The Paris-Beijing Gallery is one of the rare Parisian galleries dedicated to contemporary Asian art. Founded in 2006 by Fore and Romain Degoul and now run by Geoffroy Dubois, the Paris-Beijing Gallery has been playing a significant role in the promotion of contemporary Asian photography, more specifically Chinese. Today the gallery collaborates with over forty artists and is one of the first to have displayed works by internationally acclaimed photographers such as Chen Jiagang, Yang Yongliang, Wang Qingsong, and Liu Bolin among others. The gallery has now expanded into three spaces in Paris, Beijing, and Brussels.
The interview below was conducted on 25 October 2014, while the gallery set up a booth at Paris Photo Fair on the theme of censorship. On that occasion, the team gathered works created by the Gao Brothers, Zhang Dali, Liu Bolin, Mo Yi, Peng Chi, Ren Hang, Ai Weiwei, and Hei Yue.
On the occasion of Paris Photo Fair, you are displaying eight artists whose works evoked the theme of censorship. Why did you choose this topic?
When Flore and Romain Degoul launched the gallery in 2006 in Beijing and since I have joined the team in 2009, we have realized collectors keep on asking one question: is there censorship in today’s China? We thought an exhibition on this very theme would clarify this issue as each time our answers differed. Through this exhibition, we hope to highlight different types of censorships and different themes of censorships, in other words it can imply notions of moral, religion, nudity, sexuality, and political commentary. We intend to demonstrate that Chinese artists have digested the possibility of being censored, and thus they have been using various ways [to express themselves]. They might use puns, play around an iconography referring to another concept, or even practice self-censorship. We were interested in confronting the lens of artists from different generations, far from the capitalist China we know today. The new generation offers an alternative gaze as usually they have travelled, went out of China, and speak English, which is radically different.
Are the artists aware of the fact that their works are themed such a way?
Of course, all the artists are well aware. We have contacted them to inquire about what they think about censorship issues. The goal is also to show the artist’s viewpoint.
Amongst the artists exhibited, there is Ren Hang, the rising star on Chinese contemporary photography scene. The Nue Gallery recently dedicated a solo show to him, the Bessard Editions published a limited edition monograph last August, and the Three Shadows Centre showcases as well some of his pictures at Paris Photo. It seems interesting to connect his works to politics, as they are usually associated with sexuality.
We have noticed indeed that the Three Shadows Centre is also displaying Ren Hang’ works, but their approach differs from ours. They have put an emphasis on the relationship between the body and natural environment, which is another dimension of his work compared to what he created generally. It is still a type of photography that is strong and straightforward. We have decided then to suggest two visions of his works, so as to test how he can integrate this project. Besides, similarly to other artists, his website has been censored in China countless times. Nowadays his website is hosted on another server that protect it from censorship. On the other hand, he cannot print his works in Mainland China. All of them have been printed in Paris for this occasion.
Who collects contemporary Chinese photography?
Profiles vary. It can be beginner collectors who start with photography, as it is an astonishing medium. Others are collectors less familiar with Chinese artists, and they want to bring something new to their collection. Finally there are the established collectors in Chinese art of longstanding who have been the first to support Chinese artists and still encourage the young generation. However they remain chiefly European collectors, but it is changing. We are very optimistic, we have very positive feedbacks on numerous galleries in China who inform us they are starting to sell to Chinese collectors, which did not happen four years ago.
Little by little, the gallery encompassed other mediums (painting, sculpture) as well as Korean and Indian photography. What was the thread running through this turning point?
We are evolving towards a more classical type of gallery with all that implies, in other words we are taking further risks with the artists we want to support. We get interested in sculpture, installation, hence to artworks that are more difficult to sell to collectors. We want to gamble on this approach as we understand well enough Asian photographic scene, and all the artists that interest us are already supported by us or at least have already collaborated with us. We believe it is important to take up new challenges and to get closer to the new generation, more specifically young and talented painters such as Site Fu.
The gallery organises residencies in Beijing, would you mind telling us more about this project?
The gallery offers the possibility to receive guests artists to Beijing. In general, they are artists from the gallery such as Ghost of a Dream or Jean-François Rauzier. But other artists outside the gallery are also welcomed. In total, ten or so artists had the opportunity to go. Our team in Beijing arranges meetings while helping them to finalize their project. It often results in an exhibition or at least to the production of several pieces, which were shaped by the discovery of another culture.
At the moment we do not offer the same residency in Paris, but we hope it will be possible with the new gallery [since November 2014, the gallery opened a new 400 square meters space in Paris]. However we receive guests in our space in Belgium, for instance there is currently for the first time Zhu Xinyu. He is going to create a monumental painting during a month, which will measure six by three meters. He will work in situ, so the exhibition will actually represent his studio. Up to now, we have not uploaded on our website the artworks produced in China during residencies. For the moment we prefer to keep them for ourselves but we will develop this project later on.
The gallery has also a Youtube channel. What is the next stage in this digital expansion?
We are currently working on an E-shop, notably in order to sell catalogues as we are also editors. We would like to develop our edition department by maybe creating limited editions, artists’ books, among others. It allows us to be independent, which is essential for us. We have also several video projects planned in 2015.
What is your favourite work of art at the moment?
I am really captivated by Ren Hang. I think it offers a very deep approach for a Chinese artist. I like the ways in which he documents his life, his travels, how his models change as he sometimes ask his friends and sometimes meet unknown persons from elsewhere. I find his themes very interesting although I prefer some images to others. He belongs to this new generation of artists that develop a well-assumed art, asserting their strong personalities as they could end up in prison.
More information: Paris-Beijing Gallery website