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Chinese Collector Yan Du on Her Mission to Support the Greater Asian Art Ecosystem, and the Young Artists She’s Watching Now


“Art has always been part of my life and my memory,” says Yan Du, a collector based between Hong Kong and London.

Born in Beijing, Yan studied traditional Chinese painting as a child, but it was upon moving to London for her education that she says she truly fell in love with art. “When I saw works that I liked, I instantly felt this urge to live with them,” she said. “Therefore, collecting art became a natural next step.”

In the early years of her collection, Yan focused on women artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Yayoi Kusama. But a decade later she noticed a gap in the wider world’s understanding of Asian art, which she increasingly felt had to be bridged. In 2019,  she founded Asymmetry Art Foundation, a non-profit devoted to cultivating a broader understanding of and curatorial focus on contemporary art emerging in Asia through academic scholarships and curatorial fellowships. 

We spoke with Yan about the artists she’s watching now, and why supporting arts from Asia means cultivating curators and critics, too. 

Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first work you acquired?

It was a painting by Raoul de Keyser, which I bought when I was visiting New York about 10 years ago. A friend took me around to some galleries and I bought the work immediately after seeing it. It was my first significant purchase from a gallery so it has a special place in my heart.

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

On the other end, what’s the most recent work you’ve acquired?

Sydney Shen’s Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020), which is both an installation and a sculpture. Its visual impact is very strong. It is composed of a black patent leather BDSM high-heeled shoe and other ready-made objects, such as buckets and ribbons. The work is a response to the story of Aesop’s fable “The Crow and the Pitcher,” in which a thirsty crow tries to drink water from a narrow pitcher and can’t reach it. Then the crow fills the pitcher with stones and it reaches its beak—it’s a story familiar to me from childhood. When I discovered that the boot in Shen’s work was filled with stones, each carrying the names of the different mountains on Mars, I became even more curious about the artist’s thinking. Humankind’s desire for knowledge and the unknown is like the crow trying to fill up the pitcher to reach the water—it is driven by instinct and fearlessness. In some way, it is also similar to the desire to be close to reality and truth through the process of collecting.

You spent a decade building a personal collection before founding the Asymmetry Art Foundation. What experiences led you to the decision to create it and why did you feel such an organization was necessary. 

Through my engagement with the contemporary art world, I formed friendships with artists, and through their practices, I became aware of the importance of other practitioners whose contributions to a thriving art ecosystem are equally important: curators, writers, critics, and scholars. Foundations tend to support artists and I noticed a gap in the support of these practitioners that do vital work: creating dialogue, sharing knowledge, and introducing artists to their audiences. This is how the idea of a network of curators and the Asymmetry Art Foundation was born. 

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

What role are you hoping to fill in the Chinese and global art community? What role does your own collection have in this?

My collection brings together global contemporary art and Asian contemporary art. After a number of years collecting art, I decided to establish Asymmetry, and through both the collection and foundation I have deepened my relationship with many academic institutions and museums. I have a strong sense of social responsibility for the art world and society in general that my role as a patron and philanthropist allows me to fulfill. 

Collecting artworks can appear like photographic snapshots of a certain moment in time. However, creating opportunities for the continuous promotion of knowledge is an ongoing endeavor. Through the foundation’s support, we can cultivate young curators, criticism, and scholars, and indirectly through them, support exhibitions. This contributes to the wider art ecosystem. I have always believed that giving is gaining; contributing to society has changed my values and changed my life. 

What do you think is most exciting about the current Chinese art world right now? What do you see as its future? 

The pandemic has not yet ended and the art world in China is as cautious as in any other part of the world. Yet during this trying time, art institutions seem to be recovering at a rapid pace that I am so impressed by. 

In recent years, Chinese contemporary art has developed very quickly. On an institutional level, exhibition quality is improving substantially each year compared to the last. On a creative level, artist practices are increasingly more powerful and speaking in a more global language, however, they still require more international attention and need platforms to present their work. 

