Set up by sinologist Alex Lebbink, SinArts Gallery has more than ten years of experience working in and with the Chinese art world. SinArts has organically grown from an online space and community to a physical space for presenting art and sharing knowledge about Chinese art.
SinArts Gallery aims to represent a fresh view on contemporary art from the far east, and especially China. An art world often still bound by clichés and uncertainties, with an art history dominated by a singular discourse, trapped in the commercial success of a recent past. SinArts represents a group of artists based on their artistic merit and ability to speak a universal language, with their Chinese heritage as a common ground.
On the occasion of Asia Now 2017 - the Paris Asian Art Fair – Lebbink answered to my questions.
During 2017 Asia Now art Fair, you have chosen to showcase Chen Hangfeng’s and Shen Wei’s artworks [see Shen Wei's portfolio here]. Tell us more about them.
Hangfeng and Shen are both Shanghai natives, but work in completely different approaches. We have Shen Wei’s internationally acclaimed photography. A very personal, intimate search for beauty, a search for aesthetics in his own experiences. We see a lot of natural elements appear in his work.
It’s these natural elements that gave me confidence to combine their works in one presentation. Chen Hangfeng rearranges, reuses, reconfigures seemingly very simple, innocent imagery and adds layer after layer of meaning, you can spend all day debating, analysing searching some of these works. Sometimes its simpler but every time he takes the viewer and takes him away from everything he thought he knew. It’s stunning work.
They both represent a generation of artist born in the second half of the 70’s who are really coming of age now, both locally and internationally.
How your Sinology background enables you to offer an alternative approach to Chinese contemporary art?
To start, I speak mandarin. That makes my position in the Benelux almost unique as a gallerist.
Secondly what my studies thought me is to try and move away from the Eurocentric view of the world, of history, and definitely of art history. With my background I feel I can interpret certain aspects better and faster than the general viewer. It’s my job to transfer some of that knowledge: that’s why I try to work closely with friends and colleagues in academics. Secondly: I use my gallery space not only as an exhibition area but a platform for information exchange. We have lectures and artist talks almost every two weeks on a wide-ranging field of topics. I’ve really noticed people are eager to learn but also to share and that has helped me a lot in understanding the gaps.
What are China’s best cities for art and culture?
An impossible question to answer. China’s too big. The obvious answers are of course Beijing an Shanghai if we’re talking about contemporary culture. But the PRD now encompasses so much activity it is impossible to ignore. Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong make a formidable triangle, relatively far from the centre of power. There are some very exciting spaces, people and happenings happening there.
Chengdu is another city that comes to mind, as an up and coming centre for art. But you have to remember these places are further apart than Paris and Madrid, so the need for culture can easily be accommodated without over competing.
How do you see the Chinese art market changing in the next 5 years?
Honestly, I have no idea. I wish I did. We obviously continue to see a growing upper middleclass willing to spend on art. But for an emerging gallery in Europe that group remains a utopia.
The market in Europe basically follows the general consensus: there’s a new sense of energy, of willingness to discover, a willingness to invest. Art from China still seems to suffer from an image of hyperinflation, but it’s moving in the right direction. I hope to see more exhibitions of contemporary artists. The generation born in the 60s has still be getting most of the attention, at least in the Netherlands.
We need to accept that this new generation of artists no longer necessarily fits within the consensus of what Chinese art is thought to be...
What makes a “good” work of art?
Les goûts et les couleurs madame. Personally, what I look for is an artist who is not rushed. This doesn’t mean he lacks urgency, but is willing to put in the hours to create something that truly special. Be it Chen Xi’s drawings where he takes the time to stretch the Xuan paper himself before spending about 3 weeks to draw line after line after line to create perfection, or Shen Wei who will spend days studying a tableau he sees in front of him, analysing the light, figuring out the angles, before creating a photo that could have been a painting or Chen Hangfeng who is a student of his own history and manages to rework that knowledge into his own creations.
What’s next to come for you and SinArts Gallery?
Exciting times. After Paris we will open our first solo presentation of Tsou Yung-shan, a berlin based researcher, artist and bookmaker exploring themes of public/private, objectivization and performance. I’m very excited about that. Also really looking forward to Naoki Fuku’s presentation in February, he’s been showing me fantastic new work. It will be explosive.
After that I have a truly exciting project coming up, which will make heads turn in the Netherlands, as we’re doing something which has never been done before. ..
Too much to mention. I’m just very excited about the coming projects, exhibitions, trips and artfairs.
More information: www.sinartsgallery.com