions, talks, and social gatherings at Mingo, his restaurant housed inside a turn-of-the-century villa in Shanghai’s former French concession, as part of his initiative Art Project CZ.
Chong credits his interest in collecting art with his mother, who started her own collection in 2001. However, it was not until 2010 that he made his first purchase—a self-portrait by
Thirty-three-year-old Lu is the young Chinese collector behind Sifang Art Museum, a spectacular
Lu has not only inherited his family’s passion for collecting Chinese contemporary art, but he has also brought an international ethos to the site by way of a specific interest in working with globally renowned architects and artists for site-specific projects. The museum’s campus boasts 20 villas designed by some 20 international architects—including
“It’s important to keep reading and keep looking,” says Yi of her approach to collecting. A first purchase of a
“The past two decades saw a dramatic growth of the contemporary art market in China; however, systematic research and regulatory initiatives fall short in relation to the market boom,” she says. “At the foundation, we endeavour to alter this status quo.” The inaugural project, YIS LIST, rates young contemporary Chinese artists based on international exhibition records and will be debuted in Shanghai this month.
It was a Tate Modern that first inspired young Beijing-based collector Zhang to begin acquiring works. His first purchase was in 2013, and today his collection comprises pieces by the likes of
“I’m Buddhist, and from 2006 started collecting statues of Buddha,” explains Sichuan-born Huang of the various changes of course his collecting has undergone over the years. Despite an initial purchase of a piece of ancient porcelain in 2003, by 2007 his focus had shifted to Chinese contemporary art when he picked up
The former champion bodybuilder sees his collection as having five main pillars: painting, contemporary ink, video and photography, sculpture, and, a particular favorite,