That’s why, in the post-pandemic world, Asymmetry Art Foundation will have a program that invites international curators and museum directors to visit important art cities in China. Through the work of the foundation, we want to convey the voices of the Chinese contemporary art world and strive to promote cultural exchanges through academic activities across the different contexts of East and West. We hope to guide Western art professionals and audiences into a better understanding of the whole picture of Chinese contemporary art through our activities, as there is still a long way to go.

What are some of the initiatives Asymmetry Art Foundation has underway?
Our first curatorial writing fellow, Hang Li, a curator based between Beijing and London, has started her placement at Chisenhale Gallery. She is currently working on a practice-led project that considers online community structures between artists, curators, and institutions at the intersection of technology and concepts of care and solidarity

In the autumn, we are looking forward to welcoming our curatorial fellow, Weitian Liu, to Whitechapel Gallery in partnership with Delfina Foundation (where they will be a resident), and inducting our first scholarship holder into the PhD program at Goldsmiths, University of London. Weitian Liu is interested in researching the notions of the civic and the civil within the institutional structures of organizations in the U.K., China, and Southeast Asia. 

Guan Xiao, Lulu Bird Walked Out Of Delicatessen Bumped Into A Swarm Of Buzzing (2020) Courtesy of the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

Guan Xiao, Lulu Bird Walked Out Of Delicatessen Bumped Into A Swarm Of Buzzing (2020) Courtesy of the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

How has the past year affected your mission?
Our foundation is based in London but, personally, I’ve been stuck in Hong Kong for a long time now. With our initiatives still very much in their infancy, we were catapulted into a void of uncertainty, and we quickly had to adapt our mission to the new normal. Thankfully, the need for opportunities for young curators and writers extends beyond any crisis and we could continue most of our programs. 

Due to heavy travel restrictions, we decided to open up our requirements to target greater Chinese practitioners based anywhere in the world, in some cases, and in others focus on local practitioners. Remaining flexible and agile has really benefited our growth and taught us to stay open-minded.   

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Can't Help Myself (2016). Collection of Yan Du Collection.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Can’t Help Myself (2016). Collection of Yan Du Collection.

Who are some of the artists you are collecting now, or you think we should know?
I would really like to introduce a few Chinese artists: the artist-duo Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, and the artist Guan Xiao. When I first saw Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s installation Can’t Help MyselfI was shocked, frightened, and excited at the same time. It really caught my attention in a way that was unforgettable, so I decided to acquire the work. The installation combines political metaphors, humanitarian and social issues while carrying a profound meaning of zen. 

The beast-like monster brought forth by artificial intelligence presents itself to the viewer as a nervous visual pleasure. Can’t Help Myself is, to me, one of the rare great works of this century. I haven’t been this excited about collecting a work for a long time. Of course, the great feedback this work had at the Venice Biennale is also a reason to be proud. 

Another artist I think people should know is Guan Xiao. She belongs to the younger generation of sculptors in China. Her work is outstanding and is representative of a female artist of the new generation. I’ve been following her work for some time, seeing how it develops. She has participated in many international biennials and institutional shows, and her works have a creative language that is very much in sync with what is happening around the world. Her pieces are three-dimensional collages of the post-image age, and they also contain anthropomorphic symbolism borrowing from the beginning of modernism; the works are sculptures and combine ready-made elements. Her works also carry a very contemporary feature, namely, anonymity—one of the global features of the digital age.

What are your goals and hopes for the future?
As someone who cares deeply about generations to come, I hope for world peace, the well-being of humankind, and the recovery of laughter, positive energy, happiness, and health.

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Artists Are Selling $140 Photographs Online to Support India’s Depleted Hospitals as It Battles a Coronavirus Surge


India, the world’s second most populous nation, is in the throes of a deadly coronavirus surge that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people in just the past 24 hours. And according to reports from the health ministry, the number of daily infections has exceeded 300,000 every day for the past two weeks.

Now, the arts community is rallying to support overwhelmed hospitals facing dire oxygen shortages.

Art for India, which launched earlier this week and runs through May 9, is a grassroots project selling photographic prints for $140 each by 11 artists from India and its diaspora to raise money for the coronavirus relief group Mission Oxygen.

