2014.03.26 Wed, by Translated by: Yu Hsiao-hwei
“My job is to develop new perceptions of Chinese art”—Interview with Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens

Art Paris opens today (March 26) and this year, the “Guest of Honor” is China. Our Paris correspondent Yu Hsiao-hwei talked to the director of Art Paris, Guillaume Piens.

Yu Hsiao-hwei: On your arrival three years ago, you redefined Art Paris as a European fair that explores the countries of the East. After Russia last year, China is the Guest of Honor for the 2014 edition…

Guillaume Piens: This is not a new position for me. I was previously the Artistic Director of the Paris Photo fair, where I already had a turn toward the East and successively focused on Japan, Saudi Arabia and Central Europe. I chose this axis based on a feeling that the West is sort of exhausted today, while the East is full of amazing energies—that the flourishing art scenes in these vast territories (Central Europe, Middle East and Asia) deserved to be showcased. So from the very start, I wanted to continue this eastward orientation with Art Paris. Moreover, Art Paris should take another annual fair—FIAC, which is held in October—into account. FIAC has long been stressing the German-Anglo-American axis. I don’t think Art Paris should place itself in a position of competition, but should rather develop a complementary approach and explore the territories that FIAC doesn’t look at.

Russia was an obvious choice because of its location between Europe and Asia. After that, I was convinced that the spotlight should turn to an Asian country; I chose China to start with, because I found that China was genuinely enjoying an artistic renaissance. I made the decision without knowing that in 2014, there would be a commemoration to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China. It’s time to renew our perceptions about China. There had been much talk about Chinese art around 2004, when the Centre Georges Pompidou put on a large-scale exhibition on Chinese contemporary art ( “Alors, la Chine?” June-October 2003), but the views of Chinese art—at least in France—are dated, full of stereotypes and clichés. Actually, China today is undergoing dramatic development and change. New generations of artists have emerged—for example, those who were born in the late 70s are part of the generation of one-child policy; they are mainly urban dwellers, intensely connected to internet, and have a totally different worldview.

YH: How do you plan to put China into focus?

GP: There will be more than 90 Chinese artists of different generations: historical, contemporary and emerging; in particular, many young artists are to be discovered. This is the first time that China is featured as the guest of honor in a French art fair, and in such a prestigious venue (the Grand Palais). All this will be appreciated by the participating Chinese galleries and artists. Other than China-based galleries, we also have Chinese galleries from elsewhere. It is interesting to show French people that China is not a closed-off, monolithic country with well-defined borders. Rather, the Chinese world also includes the diaspora. Today, Chinese galleries operate in Taiwan, Singapore, the United States, Europe, etc.—they are faced with an open Chinese world. When I talked about Chinese “Renaissance,” I was thinking of the Italian Renaissance. What’s interesting with the Italian Renaissance is that competition among different cities led to booming art scenes. Today, we also see this dynamic of competition and emulation among Chinese cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

To sum up the China thematic section this year, highlights include a monumental sculpture Liu Bolin made especially for Art Paris at the entrance of the Grand Palais and the “Buddha Jumps over the Wall” by Zhang Ding, brought by Hélène Bailly in collaboration with ShanghART Gallery. Eight galleries are participating in the China thematic section as well as many other Chinese artists shown in other sections. We also invited a French couple to show 15 major works from their collection of Chinese artists, including a beautiful painting by Zhang Xiaogang; this private collection will enrich our view of Chinese art. A lecture will be given by Uli Sigg and Karen Smith; for me, Smith is the true critic of contemporary Chinese, but she has never been invited to France! My job is to develop new perceptions of Chinese art by inviting people or galleries that French people don’t know about. The focus on China is a rich and deep project, with 33 galleries involved in or concerned by the China theme.

YH: What are the criteria for selecting the Chinese galleries?

GP: The criteria are very simple: we want galleries that can bring interesting projects to the fair. One of my goals is to show different types of structures. For the “China Platform”, I am interested in having the best photo galleries in China, so I am delighted that Shanghai’s M97 Gallery and Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery decided to come. I am also happy that the Shanghai-based Red Bridge Gallery, which has never been out of China, chose to come to Paris for the first time, and bringing well-known artists such as Liu Wei and Tang Zhigang. There is also the artist collective Island6 art center from Shanghai. What I am doing is not just for Art Paris, but in order to open up a situation for these galleries by raising their international visibility and recognition. I would be absolutely delighted to see them take part in other important international events afterwards.

YH: What is the place of China in your long-term development strategy?

GP: Very important! This year we have a dozen Chinese galleries that are coming for the first time. The fact that we feature them as the Guests of Honor and present a deep survey on the Chinese art scene means we have built a particular relationship with these galleries. What interests me is whether in 2015, with South Korea as the guest of honor, Chinese galleries will decide to come back to the fair to show in the general section, because they are happy with the honorable treatment and attention they have received this year.

(This interview was first conducted in French).

Hong Hao, “My Things #6″, 216 x 127 cm, 2002 (Galerie Loft)

Jiang Pengyi, “Everything Illuminates No. 10,” 240 x 177 cm, 2012 (Blindspot Gallery)

A view of Art Paris. Photo: Art Paris Art Fair