EX: 1/30/2012
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2013.02.05 Tue, by Translated by: GU Ling
The Laughing Gallerist

Tina Keng’s eponymous gallery was inaugurated in 2009 — an evolution on from Lin and Keng Gallery (established in 1992). The gallery is based in Taipei and also has a Beijing branch. The focus is on “modern classics” — strong, simple works invested with cultural history. This year, Tina Keng gallery featured artists Zao Wou-Ki, Wang Huaiqing, Xiaobai Su, Yao Jui-chung and Chen Chun-Hao at Art Stage Singapore.

Iona Whittaker: How did the gallery start?

Tina Keng: Oh, this is a long story! I was at Dimension Gallery, working in sales, so I had a wonderful chance to attend international parties and so on, and then in Tokyo – last time it was crazy, during the bubble in ’88.

Then I said this is my time in the market. I had learnt some things from the Western side, so I knew how to run a gallery, how the market operated, how to choose the artists. So I decided to open my own gallery – not a local gallery. I loved the avant-garde, like this! [waves round the works on show in the booth] You know, I am professional — I do it the [traditional] “gallery” way. A lot of gallerists do many things – they are dealers, auction speculators, et cetera., but I just do a traditional gallery. I’m not a young lady! (Laughs) My way is simple and clear. For many years now, clients have been with me – they understand and trust me. We are like old friends; they know I’m serious. They watch you, you know — they want to know “Who are you?” “Me? I’m a gallery. I’m not an auction house.” I just do what I need to do. (Laughs).

IW: How do you go about choosing artists?

TK: Half and half – new artists and those I have been working with for a long time. There are some artists who have been with my gallery and asleep for ten years, but maybe after ten years, they wake up! Half I should watch for the future. The new generation, of course, but I’m not young anymore, so I need my daughter’s help. I cannot do too avant-garde — the language, the experience, and mostly my education. It’s a different world, so…

IW: So, how would you sum up the image of your gallery — its focus, target audience and your aims?

TK: Well, I want to run an interesting gallery. I have my own style, my own taste, my own face. I can say that my survival is not cultural — who am I? Right? I say “I am Taiwanese,” but my parents, my family are Chinese. When I was young, 25 years ago, I loved Picasso, I loved Monet, Matisse… The first time I attended an art fair, I showed Picasso and Degas. When I was on the Western side, I was enjoying the most wonderful [Western] work — Ecole de Paris, that kind of thing. But when I started my own gallery, what could I do? I should approach things my own way. So, then I featured artists like Zao Wou-Ki, and even George Chann. I had the feeling that we shared the same culture – we are close.

IW: And when you seek new artists, what sorts of things do you look for?

TK: My way is easy: who takes me in? Who can speak for my eyes? I don’t read who says you are important, but this young guy Xiaobai Su [she gestures to the works behind her], he is a genius. He was not famous when I started working with him, but I could smell it — wow! He is a master.

IW: Would you ever open a space in Singapore?

TK: I wish; I would love to. I have many friends here, and here it’s more international.

IW: What about Hong Kong?

TK: Hong Kong is the most important, but it’s too expensive. The most important thing for a gallery is the space; without the space, nothing can work.

IW: And what do you particularly look forward to in Singapore, when you come here?

TK: In the last five years, more and more people have come. I am interested now — if I had the choice, I would have a gallery in Singapore. Singapore is young, and the government supports art; that’s important. The economy is very good here, and they want culture.

IW: Lastly, what are your expectations for this year?

TK: I have co-operations with some European museums or galleries. I like working with museums, so maybe this year I need to plan this, choose the artists.

IW: And your aims for 2013?

TK: Just the energy – I cannot stop!

Interview conducted on-site in the booth at Art Stage Singapore, 26th January 2013