2014.01.10 Fri, by Translated by: 燃点
Johnson Chang Responds to Artists’ Allegations

In response to recent accusations leveled by Li Shan and Sun Liang, Johnson Chang of Hanart has issued a statement (first in Chinese, and now in English; reprinted below).

In late December, Li Shan and Sun Liang publicly accused Johnson Chang and Hanart of keeping works from the 1993 Venice Biennale [see the previous report here].

Randian spoke with Johnson Chang to hear his version of events.

“The organization of the Venice exhibition really had nothing to do with me,” Johnson Chang said, “The artwork was shipped back from Italy and arrived in Hong Kong almost one year afterwards….When we counted the shipment, we opened four of the crates. That’s the last list we had. We misplaced the fifth crate.”

“I was supposed to do this as a favor. And misplacing one crate was my oversight. For that, I ought to apologize,” Chang remarked. “And in a gallery, the staff changes very rapidly. When someone asks for something, we need to check our records of our stock.”

“I must say I can be very disorganized,” Chang admitted, “But it’s not just a matter of disorganization. I mean, the [Venice] Biennale itself is a very chaotic place.” [note: "organized" was corrected to "disorganized"; Jan 11, 2014]

Johnson Chang pointed to an interview done with Francesca dal Lago a few years ago [in Chinese], about how a Liu Wei work was found in a gallery in Italy. “So this shows works had been stolen.”

He expressed dismay that the artists are trying to ruin his and Hanart’s reputation in an “over-the-top” accusation. He noted that Wang Guangyi had gotten his works back.

He also pointed out that Francesca dal Lago actually has a list of the works, which is well known, and that “there is no way to sell them or exhibit them.”

Below is the statement printed in full:


Johnson Chang (Director, Hanart TZ Gallery)

In response to the misrepresentations and inaccuracies contained in the December 16, 2013 article “ ’93 Venice Biennale Lost Artworks Now Returned” published in the Internet magazine WallPost, the subsequent articles published by the same, and the reprint of the above in English by Randian on 20 December, I would like to make the following statement on behalf of Hanart TZ Gallery. I also want to note that WallPost did not contact Hanart TZ Gallery or myself for verification of the claims before the article was published:

First and foremost, neither Hanart TZ Gallery, nor I personally, was involved in any way in the organization of the exhibition of Chinese artists at the 45th Venice Biennale in June 1993.

However, in August 1994, almost a year after the exhibition had closed in Italy, I was contacted by members of the exhibition’s organizing team, seeking the assistance of Hanart to help them out of a predicament involving the shipment of the works. The information I received was that the works of the participating artists in the 45th Venice Biennale had been detained in Italy for over half a year, after which time they had been shipped by the Venice organizers back to China. However, the shipment was now being held at the port in Tianjin and was unable to clear customs. Members of the organizing team in China thus asked if, as a personal favour, Hanart TZ Gallery would step in and accept shipment of the works in Hong Kong.

Hanart in this case was acting only as recipient for the delivery of this shipment to Hong Kong from Tianjin, and as a temporary storage depot for these works. The artworks that had been shipped from Venice were in no way connected to Hanart. We had no way of knowing if artworks in the shipment were missing or not when it left Venice, or when it left Tianjin for Hong Kong. In August 1994 the shipment arrived in Hong Kong. In accordance with the shipping manifest, a total of 5 crates were delivered to the Hanart warehouse. However, there was no accompanying stock list from either the shipper or the organizer to state which specific works were packed inside the crates. At the time, Hanart’s small staff was intensely busy organizing the first participation of Chinese artists in the Sao Paolo Biennale due to open in Brazil on  October 11, 1994 (to which Li Shan was invited). I was the curator of this event and Hanart took on the full workload. So the crates were put aside in the warehouse until there would be time and manpower to deal with them.

