Representing Asian artists in Europe: Katrine Levin Galleries London – interview

Building a platform for the voice of artists from places less represented, Katrine Levin Galleries shines a spotlight on art from Southern China and Georgia.

Art Radar catches up with Katrine Levin, to find out more about her mission to promote art from places less discovered.

Installation view of Gao Xiang, Interrogating Dreams, solo exhibition by Katrine Levin Galleries at the Coningsby Gallery, in London's Fitzrovia, 30 October - 4 November 2017. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Gao Xiang, “Interrogating Dreams”, installation view at the Coningsby Gallery, 30 October – 4 November 2017. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

With works that bridge Chinese references and Western art traditions, Gao Xiang has been making art that ranges from works on paper and paintings to installations. One of his major series “Who is the Doll?” addresses contemporary gender equality issues, often depicting images of ghost-like girls in various dreamy, unsettling situations. His other major series, “The Dreams?”, captures horses against light washes of colour, accompanied by an enigmatic figure in red or white.

Gao Xiang was born in, and continues to live and work, in Kunming. A graduate from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, from which he holds a Masters and PhD in Fine Art, Gao Xiang now counts the modern capital of the Southern Chinese province of Yunnan as his home. On 30 October 2017, however, he had first ever UK show, where his horses were shown for the first time for one week only to an audience in London.

Shining the spotlight on art from Southern China and Georgia is Katrine Levin Galleries, which has been organising pop-up exhibitions of artists from the regions since its inception in 2017. Bringing their works to a Western art audience, Katrine Levin Galleries now regularly organises events, talks and exhibitions of art from these lesser-known regions. With the successful conclusion of Gao Xiang’s recent solo exhibition, the gallery is now looking forward to a full exhibition programme in 2018, with the next upcoming show being a solo exhibition of Kunming-born artist Chen Li, whose work encompasses woodblock prints and painting in February 2018.

Art Radar speaks to Katrine Levin, Founder of the gallery, about her favourite works of art, discovering the art of Southern China and Georgia, and what we can look forward to from her gallery in the future.

Katrine Levin, founder of Katrine Levin Galleries

Portrait of Katrine Levin, founder of Katrine Levin Galleries.

It all began when you started visiting artists’ studios in Kunming. What did you take away from those experiences that spurred you to start your gallery today?

I had been practicing intellectual property law for a long time but also had a life- long fascination with art. After I received a Master’s in Art History from Christie’s Education in London, my step-father suggested that I visit artists’ studios in Kunming, the capital of China’s frontier southwestern Yunnan Province. He had been raised there, and opened my eyes and many doors. Being introduced by a local created a circle of trust that remains the core of my art dealership. I visited studios from all different sectors – academia, museum-affiliated, government-affiliated, and totally off the grid. I was stunned by the calibre of art and inventiveness there and the depth of knowledge of both Eastern and Western artistic traditions.

On returning to London, the concept of representing and showcasing talented artists from places “less discovered” was born. I set up Katrine Levin Galleries to give a voice in the West to talented artists from the Yunnan Province and other places less discovered both in and outside of China, while engaging western audiences with the broader scope of contemporary art in China and beyond.

Evening Autumn Clouds 130X97cm

Chen Li, ‘Autumn Evening Clouds’, 2005-10, oil on linen canvas, 130cm x 97cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries

Part of the gallery’s highlights include art from Yunnan, a province of Southern China. What was your top aim in highlighting works from this particular province?

It all began in Yunnan for me. It is a fascinating place. During the Cultural Revolution, as in the hundreds of years that preceded it, brilliant representatives of the Chinese intelligentsia that questioned the regime were exiled to Yunnan, changing the cultural climate of this remote, ethnically diverse, and stunningly beautiful region. Yunnan is fertile ground for creativity. The depth of experimentation and talent there is amazing, as is the overall focus on philosophical and lyrical works. I want to share these unique, lyrical works with Western audiences – I’ve been getting a wonderful response, which is very fulfilling.

Chen Yongle, 'Seated Woman', 1995, woodblock print, 81cm x 81cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Chen Yongle, ‘Seated Woman’, 1995, reduction woodblock print, 81 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Tell us a little bit more about three of your favourite works from Yunnan.

I’ve so many favourite works, it’s hard to narrow it down to 3!

I love Autumn Evening Clouds by Chen Li (b. 1971). I have this work at home and it changes in different light, becoming a thousand works in one. The clouds seem to have a life of their own and you can feel them floating above the serene, autumn mountains. Chen Li has a real talent for colour and the ability to convey both serenity and movement. I’ve had many a guest transfixed in reverie in front of this work.