The project, founded by the London-based Heta Fell, Vivek Vadoliya, and Danielle Pender, will donate 100 percent of its proceeds to the relief organization, a group of more than 250 entrepreneurs in India working to import oxygen concentrators for the hardest-hit hospitals in the country.

In an email to Midnight Publishing Group News, Fell said she was “absolutely distraught” watching the death toll rise, and was “compelled to create something to support people living through this nightmare.”

Fell then reached out to Pender, founder of Riposte magazine, and Vadoliya, a photographer and filmmaker, for help. The trio organized the initiative in just three days.

Artists including Bharat Sikka, Prarthna Singh, Ashish Shah, and Kalpesh Lathigra are contributing to the project. So far, Fell said, they have raised over $27,800, with orders coming in from around the world.

When hot spots in the United States and Europe had similar surges, the art world mobilized with initiatives like Pictures for Elmhurst, which raised $1.38 million for the New York hospital. A similar fundraiser in Italy raised nearly $800,000 to benefit the Pope Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo.

“We are all united around the urgent need to raise funds for India,” Fell said. “It’s also been beautiful to see the sense of community among the artists involved.”

See some of the works for sale below.

Artwork by Avani Rai. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Avani Rai. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kuba Ryniewicz. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kuba Ryniewicz. Courtesy of Art for India.

Ashish Shah, <i>Life and Death by the Ganges</i>. Courtesy of Art for India.

Ashish Shah, Life and Death by the Ganges. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Bharat Sikka. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Bharat Sikka. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Devashish Gaur. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Devashish Gaur. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kalpesh Lathigra. Courtesy of Art for India.

Artwork by Kalpesh Lathigra. Courtesy of Art for India.

Kalpesh Lathigra, <i>Dinosaurs and Cameras</i>. Courtesy of Art for India.

Kalpesh Lathigra, Dinosaurs and Cameras. Courtesy of Art for India.


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New York’s Mayoral Race Is in Full Swing. We Asked Each Candidate How They Plan to Support Arts and Culture


New York City is heading into one of its most consequential elections in decades. And the pool of mayoral candidates, which once seemed impossibly large, has narrowed to a handful of hopefuls who have both the name recognition and financial resources to realistically secure the nomination. With June’s primary looming, their previously broad platforms are coalescing into more specific policies.

If members of New York’s arts community aren’t paying close attention to the race, they should be. The mayor can have a huge impact on everything from public art and arts education to funding for institutions like the Met and the Brooklyn Museum. 

It should be noted that many aspects of city governance have a direct impact on artists and art workers (think: housing, taxes, education, childcare… the list goes on). But for the purposes of this inquiry, we asked eight leading Democratic candidates to spell out their specific proposals for arts and culture in New York City. (The city is overwhelmingly Democratic, meaning one of the names below is likely to become the next mayor.)

Here are their responses. In the event that a candidate did not reply, we drew from their published policy plans and previous track records.

 

Kathryn Garcia

New York City Sanitation chief and mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, speaks at the New York State Latino Restaurant, Bar, and Lounge Association restaurant rally in Times Square on December 15, 2020 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

New York City Sanitation chief and mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, speaks at a rally in Times Square on December 15, 2020. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

A spokesperson says Garcia’s local economic recovery plan, which campaign just released—Reopen to Stay Open—is “focused in large part on providing support for NYC’s arts and culture industries.” Highlights of the former Commissioner for the New York City Sanitation Department’s plan include:
  • Expanding public spaces to give artists and art organizations a bigger footprint in their communities. “Kathryn recognizes the success of outdoor dining (and the way it was stood up practically overnight) and aims to apply the model wider—to create opportunity for thousands of pop-up theater performances, art installations, and commercial markets,” the spokesperson says. To do so, she would reform the concessions and public-art permitting process to unlock hundreds of thousands of square feet of public space.
  • Developing a partnership with streaming services to livestream On and Off Broadway shows and other performance art to bring New York theater into the homes of all New Yorkers
  • Giving all local businesses (including art galleries) a full year of fine and fee relief during the first year of the administration and launching a Small Business Block Party series in every borough
  • Launching RediscoverNYC, a campaign encouraging New Yorkers to visit the beautiful parts of the city they have never been to

