The story of Michael Chow (b. 1939, Shanghai) is that of an improbable icon, a global cultural actor decades before globalization became the norm. Chow is the son of Zhou Xinfang, celebrated Beijing opera master and founder of the Qi School of performance. Frustrated in his youthful ambitions to either follow in his father’s footsteps or carve out a space for himself within the London contemporary art scene, dreams cultivated in equal parts by his schooling at the Saint Martin’s School of Art and his father’s theatrical tutelage, Chow opened the first of his chic Chinese restaurants in London in 1968. Today, MR CHOW operates in six locations around the world and has become synonymous with both high-end Chinese cuisine and the diverse set of artists and cultural luminaries for whom the restaurant was (and remains) a social hub. Returning to fine art practice after a forty-six-year hiatus, Chow adopts a style as dynamic and eclectic as his history—one that embodies, physically and symbolically, a distinctly Chinese twentieth-century cosmopolitanism.
The exhibition comprises three sections. Twelve of Michael Chow’s paintings are dispersed throughout the Lobby, Nave, and Long Gallery. Chow’s style reflects the visual traditions of Chinese art, Western abstract expressionism, and, perhaps most significantly, the bold gestures of Qi School Beijing opera. Composed of household paint, precious metals, and kitchen errata, this “Qi School Expressionism” evokes a visceral sense of movement and object while conveying the artist’s passion for his father and his native culture. Linking the artist’s practice to his longstanding engagement with the contemporary art communities of New York and LA, the exhibition also contains several works from Chow’s portrait collection. These works, hainging in the Long Gallery, includes pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Urs Fischer, and many others, bearing witness to his friendship with and support of these artists from the 1960s onward. Also occupying the Long Gallery are more than one hundred archival photos of Zhou Xinfang and his performances. The Qi School of Beijing opera that he conceived has become a way of life for Michael Chow. Seen as both an artistic institution and a microcosm for a larger movement, the evolution of the Qi School reflects the complex history and cultural memory of modern China.
The UCCA presentation of “Michael Chow: Voice for My Father” coincides with the 120th anniversary of Zhou Xinfang’s birth. The show will travel to the Power Station of Art, Shanghai, in April, 2015, and to the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, in 2016. Exhibition support is provided by Gucci.
The Artist as Collector
Years of drifting in London forced Michael Chow to give up his dream of taking up Zhou Xinfang’s legacy. However, his life abroad opened up a new world of artistic activities. Among the pieces of modern and contemporary art Chow has acquired over fifty years, his portrait collection is perhaps the most acclaimed. Chow has worked with more than 20 artists since his first portrait by Pop artist Peter Blake in 1966. The portraits vary dramatically in style and medium, documenting the distinctive personal history of Michael Chow while acting as a narrative thread within contemporary art history. The portraits include works by some of the bestknown modern and contemporary artists from the 1960s onward, each incorporating elements from Chow’s life and career. The portrait collection makes visible a set of perspectives on the intersection and coexistence of East and West at a certain historical place and time, a portrait of both the artists and their shared subject.
The archival photographs on display document the history of Chow’s family through the illustrious figure of Zhou Xinfang. Zhou performed over 600 hundred different plays in his lifetime, and his Qi School of performance remains a prominent style of Beijing opera. 2015 marks the 120th anniversary of Zhou Xinfang’s birth, and the photos shown here memorialize this important figure in modern Chinese cultural history.
About the Artist
Michael Chow (b. 1939, Shanghai) attended Saint Martin’s School of Art and had a brief career in painting until the late 1960s when he opened the restaurant MR CHOW in London’s Knightsbridge. With encouragement from close friend Jeffrey Deitch, Chow began painting once again after a forty-six-year hiatus. He held a solo exhibition last year at Pearl Lam Galleries Hong Kong entitled “Recipe for a Painter.” His UCCA exhibition is his first solo show in Mainland China.