Upon return from Sao Paolo in mid-October 1994, I was able to enlist my staff to locate and open the crates and proceed to make a stock list of the contents. At the time, since we had no inventory list from the organizers, we took it upon ourselves to check our stock list against the artworks published in the official Venice Biennale catalogue and had noticed a discrepancy, which we pointed out to the China organizers. Copies of the stock list were then sent to the exhibition organizers in Venice. Unfortunately I was not aware at the time that only 4 of the 5 crates stored in our warehouse had actually been checked and taken stock by my staff, and that our stock list did not include the contents of the fifth crate, which we now know to contain 7 works.

Following is the stock list of the works Hanart staff uncrated and inventoried in October 1994 and subsequently faxed to the organizers in Venice:

Liu Wei, two paintings; Yu Youhan, one painting; Fang Lijun, one painting; Geng Jianyi, three paintings; Zhang Peili, four paintings; Feng Mengbo, one set of nine paintings; Wang Ziwei, three paintings; Wang Guangyi, one set of two paintings; Ding Yi, one painting; Song Haidong, one set of sculptures (including 67 pieces plus two photographs).

Missing from those works described in the Venice Biennale catalogue included works by Yu Hong, Xu Bing and several other artists.

That Hanart agreed not only to receive the shipment of works in Hong Kong in 1994 but also to store the works in our warehouse until the artists could arrange to pick them up was actually going beyond the call of duty. In principle our responsibility would have ended with receiving the shipment in Hong Kong so that it could be transferred back to the organizers from the Chinese side, who should then be responsible for returning the works to the artists. However, given the historical conditions of the time, we knew there was no real choice but to take on this burden to assist our colleagues in a difficult situation. After the artists were notified that their works were now in Hong Kong pending retrieving by them, their responses varied: while some arranged to pick up their works immediately, others took some time. For example, Ding Yi didn’t come to retrieve his painting until 2000, while Song Haidong is still storing his works in our warehouse.

As regards the discovery of the fifth crate in September of this year, this was an unforeseen outcome of our preparations over the last several months for Hanart TZ Gallery’s 30th anniversary celebration, scheduled for 17 January 2014. I am making a selection of 100 important works from my collection, a major curatorial effort as this is the first time most of these historical objects are being seen in decades. This is also one of my most important projects as I have plans to donate the collection to the Hong Kong public domain. To this end, since this summer Hanart staff has been undertaking a cleanup of our warehouses. It was during this process that the fifth, overlooked, crate from the 93 Venice Biennale was recovered, containing works by four artists as follows: One set of three paintings by Li Shan; two paintings by Ding Yi; one set of two paintings by Wang Guangyi; and three paintings by Sun Liang.

After the discovery of the crate, I immediately and on my own initiative notified all of the 4 artists concerned and asked them to come and pick up their works. Li Shan and Sun Liang came to Hong Kong and retrieved their paintings on 29 October 2013.

In the past Li Shan and Sun Liang did contact me concerning their missing artworks. However, as their works were not in the original stock list complied by Hanart staff in 1994, we believed the works were not with us. Subsequent staff changes in the gallery (common in this business) has made it even more difficult to trace items without stock record. The fact that in October 1994, when taking the inventory from the Venice shipment, Hanart staff overlooked the fifth crate containing the seven works listed above, was indeed a grave error on our part, and for this oversight Hanart TZ Gallery offers a full and sincere apology to the artists and other friends involved in this matter. As such, Hanart must also bear some of the blame for the misunderstandings regarding events that took place almost 20 years ago.

However, I must also strongly express my deepest disappointment and chagrin at the unfounded accusations and aspersions cast on both the professional reputation of Hanart TZ Gallery and on my personal integrity. As Li Xianting has said, in journalism it is important to look into the historical context and conditions to understand a historical situation.

Finally, Hanart TZ Gallery wishes to sincerely thank all of our friends and colleagues who have supported us all these years.

Thank You!

Johnson Chang

Hanart TZ Gallery