I also love this intricate and elegant woodblock print by Chen Yongle, who is Chen Li’s father and one of the most established living artists in Yunnan. Chen Yongle works in the heavy colour Yunnan Art School Style, taking idealised ethnic minorities as his subject matter. What he does with line and colour is amazing and so much more delicate and elegant than many other works in this style.

Another favourite is The Dreams – Triones, by Gao Xiang (b. 1971), for whom the horse is an extension of his soul, as well as a symbol of the universe and Chinese traditions. We just finished an exhibition of his works and one of the most frequent remarks in the guest book is that it is as if his horses have souls. You don’t so much see as feel it.

Gao Xiang, 'The Dreams - Triones', 2013, oil on canvas, 180cm x 160cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries

Gao Xiang, ‘The Dreams – Triones’, 2013, oil on canvas, 180 x 160 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Your gallery focuses on bringing artists from lesser-known geographies to a UK audience. What, in your opinion, is the importance of introducing these artists to Western art contexts?

For me, it’s the rich cultural sub-contexts that make things so much more exciting and interesting. Even without knowing the finer details of the artist’s culture a viewer can see these differences – in the composition, forms, the combination of lines and colours. All of this helps us to see things from a different angle, a different perspective. It’s like a breath of fresh air, quite inspirational.

How can a more inclusive contemporary art scene contribute to our understanding of art today?

Greater inclusivity fosters greater acceptance for different ways of expression and relating to the world while also highlighting the similarities. For example, we don’t refer to Western or American contemporary art although these different regions bring their own cultural sub-context. Similarly, a more inclusive contemporary art scene will speak of contemporary art globally, eroding exoticisms while retaining appreciation for cultural sub-context.

Greater inclusivity also facilitates new directions of artistic expression. For example, traditional Chinese ink painting influenced the abstract expressionist movement which in turn influenced contemporary Chinese artists such as Chen Li, who is inspired by the spontaneity and colour of abstract expressionism as well as the aesthetic and gestural qualities of traditional Chinese landscape and ink painting. Each movement and region borrows from the other and takes art in an exciting new direction.

Chen Li, 'Untitled (Spirit of Twilight)', 2014, oil on linen canvas, 85 x 85 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Chen Li, ‘Untitled (Spirit of Twilight)’, 2014, oil on linen canvas, 85 x 85 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Mamuka Didebashvili, 'Green Hill', 2014, oil and glazing on linen. 90 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Mamuka Didebashvili, ‘Green Hill’, 2014, oil and glazing on linen, 90 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

What are some of the upcoming projects you are working on?

At the moment we are focusing on the Yunnan Province in China and on Georgia, whose rich cultural and intellectual heritage has resulted in stunning contemporary works that have thus far gone under the radar in the West. We are now working on three main exhibitions for 2018 in London, and several in New York.

We just finished a solo exhibition by Gao Xiang (b. 1971, Kunming), whose poetic works balance between dreams and reality, tradition and modernity. In February, we will hold a solo show by Chen Li (b. 1971, Kunming), whose lyrical paintings and very special award-winning reduction woodblock prints we also exhibited last June in London. Rooted in Eastern philosophies, he creates a unique visual language by weaving the abstract and gestural qualities of Chinese ink painting with the colours and textures of Western oil painting. June will see a solo show by Georgian artist Mamuka Didebashvili (b. 1968, Tbilisi), a master of abstract and figurative painting. His subtly humorous figurative art and mesmerising abstractions are painted using imprimatura, a Renaissance glazing technique that gives a wonderful depth of colour and contrast to his paintings.

Levan Lagidze, 'Beneath the Mountain', 2017, oil and glazing on canvas, 130 x 105 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

Levan Lagidze, ‘Beneath the Mountain’, 2017, oil and glazing on canvas, 130 x 105 cm. Image courtesy Katrine Levin Galleries.

And last but not least, in October/November we will hold a major solo show by Levan Lagidze (b. 1958, Tbilisi), one of Georgia’s most significant living artists whose works are in public collections in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the National Museum of Georgia, among others. Every inch of his abstracted paintings is a separate universe onto itself.

In addition to these shows, we are preparing to exhibit all four artists in New York, and are in the process of making documentary films about the context and artists of China’s Yunnan Province and Georgia.

Junni Chen


Related topics: Chinese artists, Georgian artists, promoting art, interviews, paintinggallery shows, events in London

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