Huang Yu, former Bodybuilding Champion in China, is launching the first public exhibition of his art collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Chengdu on May 22 so as to highlight the first decade of his collecting career. With his charming smile, perfect physique and obsessive enthusiasm for bodybuilding and sport, Huang Yu almost stepped onto the road to become a star actor. However, somehow his obsession has shifted to Chinese contemporary art, which has equally brought him fame and enormous satisfaction.
What made you want to start collecting art?
I have started to engage in collecting art since my brother and I established an auction house in 2003.
What is the main motivation behind your collecting?
I think the main motivation is my obsession. When I love some art or think something is good, I want to collect them all. For example, when I first started to collect Qing Dynasty ceramics years ago, I wanted to get all the good stuff, so I thought I must get at least one to two pieces of ceramics from each category or each origin within Qing Dynasty… It is part of my personality. I think perhaps I have “obsessive-compulsive disorder”!
When did you fall in love with a piece of art? What was it? What is your most treasured artwork?
There are around 280 pieces of contemporary art in my collection and I love them all, so it is almost impossible to choose one of them as my favourite. Since I have divided my contemporary art collection into five categories, so perhaps I can pick one from each category as some of my favourites.
My favourite is conceptual art. Within this category, I love the copper installation “Rusty for Another 2000 Years” by Zheng Guogu, who is one of my favourite and most respected conceptual artists. He takes consumerism in our contemporary world as the subject of this artwork.
The second category is painting and I started to collect paintings since 1999. In this category, my favourite piece is a painting by Xie Nanxing inspired by Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”. The artist once told me that Duchamp was his idol.
The third category is “reinterpretation of tradition” and my favourite piece is a painting by Hao Liang, which merges both classical style and contemporary interpretation.
The fourth category is called “virtual reality” and my favourite artist within this is a photography artist Cai Dongdong and his work “Nine Squared Pattern Drawing.” This photography work is a repetition and re-creation of classical painting while it denotes an erotic setting.
My favourite piece in the sculpture category is a piece by Xiang Jing which depicts loneliness and a unique kind of sadness. This was my first collected artwork when I started collecting Chinese contemporary art in 2007.
What is your focus regarding the artists in your collection? Are you more interested in emerging or renowned artists?
The period from1979 to 2009 is recognised as “Thirty years of Chinese contemporary art” while there are artworks from after 2009. My collection includes artists from both of these divisions. Meanwhile, I also collect young post-80s and post-90s artists, so my collection covers quite a wide range.
What was the first artwork you purchased? How many artworks do you own?
That sculpture by Xiang Jing. Around 280 artworks so far…
Where do you display your collection?
I am preparing for the first exhibition of my collection right now. I started collecting contemporary art in 2007, so this year marks the end of a decade. Therefore, I would like to have an exhibition of my collection as a review of the past ten years of collecting. Then, Sichuan province is my homeland, and that’s why I chose to have this first exhibition in Sichuan.
Without this exhibition, my collection is partly displayed at home while the rest is in storage.
What considerations guide you to make a purchase?
I have several considerations before acquiring an artwork. First, which gallery is handling the work? Then, what is the message demonstrated by the artist? Thirdly, the message expressed by the artist? The most important is my feeling and whether I am moved by the artwork.
Is there any kind of artwork that can make you write a cheque without any consideration?
There are few artists whose work I would love to collect more, including Zheng Guogu, Liu Wei, Xie Nanxing, Wang Yin, and Wang Xingwei. If they have new good artworks, I would want to collect them. Still, I am rather rational in collecting art, so I don’t think I would buy any work regardless of how expensive it is.
How important is it for you to meet the artists who created the artwork?
I think it is necessary because meeting an artist in person allows me to observe his/her attitude towards art, understand the concept or the messages behind his/her work. It is especially important when collecting conceptual art.
The Art World
What was your happiest moment being involved in art?
I had collected some artworks by several mid-career artists at a lower price lever, but their prices became many times higher after four or five years. Though I would never sell these pieces, I reckoned that as a kind of recognition of my judgment and choice. Also, some of those artists got to be represented by better galleries or galleries from the west, so I was truly happy to see that.
Who inspires you in the art world?
In 2006, I first came to know He Juxing who was originally a traditional art collector who collects classical and modern Chinese art. But later on, he once discussed contemporary art with and he said, “Look at these emerging young artists, their art and you can grow up together – that would be an amazing and meaningful journey!”
In the personal aspect, He Juxing would bring me along when he went to exhibitions, auctions or other art events. At work, he engaged me in establishing the Minsheng Art Museum, through which I have gained some very valuable experiences. Also, he would always share with me his various views in art. That’s how all these have made me the art collector I am today.
If you are given a million dollars now, how would you spend it?
I would divide it into two parts – one for charity projects and one for sponsorship projects that support young artists.
From Bodybuilding Champion to Private Museum Dream
How was your experiences involving in the Minsheng Art Museum?
From 2008 to 2010, I was involved in the preparation of Minsheng Art Museum. We set up everything from zero and I have learned a lot from the process. When the museum opened, the first exhibition was “Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary Art”, a large exhibition in which I was appointed to be responsible for organizing the exhibition and editing the exhibition catalogue. All these have taught me a lot about the history of Chinese contemporary art as well as knowledge related to organizing an exhibition.
What do you think about the continuously increasing number of private museums in China? Would you want to set up your own private museum one day?
I think this is a very good development because these private museums actually act as a bridge between Chinese and Western contemporary art These people or private enterprises are very enthusiastic and what they do is amazing and contributes to the nation. I truly appreciate that. And I dream of having my own contemporary art museum one day…
For the upcoming exhibition to showcase your collection, have you involved in curating it?
I have invited Zhu Zhu, a well-known curator in China to make this exhibition together. Zhu Zhu has given very insightful advice and direction for the exhibition. On the other hand, both the catalogue and the exhibition would follow the five categories of my collection, and I write the preface for the catalogue mainly according to my own ideas and vision. Then, both Zhu Zhu and the designer respect very much my ideas about the design and editing of the catalogue. So I am totally involved in most aspects and take up lots of the tasks.
On 23 May, there would be a forum organised by artnet that gathers six emerging Chinese collectors including me and other friends. It would be the first time to gather the six of us all on the same occasion, so this would really be highlight of my exhibition and I am really looking forward to it.
You used to love sport and bodybuilding a lot. How about now, has art replaced its importance in your life?
Yes, I used to be really obsessive about bodybuilding since I was a teenager! But recently I have become too busy and maybe a bit lazy for that. In 2003, I won the Bodybuilding champion in China. At that time, I wanted to enter an academy of performing arts and I even signed a contract to become an actor, but then my dream of becoming a star was disillusioned due to opposition from my family…
So in the end I have become a collector, which is not bad at all. And that is quite true because the passion for art and collecting has become an essential part of my life. From morning till night, with the different people I meet during the day, over 80% of my time is related to art. Now I hope to work on my new dream to have a museum of my own or of my family, or to set up one in collaboration with a private enterprise.
Chinese Emerging Collector Forum
2pm, 23 May 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art Chengdu, Sichuan, China.