This exhibition is about the contemporary art scene in Los Angeles, but your career actually began in China, where you lived for many years. What’s the story there?
I majored in Art History at Wellesley (the top US college for women, which counts Hillary Clinton among its alumni). The college is known for being progressive, and for having teachers who are well-schooled in feminist thought. It had such an impact on me! My art history teacher Heping Liu was from China, and he was the reason why I ended up spending several years there right after graduating. This was about ten years ago. He told me, ‘China’s economic future looks bright, and any strong economy is interested in art. If you move there now, you will find great opportunities.’ He was right. The contemporary art scene was just budding, and it was far from saturated. And that’s what I ended up doing.
And the market there was dominated by Chinese art, right?
Yes, there wasn’t much international art being shown when I began working as an intern at MoCA Shanghai, the first private museum in Shanghai, one of many that have since appeared all over the country. The best thing about everything being new and untested was that none of the hierarchies had been established yet. Our organisation was quite flat, and I made friends with the owners. They focused on producing exhibitions that would attract new artists and ideas. One of the exhibitions we worked on featured the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. It was a truly international exchange project, and that was how I came into contact with people from the Chinese art scene. Everybody came to the show opening: curators, artists, and collectors. We all became good friends.
So how did you end up on the commercial side of things?
As time went by, I simply befriended the collectors. They were all starting out with their collections, so our needs were neatly aligned. I knew American art, and they needed somebody who could introduce them to artists whose careers were just taking off, and whose price levels hadn’t peaked yet. We joined forces, basically. At first, it was mostly a matter of translating art journal articles to Chinese. Good scholarly material is far more available in Chinese today, and there is a large selection now.
So, basically, you were there to witness the shift of Chinese buyers, from buying Chinese art to buying Western art, as it actually happened?
That’s right, they were collecting Chinese contemporary art and antiques. Which is no surprise really, what you know is always the most accessible to you. They were able to meet with contemporary Chinese artists, ask them questions, and get to know them.