Pearls of Wisdom: As West Bund Turns Ten, Gallerist Pearl Lam Shares Her Highlights From Across Shanghai

Lam shares must-see shows, cutting-edge designers and delicious food.

Peal Lam with friends pre-dinner at her Shanghai apartment. Photo by Pearl Lam.

Pearl Lam is a gallerist, collector, patron, and curator with over 20 years of experience being at the forefront of reimagining China’s cultural place in the world. Lam is a leading authority on Asian art, design and the international contemporary art market with a network spanning China, U.K., and the USA. Lam’s long-term commitment to art and design is rooted in her mission to develop and promote cultural exchange between East Asia and the world, while also presenting Asia’s contributions to both traditions to a global audience.

This weekend marked the highly anticipated return of West Bund Art & Design to Shanghai—a momentous occasion in the city’s art calendar. Following a hiatus prompted by the global health situation, the fair made a comeback this year. Serving as a dynamic platform for both established and emerging artists, it cultivates an environment where creativity thrives. It invites artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts to come together, to explore curated exhibitions and engage again in conversations about art. This year’s fair stands as a testament to the resilience of the art industry, adeptly navigating challenges posed by anti-China sentiment and economic fluctuations. Through its commitment to inclusivity, cultural exchange and adaptability, the fair remains a vibrant epicentre for artistic expression.

Shanghai is a thriving metropolis and one of China’s liveliest cities. It boasts a rich cultural heritage, offering a distinctive fusion of tradition and innovation. However, the art industry here has encountered its share of challenges. Economic hardships can directly impact the art market, causing individuals and institutions to exercise caution in discretionary spending. The art industry must navigate these fluctuations and devise innovative approaches to engage collectors and sustain market growth. When I stepped into the fair on the opening day, an infectious energy filled the air, leaving me optimistic and hopeful for the thriving future of Shanghai’s art scene.

Pearl Lam with Qiu Anxiong at his solo exhibition at SAISEN Art. Courtesy of Pearl Lam

Pearl’s World

  • Lévy Gorvy Dayan’s booth at West Bund saw Michael Lau, a talented and influential artist from Hong Kong, exhibiting his “Flower” series. I was captivated by Lau’s distinct style, characterized by vibrant colors, intricate details and a playful aesthetic. It sets Lau apart from other artists. These eye-filled flower paintings transport you to a realm of limitless imagination and seem to evoke a sense of wonder and fascination, resonating with my personal taste. In recent years, Lau has expanded his artistic horizons by transitioning from vinyl toy design to fine art creations. His artistic prowess transcends his reputation as the “Figure Father,” cementing his status as a household name among Hong Kong locals and showcasing his versatility and boundless creativity.

Ugo Rondinone’s presentation with Gladstone Gallery at West Bund. Photo Pearl Lam

  • I loved Gladstone Gallery’s presentation of Ugo Rondinone at the fair, a contemporary Swiss artist known for his diverse works encompassing painting, sculpture, installation and photography. His art explores themes of time, nature, and the human condition, often blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Rondinone’s art is characterized by simplicity, symbolism and poetic quality. He is recognized as a prominent figure in the contemporary art world. He invites us to question our perception of the world and its possibilities.
  • Qiu Anxiong’s solo exhibition, “The Moon Fixer” at Saisen Art, curated by Wang Kaimei, offers a thought-provoking and visually stunning exploration of the artist’s core concept of animism. Through the skilful use of traditional Chinese painting techniques and animated imagery, Qiu’s artworks come to life, inviting us on a journey of contemplation and connection. This exhibition is a testament to the artist’s talent and creativity, and I highly recommended it for anyone seeking a unique and immersive experience. I found the exhibition to be thought-provoking as it offers an exploration of Qiu’s core concept of animism. It is the belief that objects, places, and creatures possess a spiritual essence. I appreciate Qiu’s skillful use of traditional Chinese painting techniques combined with animated imagery. This fusion likely creates a unique visual language, resulting in an innovative and engaging artistic approach.

Dinner at Pearl Lam’s Shanghai apartment. Courtesy Pearl Lam

On the Lam

  • As an annual tradition of mine when I’m in Shanghai, I orchestrated an expansive dinner at my apartment, with approximately 60 guests. This year was in celebration of West Bund and the opening of Ni Zhiqi’s solo exhibition. It was heartwarming to witness a diverse group of individuals come together with a shared appreciation for the arts, exchanging laughter, stories and fostering a profound sense of unity. The power of art played a significant role in forging new friendships, nourishing our minds and souls. We served Shredded Chicken and Greenbean Noodles with Sesame Dressing: a refreshing and light dish that set the tone for the evening. Next, a comforting and nourishing Radish Soup, Cod Fish: a succulent and delicate seafood dish that was expertly prepared to highlight the natural sweetness of the fish. To conclude the dinner on a sweet note: Rice Dumplings made with Rice Wine, a delightful combination of chewy rice wrappers and a sweet, fragrant filling. We toasted to art and love, and I had a truly memorable experience, feeling fulfilled that it centered around a sense of community.
  • Following my trip to Shanghai, I visited Shantou. A must-see for history enthusiasts, architecture admirers, and anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Chinese culture is Chen Cihong’s Former Residence. With its serene atmosphere, knowledgeable staff and dedication to historical preservation, it offers a well-preserved glimpse into the life of a prominent figure. It is located in a serene and well-preserved neighborhood, which adds to the overall charm and authenticity of the visit. The residence itself is a traditional Chinese courtyard house, showcasing the architectural style and design of the era. The intricate woodwork, ornate decorations, and beautiful courtyards transport you back in time, providing a sense of the opulence and grandeur that Chen Cihong enjoyed during his lifetime.

      13de Marzo bomber jacket. Photo by Pearl Lam.

What I’m Buying

  • I’ve recently purchased some pieces from a fashion brand called 13de Marzo which showcases a delightful and imaginative approach to design. Originating in Paris, the brand is notably described as Chinese, indicating a connection to Chinese fashion and manufacturing. Its international presence on various online platforms suggests that 13de Marzo has successfully expanded beyond its Parisian roots, catering to a diverse and discerning clientele. Their standout doll-inspired collection features a creative design that showcases a playful aesthetic, and I think they present a unique and imaginative fashion experience. Whether you’re drawn to the fusion of beauty and simplicity or appreciate the brand’s global presence, 13de Marzo provides an opportunity to embrace fashion with a touch of whimsy and originality.

  • Jung Chang’s book Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister (2019) is a must-read. It discusses the forgotten history of the Soong sisters—Qingling, Ailing and Meiling. Born into a privileged background in the twilight of imperial China, they were the first Chinese girls to attend university in the United States. Fluent in English and armed with a Western education, they returned to Shanghai and became enmeshed with the turbulent political landscape of the time. The compelling biography sheds light on the intertwining forces of politics, family, and personal ambition in 20th-century China. Through the lives of the Soong sisters, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the complexities of power, loyalty and the pursuit of one’s ideals in a tumultuous era.
  • I’ve also been buying from a Chinese brand called Uooyaa and have just ordered their lambskin coat. In China, there are many exciting new young fashion designers whose work I love to explore.

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