What I Buy and Why: Beijing Collector Amber Yifei Wang on Why She Loves ’90s Artists, and the Tang Dynasty Scroll She Covets Most
Wang is the director of Gallery Weekend Beijing.
Amber Yifei Wang is a fount of knowledge about Chinese contemporary art. She has been director of Gallery Weekend Beijing since 2017, and under her purview the event has become a fixture of the Chinese art world—and is gaining international reputation beyond China.
Wang’s personal taste for art has been shaped by more than a decade of experience the art world. Within the space of 10 years after studying art history at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, Wang rose to general manager of the Beijing branch of Linda Gallery before joining [email protected]–Modern Art Museum in Singapore as art director. She was the head of business development at 33 Auction Singapore before taking on the role at Gallery Weekend Beijing.
Wang speaks passionately of her travels across Asia, and her eye has been shaped by the sights and sounds of the art scenes in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. “Collecting is an adventure, as well a process of self-awareness,” Wang tells Artnet News. “Jean Baudrillard once said, ‘What you really collect is always yourself.'”
We spoke to the director about her first art love, what’s on her radar today, and the Tang Dynasty scroll she would steal if she ever got the chance.
What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
Reading by Li Shan, an acrylic work on canvas created by the Chinese contemporary artist in New York, was the work that began my collection. It is a conceptual painting that originated from a sketch of an overall series of biological studies. I had the honor to know Li Shan through “The Edge of Vision,” an exhibition I curated back in 2014 at Linda Gallery. As one of the most important artists of Chinese contemporary art, Li has participated in local and international exhibitions and events, and his practice has experienced radical developments along the way, including his interest in BioArt.
The core of Li Shan’s BioArt projects is the genetic modification of life, which is a harmonious grand life consciousness. Li’s works contain strong vitality and advocate absolute freedom. His self-awareness was activated from the very beginning, and he is now a master of distilling visual concepts into something more personal. At every stage of his career, Li has maintained a strong sense of innovation. It is precisely this type of forward-thinking, cutting-edge art, and the artists behind it, that Gallery Weekend Beijing aims to spotlight, showcasing the best of Chinese contemporary art and sharing it with audiences in Beijing, China, and around the world.
What was your most recent purchase?
I recently purchased Trace (Face) by artist Zhang Hui from his solo exhibition “Chinese Eastern Railway: Zhang Hui” at Long March Space in Beijing at the end of 2020. Zhang Hui is an idealist and an artist with rich intellectual integrity. The piece is an incomplete portrait of Li Hsiang-Ian (also known as Yoshiko Yamaguchi), a Japanese actress and singer born in the northeast of China and whose divided identity and vagrant life experiences stand for the epitome of an era in the northeast land. She is a significant symbol across the Eastern Railway and was a repeated visual image within Zhang’s solo exhibition. The split face of Li, intercepted and isolated, demonstrates Zhang’s unique interpretation of colonialism and colonization, as well his personal emotion and understanding towards the Eastern Railway and the overall northeast region.
I have been following Zhang ever since his solo exhibition “Groundless” at Long March Space in 2012, and I understand the self-struggle and the discomfort inherent in his artistic practice. It would be easy for viewers to doubt Zhang’s aesthetic for its relative simplicity, yet his work is a fascinating entry point for people to discover painting. This stems from Zhang’s impressive self-discipline and conscientiousness, never attempting to cater to the audience’s general taste. Thus, it is oftentimes his works that have been labelled as too obscure that have fascinated me the most.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
Working as the director of Gallery Weekend Beijing for the past five years, I have had a chance to discover some of the most up-and-coming and exciting young artists. Work created by emerging artists from the 1990s has really come to surprise me. Artists of this generation are daring, critical, and approach media and technology in new and interesting ways. For this reason, it really has been a mission of mine to provide a platform for these younger generations of artists and showcase the strength of Beijing’s emerging art scene on a global stage.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
With more than 30 participants in Gallery Weekend Beijing, including several leading commercial galleries and non-profit institutions, I am never at a loss for sourcing excellent art. These organizations bring leading artists and present the best exhibitions at our event each year. I usually follow the trends of these galleries and support them by making regular purchases. For those artists who are not represented by galleries, I also sometimes make purchases directly from their studios.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
I only regret hesitating and not purchasing certain works!
What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
I reserve the spot above my sofa to the latest work of my husband, Zang Kunkun, who is also an artist. The famous black-and-white photograph Stray Dog by Japanese artist Daidō Moriyama is hanging in my bathroom.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
I don’t usually consider “impracticability” as a feature when evaluating artworks, thus I don’t think I own any works that are impractical.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
Work by the contemporary Chinese painter Shang Yang who has been seriously underestimated in the art world in my opinion. I respect him very much for both his artistic creation and virtuous character.
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
Eighty-Seven Immortals [八十七神仙卷] by Wu Daozi [吴道子] from the Tang Dynasty.
Gallery Weekend Beijing’s 2021 edition will take place April 27 through May 2.
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