For decades, Johnson Chang has been a trailblazer of Chinese contemporary art in Hong Kong and the West.
Having witnessed – and facilitated – the emergence and growth of the 1990’s Chinese avant-garde, Chang hosted many debut exhibitions for now-famous Chinese contemporary artists in Hong Kong. And now, for the first time, he is exhibiting select masterpieces from his personal collection at Sotheby’s S|2 gallery, before they go up for auction this autumn.
We speak with Chang about his collection and what drove him to sell some of his favourite artworks at this pivotal moment in the art world.
The generation who came of age in the mid-1980s together with those who created the new Post-1989 movement. They witnessed and created the new forms that were wrought from Mao’s revolution, and took these forward to the new global generation of the past two decades.
The most important works are of course paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Liu Wei. Not only do they represent pinnacle artworks from the 1990s era, but they are also seminal works by each artist. Fang Lijun’s large woodcut print is also important, as it was part of his first major exhibition at the State Museum of the Netherlands.
We entered a new historical era in the last 15 years: new communication media and new technology have changed the stakes of state politics. The natural world has started to fight back against the excessive exploitation of humankind – witness Covid-19 – and the post-colonial countries of the 20thcentury no longer take the Western powers at face value and have begun to reassess their own cultures. These are all major issues that challenge the contemporary aesthetic sense.
Why not? The value of historically important artworks rise with the fortunes and global influence of their nation. How art is turned into an investment instrument is more the job of the auction house than the art galleries or curators.
Of course there are many more new artists entering the field, and the more significant artists gradually get recognised more widely, which means that their value becomes part of a separate index from that of other experimental artists.
There are advantages and disadvantages. For those who can afford to collect, they now have more time to nurture their cultural passions, and can spend time researching and speaking with experts. The disadvantage is of course social distancing – viewing art on internet platforms never brings out the full power and beauty of artworks.
I’ve been working on diverse projects and I’m simply following my career schedule. My plan to sell just happens to be now and I feel it is as good a time as any. In volatile times, investors prefer to park their money in good quality art.
It includes some of my favourite pieces and I am of course sentimental about them. They also bring back rich memories of working with these artists on exhibitions large and small, and of happy recollections of collaborations with dear friends.