What started out as an interest in Ming Dynasty furniture, slowly developed into a love, or may we say obsession, for Asian paintings. Collecting Asian contemporary greats since 1996, such as Chinese artist Liu Ye with his iconic inspired Mondrian paintings and Miffy bunnies, Zhou Tong first explored New Literati paintings in the 1990s. Overtime, he gradually shifted his attention to contemporary art focusing primarily on abstract art. Over the years, the contemporary art lover admitted to reaching full wall capacity in his home.
Based in Beijing, Zhou Tong is a curator and columnist for Chinese art magazine SCOPE, writing art reviews and critics.
In this interview, the collector sheds light on Liu Ye’s true personality and his favourite painting series by the artist.
What sparked your interest in art? How did you start buying art works?
My interest in art first started with an appreciation for Ming Dynasty furniture. Then later, I began to notice and follow artists and their body of work. Soon after, I started buying art.
Do you remember what your first purchase was?
It was a rosewood chair from Ming Dynasty.
What is the main focus of your collection in terms of themes and genre?
I don’t have a specific focus. I buy paintings that catch my eye. However, my taste did change over time and since then I am paying more attention to Asian and new abstract paintings.
At what point did you start to notice you became a collector?
It wasn’t until I noticed that my house couldn’t fit any more artworks and wondered whether I was maybe buying “too much”. At that point, I realised that I could call myself a collector.
How many artworks do you have approximately?
Considering I started in 1996 until now, it should be quite a lot. I haven’t counted them.
How has your collection developed since you first started?
I don’t have a system when it comes to collecting. I just like to expand on my scope of interests. For example now, I am also focusing on contemporary art.
What is the main focus regarding the artists in your collection? Are you more interested in emerging or renowned artists?
I don’t mind, as long as they continue to improve and devote efforts to their work. I think Liang Yuanwie’s works are pretty good.
What do you hope to achieve with your collection?
I hope I can collect the works from the artists I admire which can help me go more in depth into understanding the relationships between metaphysical questions and paintings.
Have you ever shown your collection to the public?
Thoughts on collecting
What considerations guide you to make a purchase?
I purchase works whenever I feel connected to it. In the end, it’s all about feeling.
Where do you most often buy art?
I do often go to galleries, auction houses and art fairs. I sometimes buy at an artist’s studio if they’re not represented by a gallery.
Do yourself as a competitive person when it comes to art collecting?
No, I don’t think as myself as competitive. Of course, if I see a work that I like, then yes I will do my best to fight for it when bidding. But if I failed then I will let it go.
What’s the best part of art collecting in your opinion: the research, the chase or the purchase?
To finally buy a work, which I have been eyeing for so long. For me, that is the best part.
How did you come to know Liu Ye or his works?
I met Liu Ye at a Pace Gallery dinner in either 2012 or 2013 and we had a nice discussion about art and other things. Soon after, we went to Shanghai together to view a collection of ancient Chinese paintings at an American museum.
What was your first purchase by this artist?
It was “Books on Books” and “Composition with Bamboo No 4”.
What mainly attracts you to Liu Ye’s works?
I believe his works are getting increasingly better with time; close to reaching perfection in my opinion.
Do you have a particular favourite work by him or series?
I quite like his book painting series.
What do you think of his recently released Catalogue Raisonné, containing close to all of his paintings?
Yes, I read it already. The printing and content are very nice! I even wrote a review about the book and posted it on my Weibo. At first glance, if someone met Liu Ye for the first time, they may think he’s a very gentle and easy-going artist, but once you get to know him, he’s quite an assertive person. His comments and works can sometimes be very intense and sharp, as well as filled with connotations.
What do you think about this increasing trend of publishing catalogue raisonnés for Chinese artists?
I’d push anyone to buy this book and I am happy to see it developing as a trend but only as long as it focuses on good quality artists. It would be a waste if it focused on random artists.
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A selection of artists Zhou Tong collects