6 Questions for Latitude Gallery Founder Shihui Zhou on Moving to Chinatown and Building Bridges for Artists of the Asian Diaspora

The artist-turned-gallerist discusses what's next for the gallery and offers advice for artists just starting out.

Shihui Zhou. Photo by Xi Li, courtesy of Latitude Gallery, New York.

Artist and entrepreneur Shihui Zhou founded Latitude Gallery in downtown New York in 2020 with the aim of showcasing and supporting the art of emerging artists of the Asian diaspora. Just a few years on, Latitude Gallery has developed a compelling exhibition program and established itself as a fixture of both the Chinatown neighborhood it calls home and the greater New York art scene.

An artist herself, Zhou is uniquely positioned to identify and provide the support and platform best suited to a diverse range of creators. Creating a bridge between local artists and the international art world is no small feat, but one that Latitude Gallery is primed to undertake. With an already robust roster of accomplished and new artists and a rigorous rotation of solo and group exhibitions—as well as plans to engage in its first art fair later this year—Latitude Gallery is a new New York gallery to watch.

We recently reached out to Zhou to learn more about Latitude Gallery and its exhibition program.

Can you talk a bit about your background? What first inspired you to found Latitude Gallery in 2020?

Originally from China, I studied at Tsinghua University Art and Design Academy in Beijing, one of China’s leading art institutions. My initial goal was to become a fashion designer. After completing my undergraduate studies, I moved from Beijing to Chicago to pursue an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During my two years there, I had the privilege of studying under the American visual artist Nick Cave, who became a significant source of inspiration. Following my time in Chicago, I relocated to New York, where I participated in artist residencies such as the Textile Art Center and ChaNorth. This experience allowed me to immerse myself in the city’s vibrant artistic community. I engaged in exhibitions, including participating in the Spring/Break Art Fair.

As I navigated my journey as a practicing artist while awaiting my working artist immigration status, I recognized the challenges that emerging artists faced in gaining exposure and accessing opportunities. This realization became clearer as I connected with fellow artists in New York. The turning point came in November 2019, when Nick Cave invited me to showcase my work at Facility, his studio, home, and gallery space in Chicago. This invitation marked the beginning of an idea: to create a space that would provide a platform for fellow emerging Asian artists. This concept gradually took shape during the challenging times leading up to and during the pandemic.

Facility in Chicago.

Today, this vision has evolved into a small but dedicated space in the heart of Chinatown that showcases the work and practices of emerging Asian artists, providing them with the visibility and opportunities they deserve.

What is the core mission or ethos of the gallery? How is this reflected in the artists that you represent, or the exhibitions you show?

Like the initial inspiration behind founding the gallery, our mission remains centered around highlighting underrepresented Asian diaspora artists and cultivating a vibrant community for artists, collectors, friends, and visitors.

This involves a dynamic journey of unearthing talented artists through connections within my circle of artist friends and art professionals. It extends to their networks, while also involving active engagement with various art schools, the downtown art scene, and the broader creative community, both within the U.S. and internationally.

The gallery is now situated in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Does the gallery’s location inform or influence how you operate?

Of course, we absolutely love downtown New York, especially historic Chinatown.

Latitude Gallery’s location in the historic Chinatown of New York City plays a significant role in shaping our operations. The vibrant cultural context and rich artistic heritage of the area inspire our approach. Firstly, we strive to source everything from the neighborhood, like within three blocks—from our renovation team to our frame shop and even our shipping vendor—they’re all small business around us. Secondly, surrounded by legendary major players like P.P.O.W, 125 Newbury, and Magenta Plains, we aim to bridge the gap between underrepresented Asian diaspora artists and art enthusiasts, leveraging the cultural tapestry that surrounds us, including the Lower East Side gallery crowd and Tribeca art district. This locale not only encourages us to connect with local artists, galleries, and art professionals but also to engage closely with the community and contribute to the artistic dialogue of both the neighborhood and the broader art scene.

Gallery street scene at 64A Bayard Street. Courtesy of Latitude Gallery, New York.

Thus far, of all the exhibitions the gallery has staged, are there any favorites or perhaps most memorable?

This is a hard question! There are many favorite shows. From earlier ones like “Rushing Down the Cliff” by Yuan Fang, “Ode to Osedax” by Locus Xiaotong Chen, to recent shows like “Plusieurs Rêves” by Jessica Wee, “Put Stars on the Table” by Baoying Huang, and “Phantasmagoria” by Yanjun Li—just to name a few.

“Phantasmagoria” by Yanjun Li (2023). Courtesy of Latitude Gallery, New York.

I have a clear memory of our inaugural exhibition, titled “Uncertainty,” which we organized within just a week in our previous space in Williamsburg in the beginning of 2020. This group show featured nine artists, all of whom I was knew very well at that time; you might recognize some familiar names now, like Yuan Fang. The title of the exhibition resonated with the circumstances—it provided viewers a window to explore and embrace this still-uncertain platform for artistic talent. The exhibition also revealed the uncharted dynamics within young artists’ practices, all this occurring just prior to the pandemic’s outbreak.

This event truly marked an exhilarating (albeit nerve-wracking) beginning for Latitude Gallery. Remarkably, the opening garnered unexpected attendance despite the absence of what one might call “formal” marketing. It felt like an authentic celebration, a recognition of the opportunity to share these artistic expressions. Looking back, it was a daring and adventurous move, setting the tone for our journey ahead.

And the show that just ended this summer, “A Happy Beginning,” is also a very memorable group show curated by our dear friend, the art critic Paul Laster, in a cool salon-style presentation highlighting a new generation of Chinese artists.

Installation view of the group show “A Happy Beginning” (2023). Courtesy of Latitude Gallery, New York.

As a platform for emerging talent, do you have any advice for new or young artists just starting out?

Absolutely. As a dedicated platform for emerging Asian diaspora artists, we understand the aspirations and challenges that new and young artists face. My advice for those embarking on their artistic journey is rooted in Latitude Gallery’s commitment to fostering growth and creativity.

First and foremost, we encourage artists to embrace their uniqueness. Authenticity is a powerful tool that resonates with audiences and sets you apart. Secondly, curate a portfolio that reflects your best work and demonstrates your artistic evolution. Quality over quantity shows your true potential.

Seeking constructive feedback is crucial. Engage with mentors, peers, and experts to refine your skills and expand your perspective. Additionally, community is key. Connect with fellow artists, galleries, and institutions as well as art enthusiasts, and collaborators. Networking nurtures not only artistic growth but also opens doors to exciting opportunities.

Lastly, remember that every step counts. Celebrate your progress and believe in the value of your creative expression.

What’s gallery’s a new exhibition for September? Can you give us some insight into the show, and the inspiration behind it?

Our new show for September is “Thew Smoak: Late Summer.” Inspired by Japanese film maker Yasujirō Ozu, artist Thew Smoak has created a new body of figurative work that evokes poetic melancholy through his monochromatic shadowy palette, ghostly figures, and dark, empty spaces. The upcoming show will showcase a diverse range of artistic mediums, including painting, drawing, and small installations. Through these various forms, we aim to vividly capture the depth and breadth of his artistic practice and creative process. Curated by artist Madeline Bohrer, the show will open on September 5. We are all excitedly looking forward to this show.

Thew Smoak, Here comes your ghost again (study) (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Latitude Gallery, New York.

Learn more about Latitude Gallery, New York, here.

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