My Love For Chinese Art: Liu Wei Revolutionary family.
I first discovered Contemporary Chinese Art at the China Club Hong Kong, this gorgeous member’s only club, which Sir David Tang opened in 1991, decorated with Chinese Modern Art and Art Deco furniture reminiscent of 1930’s Shanghai.
I later met Manfred Schoeni, who would become a close friend; Manfred was one of the first person in Hong Kong to open an Art Gallery showcasing Contemporary Chinese Art. Through him I bought my first piece, a nice painting by Li Gui Jun; a Wang Yi Dong followed very quickly. Despite these perfectly good flirtations, the piece I really fell for was a Liu Wei painting. It was love at first sight, but as soon as I saw it, I also saw the infuriating red dot that denotes an item is sold. Revolutionary Family belonged to another and though I asked Manfred to negotiate with the new owner of the painting, it was to no avail.
As time went on other artists - Zhu Yi Yong, Zhang Li, Yue Minjun - walked into my life. My European friends meanwhile were sceptical of choice of paintings, teasing that I was making poor investment choices. It was always: "Why buy Chinese Art, it will never go up in value. Invest your money wisely." My reply was and remains that I buy what I like and for no other reason.
My husband also became a dear friend of Manfred's. He would sit in his gallery, enjoy a glass or two (or more) of red wine from Manfred's South African vineyards, and then buy everything in sight.
Sometimes I would arrive home and would be confronted to either huge paintings that could not get into the house, or dozens of Yue Minjun bronzes - those "little guys with big smiles" were dotted around in my garden, grinning back at me wherever I looked. Too often I had to call Manfred, excuse myself, and ask him to allow me to send back all the paintings and bronzes, as they were just not right for my home.
Of course in the last 20 years, Chinese Contemporary Art has rocketed in value. My early loves are now household names, and the price tags for their work ,up from thousands to millions (and who is laughing now my friends?)
My husband still shakes his head whenever we talk about Manfred and Chinese Art. "If only," he says, "You would have kept all the paintings I bought." Manfred called me many years after my first encounter with Liu Wei's Revolutionary Family and told me the owner wanted to sell it. It was finally mine.
Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the day I met Manfred, the time spent together talking about the Chinese artists he had met in China in the early 90’s, starving, camped outside of Beijing and praying for someone to discover them.
As I am writing this blog, I come to realized that Manfred dyed tragically exactly 10 years ago to this day. He lives on through the art.
Art Basel Hong Kong takes place May 15-17.
I will see you there!