Chinese collectors Lin Han and Wanwan Lei rising stars in the collecting world – interview

Named young collectors to watch by Apollo International Art Magazine, the Chinese couple opened the museum M WOODS as a way to share their collection.

Art Radar spoke to Lin Han and Wanwan Lei about their collecting and their ambition to move communities.

Wanwan Lei and Lin Han outside M WOODS, Beijing. March 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu

Wanwan Lei and Lin Han outside M WOODS, Beijing. March 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

Beijing-based couple Lin Han and Wanwan Lei are relatively new to the collecting scene. Still in their 20s, they have approached the art scene in different ways. Lin Han, the head of a PR firm, bought his first piece in 2013 while Wanwan Lei has been involved in the art and fashion worlds throughout her career.

Installation view of John Currin at M WOODS, 2015. M WOODS Collection, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu

Installation view of John Currin at M WOODS, 2015. M WOODS Collection, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

In 2014 they co-founded M WOODS with Michael Xufu Huang, an independent not-for-profit contemporary art museum in Beijing’s 798 Art District. The aim of the museum’s collection is to be timeless, combining masterpieces from the Renaissance eras with contemporary art by artists from around the world. The museum seeks to bring attention to emerging or overlooked artists as well as exhibiting well-known artists from new perspectives. Through this space Lin Han and Wanwan Lei make their collection accessible to the public. In August 2016, the two young collectors were listed among the 10 collectors to watch in Apollo Magazine 40 Under 40.

Art Radar caught up with the couple to learn about their thoughts on collecting, the museum and the art scene in Beijing.

M WOODS, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

M WOODS, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

How did your passion for collecting begin? 

Lin Han (LH): We arrived at collecting in different ways. Wanwan has been around art and artists her whole life and studied and worked in the industry. I started collecting when I realised I had so much to learn from artists. I think that art offers new energy – it is like the sun, or a light that enables people to see each other.

What was the first piece you collected and what drew you to it? 

LH: My first purchase was one of Zeng Fanzhi’s mask paintings. He is a true master and I wanted the collection to be anchored by a work of this calibre. Buying this piece has allowed the collection to grow in the ways I wanted it to.

Installation view of Guido van der Werve at M WOODS, 2016. M WOODS Collection, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

Installation view of Guido van der Werve at M WOODS, 2016. M WOODS Collection, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

What drives your collection practice? Could you explain a bit about the aims you have for your collection? 

Wanwan Lei (WW): We are driven by trying to make sense of our world. The city that we grew up in is changing at lightning speed, and online culture in China brings people closer together and further apart at the same time. Our collection traverses different periods and geographies, we collect ancient Chinese pieces alongside new works by Sterling Ruby and Ouyang Chun, for instance. We think that by seeing these individual examples of brilliance side by side in a space where time is collapsed in a way, gives us opportunity to think about the essence of the human spirit and to understand what’s happening today or in the future.

M WOODS, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

M WOODS, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

What were your reasons for opening M WOODS museum?

WW: There is a saying in Chinese which is hard to articulate in English but loosely proposes that what begins as an independent pursuit can end up as something that moves communities. Collecting was something we did initially for our own learning, but opening the museum and sharing the collection has helped us, and hopefully many others, learn so much more. Having lived in a place like New York, which has an amazing museum infrastructure that gives so much back to the city, we wanted to provide people in Beijing something of the same.

Installation view of Andy Warhol at M WOODS, 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

Installation view of Andy Warhol at M WOODS, 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

You mentioned in an interview with Jing Daily that museums are important for their communities. In what ways do you connect with the cultural scene and local communities in Beijing?

LH: We, and our co-founder Michael, are all from Beijing and have grown up in a place which loves to experiment and debate, whether through visual art, or literature, or music. With art and music particularly, there was a very productive underground [scene] in Beijing, which still exists today but is sometimes lost amongst all the development. We believe it’s extremely important to feed this underground, and that is something we hope to do by opening a new space in Sanlitun for experimental and emerging artists and practices.

Installation view of Andy Warhol at M WOODS, 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

Installation view of Andy Warhol at M WOODS, 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

Why do you think it is particularly important to have a museum like M WOODS at this time in Beijing? 

WW: To support the huge appetite young people have to engage with the whole world, and to learn about contemporary culture, both Chinese and international, we need more good museums and education programmes. There are also a lot of young artists contending with issues of urbanisation, grappling with our cultural history, who need to be supported, and a lot of students who want to join in on these conversations.

Installation view of Olafur Eliasson at M WOODS, 2016. Image courtesy M WOODS. M WOODS Collection, Beijing. Photo: Tian Yu.

Installation view of Olafur Eliasson at M WOODS, 2016. M WOODS Collection, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Tian Yu.

At Art Stage Jakarta 2016 it was mentioned that collecting is about creating a platform for sharing knowledge and for supporting local artists. Would you agree with this? What do you think the role of the collector is? 

WW: We definitely believe in the collection as a platform for sharing knowledge, and acknowledge that to be able to collect is a privilege that should come with responsibility. Collectors should support artists – both local and otherwise – and as much as possible be an ambassador for art and what it can do for society.

M WOODS, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi

M WOODS, Beijing. Image courtesy M WOODS. Photo: Xia Zhi.

Wanwan, you spent some time in New York, could you explain some of the differences you notice between the art scene in New York and Beijing? 

WW: To me, there are very many differences between art scenes in the two cities. New York is famously very fast-paced and condensed, whereas day-to-day Beijing often runs at a more relaxed pace and artists can have a lot of space both in studio and in the gallery or museum environments. The art ecology is very structured in New York, and arguably freer here, not to say that either is better or worse.

What advice would you give to a young want-to-be collector?

LH: To talk with artists. They are the inspiring people, and some of the best advice that we’ve received has been found in conversations with artist friends.

Claire Wilson

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Related Topics: art collectors, Chinese artists, museums, collections, interviews

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