Art lovers and collectors often travel the world to visit art fairs and auctions but rarely visit more than a couple of artist studios.
Not so Don and Mera Rubell. They conducted six research trips to China between 2001 and 2012, visiting 100 studios in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Xi’an in search of works for the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, Florida.
And now they are lending the art to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco for an exhibition that runs from June 5 to August 16.
“It’s completely inside of our practice as collectors,” Mera Rubell said. “There is something essential in the experience that we get visiting the studio.”
The eclectic exhibition of 48 works was organised by curator Allison Harding and is the first West Coast showing for many of the 28 Chinese contemporary artists on show. “‘28 Chinese’ offers glimpses into the myriad conversations ongoing in China’s art studios and galleries,” Harding said. “Just when you think you know Chinese contemporary art, you turn a corner and the next work proves you have only scratched the surface.”
The artists include Liu Wei, He Xiangyu, Huang Yong Ping, and Xu Zhen as well as the internationally acclaimed Zhu Jinshi, Zhang Huan, Qiu Zhijie, and Ai Weiwei.
A highlight of the exhibition is Zhu Jinshi’s 12-metre installation “Boat”, which is made from 8,000 sheets of paper commonly used in Chinese calligraphy and painting. The installation is so large that two people can walk inside its entire length, through rows of carefully stacked calligraphy paper overlapping bamboo rods suspended from the ceiling with cotton thread.
The exhibition also features Ai Weiwei’s “Table with Two Legs” and “One Ton of Tea”, as well as a nod to the dissident artist by the young artist He Xiangyu, who made a lifelike wax image of Ai lying face down in a gallery reserved for Chinese antiquities. The sight is quite shocking at first to unsuspecting viewers.