 

Ray McGuire

New York City Mayoral candidate Ray McGuire speaks during a press conference at the National Action Network's House of Justice to denounce the rise of attacks against Asian Americans on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

New York City Mayoral candidate Ray McGuire on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

Representatives from former Citigroup vice chairman Ray McGuire’s campaign did not respond to emails from Midnight Publishing Group News. But the candidate has a long history supporting the arts through private philanthropy and has, for years, been an avid collector. His notable achievements and policy plans, drawn from his bio and website, include:

  • Serving on the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art and as chairman of the Studio Museum in Harlem
  • Serving on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission
  • Cultivating a top-flight collection of work by Black artists, including examples by Glenn Ligon, Carrie Mae Weems, Sam Gilliam, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Roy DeCarava.
  • Joining the newly formed Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums
  • Cultivating art collectors as campaign donors, including Aby Rosen and John Hess
  • Calling for a revamping of the Department of Cultural Affairs so it can function “more effectively and efficiently”
  • Encouraging leaders of the city’s 76 Business Investment Districts to expand support for local arts and arts education
  • Holding “the biggest festival the country has ever seen” once it is safe to do so, including “arts organizations from every borough”

 

Dianne Morales

Dianne Morales, 2021. Courtesy of Dianne Morales for NYC.

Dianne Morales, 2021. Courtesy of Dianne Morales for NYC.

“Dianne understands that NYC has lost nearly 35,000 jobs in the arts and culture industry since the pandemic began, which has devastated our economy and ravaged an industry that makes New York truly thrive,” a spokesperson for Morales’s campaign tells Midnight Publishing Group News. Morales wants to “prioritize supporting theaters and museums and their workers,” but also understands the role culture plays in education and mental health. “Her daughter was struggling until she found the arts in school so it’s something Dianne is very in tune with,” the spokesperson adds.  

Specifics from nonprofit executive Morales’s arts plan include:

  • Implementing the Open Culture Program approved by the City Council and permanently institutionalizing the program for years to come
  • Strengthening the capacity of Small Business Services, including bolstering a new division specifically for small arts and cultural venues across the five boroughs 
  • Increasing investment in programs like Curtains Up NYC, which help struggling arts venues apply to federal grants
  • Establishing a “New Deal-style program inspired by the Public Works Administration to put artists who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to work while providing arts education in schools and creating public-facing art.” Funding “could come from taxing the rich at the state level…and by defunding the police in NYC by at least $3 billion.”
  • Working with the federal government to gain access to more grant money for programs like Save Our Stages and the Shuttered Venue Operators grant

 

Scott Stringer

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer speaks as he joins hundreds of residents, children, activists and politicians for a March for Safe Streets following a recent accident where two small children were killed by a car driver on March 12, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer speaks as at a March for Safe Streets on March 12, 2018 in Brooklyn. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

“There will be no recovery for NYC without a vibrant arts and culture industry,” a spokesman for Stringer, New York City’s current comptroller, says. “New York City’s arts, culture, and entertainment are essential to New York City’s future and we need to aggressively focus on stabilizing and growing the industry, while supporting our artist community, as we continue to fight off this pandemic.”

Highlights of Stringer’s plan include:

