Thursday, May 25, 2017, 1:41 AM CST – China

Culture

Art Collector

Break the System

Upstart art collectors Lin Han and his wife Lei Wanwan are making their mark on the global scene

Lin Han and his wife Lei Wanwan in M WOODS Art Museum Photo by Dong Jiexu

M WOODS Art Museum in Beijing’s 798 art district

Works displayed at M WOODS’ opening exhibition titled Pale Fire: Revising Boundaries, October 2014

In just a year and a half, 27-year-old Lin Han has purchased more than 200 pieces of art from around the world. The first piece acquired for his formal art collection was a painting by Zeng Fanzhi, one of China’s most important and internationally renowned modern artists, purchased at Sotheby’s for US$1 million.

Besides Zeng Fanzhi, Lin’s collection now includes works from top artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Zhou Chunya. More important to Lin, and to his wife and fellow collector Lei Wanwan, is their mission to showcase young artists from all over the world, including Chinese artists like Chen Fei, Gao Yu and Qiu Jiongjiong, as well as artists from Europe, US, Japan, Brazil and many other countries.

“Young artists around the world are discussing increasingly similar things,” Lin Han told NewsChina. “It’s very narrow minded to separate art by [national] borders.”

As the couple’s collection continued to grow, they decided to share it with the public – in October 2014, their art museum M WOODS opened in Beijing’s renowned 798 Art District.

The Bauhaus-style museum of some 27,000 square feet was designed by Lin himself, while Lei Wanwan took charge of curating their opening exhibition, titled Pale Fire: Revising Boundaries, which included works owned by seven young collectors in China including Qiao Zhibing, Zhou Dawei and Lin Han himself. Works by top artists were exhibited alongside those by unknown young artists.

“Yayoi Kusama’s works are so expensive, while Sarah Peoples’ haven’t appeared as part of a single commercial exhibition. But I think Peoples’ works are qualified to be exhibited next to Yayoi Kusama’s,” said Lei Wanwan. “The exhibition’s core ideal is the removal of boundaries, including those of nationality, sex and age, but also of price.”

The Big Buyer

Lin Han’s rapid-fire round of international art acquisition came as a surprise both at home and abroad, and caught the attention of many in the industry, some of whom dismiss him as a strong-willed young man spending his family’s money. Indeed, according to Lin’s biography on Baidu Baike, China’s Wikipedia equivalent, Lin’s family has “connections to China’s political, commercial and cultural circles.” Lin’s parents, former military officers turned successful businesspeople, sent Lin to study in Singapore at the age of 14. “They bought me a plane ticket and I just went,” Lin said, adding that his parents hoped this would teach him to become independent and build a future for himself.

Lin’s development in Singapore vindicated his parents’ decision. Besides school, Lin was good at basketball, and got into business at a young age. “I made a lot of money when I was 17,” he said. In 2006, when Lin was still a college student majoring in animation at the University of Northumbria in the UK, he returned to China to register his own advertising company, and picked up work as a freelance designer. In 2009, Lin became chief visual effects designer for the 53rd Asia Pacific Film Festival. In his own words, he dug up “first, second and third pots of gold” for himself.

Long before he began purchasing art, Lin was already an experienced collector. As a child, he collected basketball posters, footwear and bicycle logo plates. “I have more than 100 bicycle brand plates from both home and abroad,” he told NewsChina. Later he began collecting supercars, and was invited to participate in the design of a limited-edition Lamborghini for the Chinese market.

Through his work as a designer, Lin gradually developed a strong interest in art. When he returned to China after graduation in the UK, he found that the boundaries between art and design were becoming increasingly blurred. “My father taught me how to be a good businessman,” he said, “and I also inherited my mother’s artistic temperament.” Lin’s mother had been a Chinese opera singer, and Lin had always maintained a very close relationship with his mother. The “M” in the museum’s name “M WOODS” is the initial of Lin’s mother’s given name, and Lin’s family name means “woods.”

While Lin himself lacks any formal art education, Lin found himself a perfect partner – his wife Lei Wanwan. Having graduated from China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, Lei went to Columbia University in New York to read a postgraduate degree in art management. In 2012, Lei founded WanWan Lei Projects, curating a series of small exhibitions in various New York art spaces. Lei had actually planned to stay in New York, until she met Lin in Beijing at a party for young collectors in 2014. “An artist needs talent, and a collector also needs a talent for discovering art,” Lei said. While she saw this talent in Lin, she also provided professional consultation for Lin’s purchases.

Universal Secret

Lin’s some 200 pieces include almost every kind of artwork imaginable, from paintings, to installations, to sculpture, to photography and video art. “We do not decide what to collect based on  medium and material,” said Lei Wanwan. “Our system is to break down the system,” Lin added.

In Lin’s opinion, the ideas of philosophy, science, art and economics are interlinked. “There are common characteristics of good art works. But it’s a universal secret, and you can’t define them exactly,” Lin told NewsChina.

The museum’s latest exhibition is a screening of Dutch artist Guido Van Der Werve’s video work Nummer veertien, home, a piece that took the artist six years to finish, in which stories of Alexandria and the death of Chopin are combined with Guido’s performance art and original classical compositions. The exhibition is Guido’s first in Asia.

However, on the Friday afternoon when NewsChina visited M WOODS, attendance was sparse. As a not-for-profit private art museum – currently financed by Lin’s parents – Lin is under pressure to keep the museum in business. He and Lei Wanwan plan to hold a series of exhibitions and activities at the museum, in addition to publishing art books and carrying out academic research.

“We want to adhere to international standards in the running of our museum. We hope to contribute to the development of modern art, and share modern art with not only China but the world,” said Lin. “Globalization facilitated us enjoying art works from around the world… Collectors of our generation have a natural global vision,” said Lin.

‘Our system is to break down the system.’

 

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