Despite a 2 % drop in 2016, China continues to account for nearly 30 % of the art market – a phenomenon that coincides with the proliferation of private museums. While antique and contemporary Chinese art is still firmly in the limelight, a new wave of collectors educated in the Old and New Worlds are beginning to develop less China-centric tastes. A case in point is Lin Han, in his thirties, who graduated with a degree in Animation from Northumbria University in the UK, and runs a luxury goods advertising agency with some forty employees. When he bought a painting by Zeng Fanzhi in 2013 for $5 M, he gained admission to the elite circle of top contemporary art collectors. He and Wanwan Lei, his stunningly beautiful wife and muse with a degree in Cultural Management from Columbia University in New York, are one of the most glamorous couples in China. Both intend to make the M WOODS contemporary art museum (which they cofounded with Michael Xufu Huang in 2014) into a showcase for art from all over the world.
What ambition do you have for M WOODS?
Although Chinese tradition is one of ancestor worship, one key asset of M WOODS is its youth. Therein lies its power to build the future. The team running the museum represents the new generation, and are just as keen on highbrow culture as TV shows and documentaries. Digital media have fostered the mingling of genres, and today this multiculturalism has become the norm. I believe it's essential to push the boundaries of art. There are so many features of today’s world that the M WOODS team can use creatively. Our aim is to develop a programme that appeals to connoisseurs and non-specialists alike. It's very gratifying for an institution to have visitors of all ages and backgrounds sharing their experience of a museum with their friends and elders. That hasn’t always been possible in China, and we hope to see a growing interest in places like M WOODS.
You have also acquired some 16th-century Flemish paintings. How do these pieces fit into your collection, which is more geared towards contemporary art?
These acquisitions are a good example of how M WOODS functions: doing away with categories like a work's medium or the artistic movement that spawned it. A non-chronological hang emphasises what is contemporary and universal about these pieces. In 2016, we brought together sculptures from the Qi and Tang dynasties of the 6th and 8th centuries, two 16th-century paintings by the studios of Hieronymus Bosch and Paul Bril, a landscape by Corot, a piece by Chinese artist Ouyang Chun, and a folded canvas painting by Italian artist Giorgio Griffa [artists born in 1974 and 1936, respectively – Ed.]. Combined in this way, these pieces executed more than fifteen hundred years apart revealed unexpected resonances.
How do you view the art market in China and Europe? Is it overly influenced by speculation?
While North America has a certain monopoly in contemporary art, I find Europe is still the best market place, or at least the most rational one. Collecting is recent in China. I think the prospect of an investment too often takes precedence over more genuine motivations. The best and surest assessment comes from our passion for art and our knowledge of it, not from a speculative approach. The Chinese still have a lot to learn about their own cultural heritage, before even setting foot in the territory of global art. I personally try to stay clear of speculation.