  • Investing in open space and outdoor performances to bring together workers, unions, neighborhood BIDs, open and green space advocates, and other members of the community to hit the ground running. “We should use the full force of the City’s media resources to promote local entertainment in a coordinated way,” the representative says. 
  • Taking inspiration from the city’s post-9/11 response to purchase over 100,000 tickets for theater performances (not just on Broadway) and distributing those tickets to frontline workers, school children, and others
  • Exploring the feasibility of opening access to the Theatre on Film and Tape (ToFT) at Lincoln Center to fund worker relief. “The ToFT should be free and digitally accessible to all New York City residents, and should sell subscriptions to outside the City…to fund a short-term benefit for out-of-work performers and venue workers,” the plan states.
  • Developing new partnerships for providing arts exposure to more New Yorkers
  • Leveraging City dollars to support the city’s local venues
  • Overhauling the Department of Cultural Affairs’ granting process to provide direct assistance to individual artists and grants for operating expenses, as well as investing capital dollars to equipment, not just new venues
  • Working with ConEd to expand their nonprofit assistance program, providing lower electricity rates for performance venues, and exploring options for opening up public school gymnasiums and auditoriums so that artists can use them as free and reduced rate rehearsal facilities

 

Maya Wiley

Candidate for mayor of NYC Maya Wiley speaks during Martin Luther King celebration at NAN headquarters. Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Candidate for mayor of NYC Maya Wiley speaks during Martin Luther King celebration at NAN headquarters. Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A spokesperson for the lawyer and civil rights activist‘s campaign points out that support for the arts is included in the candidate’s economic recovery plan, New Deal New York, which prioritizes investment in the city’s infrastructure. “In order to design a recovery that includes everyone, we must recognize that physical infrastructure can and must benefit social, cultural and civic infrastructure,” the spokesperson says. “Physical structures and facilities make it possible for our economy to function, and shared social, cultural, and civic structures enable all of us to fully and meaningfully participate in economic and public life.”

Highlights of Wiley’s arts platform include:

  • Designing a “Recovery for Artists and Culture Workers” plan, which would include $1 billion in new spending
  • Putting the city’s artists and performers back to work by “providing performance and studio spaces, and through other capital expenditures that support arts and culture in the city”

 

Andrew Yang

New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang holds up his campaign’s petition signatures as he speaks outside the NYC Board of Elections office on March 23, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Andrew Yang holds up his campaign’s petition signatures outside the NYC Board of Elections office on March 23, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s campaign did not respond to Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for information, but the “Culture, Society, and Nightlife” section of the candidate’s website details some of his plans for New York’s arts sector. Highlights include: 

  • Building on the legislation that established the Open Culture program, which temporarily allows eligible cultural and art institutions and venues to use approved open public street space for cultural events. “A Yang administration would look to make this program permanent and would promote performances through our NYC App so all New Yorkers are aware of the happenings in our city,” per the plan. 
  • Proposing a new program: Broadway to the People, which would give Broadway producers the opportunity to mount theater productions in public parks at reduced fees
  • Partnering with larger institutions to help subsidize rent for resident artists in buildings: “These up-and-coming creators deserve a place to cultivate their craft and the city has a role to play in supporting their dreams.”
  • Working to attract “content creator collectives, such as TikTok Hype Houses, where young artists collaborate. We need to help create similar artist collectives that utilize new technologies.”
  • Turning the city’s bridges, monuments, and buildings into “works of art by hosting vivid projection-mapping displays

 

Eric Adams

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, speaks during a Black Lives Matter mural event on June 26, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, speaks during a Black Lives Matter mural event on June 26, 2020 in Brooklyn. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.

The campaign for the former Brooklyn Borough President did not return Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for information on his arts record and there is little detail provided in his platform. His previous involvement with the arts includes: 

  • Allocating millions in capital funding for Brooklyn arts institutions such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Academy of Music

 

Shaun Donovan

New York City Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan speaks during a press conference at the National Action Network's House of Justice to denounce the rise of attacks against Asian Americans on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

New York City Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan on March 18, 2021 in New York City. Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images.

Shaun Donovan, the former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will be launching a 6,500+-word arts and culture platform at a press conference this Friday, April 2. According to a spokesperson, that plan involves:

  • Prioritizing “the safe and efficient use of space to revitalize our arts and culture sector and empower our artists” 
  • Considering the role of arts and culture in the “long-term strengthening of communities across our city and enrichment of all New Yorkers’ lives” while addressing the needs of arts organizations of all sizes, backgrounds, locations, and disciplines

We’ll update this article with Donovan’s full platform when it’s released to the public.

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