How did you start collecting?
Liu Lan: My passion for art collecting is probably linked to the family environment I grew up in. I was born into an artistic family: my dad was a film director and my mother was a theatre actress. My two older sisters also work in the art field. In 1996, there was a contemporary art exhibition called Yesterday: Today and Tomorrow, curated by Leng Lin and Liu Tingting. I went to see the exhibition and there was an auction immediately after it. That was when I started to collect art.
Why are you interested in contemporary art?
What appeals to me is that when we own a work of contemporary art, we can also communicate with the artist who created it. We can step inside the spiritual world of the artist and make friends with them in real life. We can talk or have a drink with them, or even visit their studio. I like that kind of dialogue.
On the wall in your house, there is a gigantic oil painting by Zhang Xiaogang. Is there a story behind it?
Zhang started this painting in 2007 and it took him three years to finish. At the time, his Bloodline: Big Family series was already commanding sky-high prices, so I asked him to paint one especially for me. The painting is a reflection of my own family — our family of three. It took Zhang a very long time; it was a difficult time for him. It dragged him back to a painful state he had been in previously. It must have been excruciating for him.
I want to know more about the artists and their works. It opens up other possibilities
What does your friendship with artists bring you?
I have become more passionate about contemporary art through my contact with the artists I collect. I want to know more about them and their works. It opens up other possibilities. There is an element of risk-taking in the process, linked to my judgment and ideas about art, why I choose to buy one work of art rather than another.
Have you experienced any frustrations in the process of art collecting?
The joy of collecting for me is the opportunity to communicate with the spirit of a work of art and to connect with the world we live in. From one day to the next, an artist I have favoured could be rejected by the world and his or her name forgotten. That would mean the risk I have taken has not paid off.
What is the difference between seeing a work of art in a gallery and owning it?
When you own a piece of art, your understanding of it changes over time and depending on your mood and other circumstances. This is the most fascinating aspect of art collecting. Additionally, when you communicate with a work of art directly, the atmosphere around it changes all the time. That is the power of art. It touches your soul and can even affect the air around it.
What’s next on your collecting agenda?
I plan to research and systematically collect pieces created by 20th century Chinese artists like the ‘Storm Society’ group. This generation of artists really interests me. They lived during the Republic of China period (1912-1949), so they were well versed in the quintessence of traditional Chinese culture. At the same time, they mastered western art by studying abroad. So they combined both cultures. Although my collection started with contemporary art, I am currently enchanted by 20th century artists.
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