A+L: Would you describe your version of the beginning and early development of the contemporary art world in China as you witnessed it?
MM: I think it all exploded with the show that shut down the National Gallery in ’89. Around then, all these great artists emerged: Fang Lijun, Xu Bing, Wang Guangyi, Yue Minjun, and many others. From that point, it went beyond a little clique and began to escalate and escalate.
Early on, it got international attention. The Europeans were onto it well before the Americans—the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, the Pompidou. Pierre Cardin and Ullens did a show in Paris.
In China, a big gallery system started growing exponentially so that what stands out now is a distinctly Asian regional scene. In other words, it is international in a way that is inclusive of the Asian region—not just China and the West.
The top 30 percent of Chinese artists have all exhibited in multiple locations in the region, in museums and galleries in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and in Southeast Asia, in Indonesia, Thailand, and other Asian countries.
Sales of Chinese art are not just in China, but to overseas Chinese and non-Chinese as well in Japan, Korea, Russia, the Mid-East, Africa. The beauty of this is that Chinese art has embraced the whole world. It is part of quite a global conversation.
A+L: How does this tendency influence your own activities as a gallerist?
MM: We’ve been to ARCO Madrid with Wang Qingsong, to the Sydney Biennale with Wang, Choi Jeong-hwa [of Korea] and others, to Lyon, to the Gwangju Biennale, to TEFAF at Maastricht—which has quite an expanding contemporary art presence—and, of course, to Art Beijing, Art Fair Tokyo, Dubai, and others in the region.
Over the years, I have collaborated with a lot of museums and other galleries internationally, but I think it makes sense to have an overseas gallery as well. We are probably going in that direction.
Beijing remains an exciting international platform to work with artists not only from China, but from around the world. The city has become a magnet for international and local artists to engage in interesting conversations. That kind of energy has done a lot to propel Chinese artists onto an international stage. This activity between artists has made things continue to progress, and I don’t see that slowing down in the future.
An important part of contemporary art is engaging one’s peers. In fact, I consider this intrinsic and vital to a good contemporary art practice. Today it is normal for, say, an Italian based in New York to become the curator of Gwangju. It is this sort of internationalization that has allowed us here in China to feel less on the periphery, and more part of mainstream conversations. Cross-pollination is the norm. And once artists reach a certain level, they get exposed internationally, and people from everywhere want to collect them.
A+L: You exhibit an eclectic range of artists. Among them, do you perceive a consistent line?
MM: I collect a lot myself. I prefer more conceptual work, and artists who work across different media, the ones who do not limit or restrict themselves.
Of course, our space has its own requirements that often can dictate the type of art we exhibit. The work ought to have a conversation with the space, and not all work fits in with this pared down, stark space.
Basically, I am always looking for quality, for good artists, smart artists, the ones who create meaningful work. This sort of work is personal in the sense that its conversation with the world is genuine and sincere.
Images: Huang Zhiyang, Possessing Numerous Peaks. 30 carved granite stones. Courtesy of Huang Zhiyang & Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing.