Tom Pattinson

ROBOTS OR DINOSAURS?

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Dinosaurs. Easier to train!


Feature for Vogue China’s January edition. Interview with Chopard’s Caroline Scheufele. English text below:

As co-president and artistic director of luxury watch and jewelry maker Chopard, Caroline Scheufele is responsible for making the world’s most beautiful actresses truly shine on the red carpet. She talks to Tom Pattinson about why gems and films go together, her new Chinese designer protoge and why she’s always eager to get back on the slopes.

As a teenager, Caroline Scheufele was surrounded by glamour. Her parents would invite Europe’s social elite for dinner and the young Caroline would mix with film stars and celebrities of the 1970s.

Inspired by her lavish visitors, the young Caroline would dress up in her mother’s jewels and dream of one day creating her own pendants and necklaces. It wouldn’t be long before that dream came true. At just 16 years old, Caroline drew a pendent of a smiling clown adorned with diamonds. That Christmas, Caroline’s father gave her a gift that would change her life. The clown she had drawn had been turned into reality – and the pendent would be named the Happy Diamond Clown.

Caroline’s father was a skilled goldsmith and watchmaker, who in 1963 had bought the luxury watch maker Chopard from Paul-Andrew Chopard, a man who was left no choice but to sell the family company after his children decided not to follow in their fathers footsteps in the family watch business.

Karl Scheufele, a young and talented watchmaker, bought the company and continued the tradition of creating exclusive watches that had begun by Louis-Ulysse Chopard back in 1860.

Up until 1976, Chopard was a famed maker of watches but it wasn’t until that Christmas when Caroline designed the ‘Happy Diamond Clown’ that the jewelry range was launched. The ‘Happy Diamond Clown’ led to a range of ‘Happy Diamond’ pieces where diamonds float freely between two sapphire crystals, however, it is the Clown that is still today one of the most famous and best selling pieces from Chopard’s jewelry range.

Today the young girl who dreamed of creating jewelry has grown up and is the Art Director and Co-President of Chopard. The family company is now as famous for its jewelry as its watches thanks to Caroline’s lifetime of work designing, producing and promoting the jewelry side of the company.

Caroline stands, looking out across Shanghai’s Bund, the bright spring sunlight glistening off the diamond necklace draped over her neckline.

“I always had a sensibility towards watches and jewelry,” she says. “And I’ve always had a passion for stones.”

Joining the family was “quite a natural step” she explains. “My father was happy [that I joined] and so was my brother.”

Her brother Karl-Friedrich is also co-president of the company along with Caroline, and runs the watch division. The company has grown significantly since their first days of working together where their father encouraged them to share the same office to learn from each other and support each other. And whilst head quarters have expanded, the siblings share the same space to this day.

 

Having grown up with glamour and worked her whole adult life in the luxury jewelry market it is no surprise that today, Caroline is at the centre of one of the most glamorous events in the world – the Cannes Film Festival.


Our relationship with Cannes “started when we opened a boutique opposite the Palais des Festival” – the main venue for the Cannes Festival, says Caroline.

“I went to Paris to meet with the Festival President,” she says. It was whilst discussing cooperation ideas in his office that she saw the Palme d’Or – or Golden Palm – the main award at Cannes.

“He put it in front of me and I remember it was a pyramid of black plastic or something,” she says. “He probably saw that I was not so overwhelmed by it and he told me that they had plans to re-style it.

“So I came home to Geneva with the Palme d’Or under my arm and that’s how the whole adventure started.”

Since 1998 Chopard have produced the Palme d’Or prize – made of 18 carat gold in the shape of a palm leaf. It is this prize that is the most coveted of all by international film directors for this is the price for best feature film. 

“It is all about the Palme,” smiles Caroline. “The Palme is at the heart of the festival, and every director dreams of winning the Palme d’Or once in his life time.”

For the actors and directors it maybe all about the prize but for Caroline it is dressing the actresses in the most beautiful of jewels, that gets her excited.   

“It is somehow the final finish. When an actress gets dressed for the red carpet in an amazing evening gown then the dress just needs jewellery.”

Like icing on a cake, the diamond on the dress is the finishing touch for any world famous starlet. And the glitz and glam that Chopard has brought to Cannes has certainly helped raise the profile of the film festival.

Cannes was a much more discreet event until we exported it a little bit,” says Caroline. “When we stared 15 years ago Cannes was not so known – especially in America.”

According to Caroline, Cannes is second only to the World Cup in the amount of media interest it gets.

“There are 5,000 journalists and 500 television stations,” she says. “And when an actress walks up the red carpet, the next moment she is all over the world.”

Chopard’s Cannes party that Caroline hosts are worthy of an award themselves. Supermodels, film stars and princesses all attend the star studded bashes wearing customized jewels or something from one of Caroline’s latest collections. In fact Caroline created a line called the “Red Carpet Collection” specifically for those strutting their stuff up Red Carpets from Hollywood to Hong Kong.

The Red Carpet collection is “like a rainbow, you have classical pieces, important pieces, extravagant pieces, very colorful pieces as the actresses are different from one another,” says Caroline. “So in order to have something for all of them, the collection has to be very versatile.”

But Caroline’s passion for film doesn’t end on the red carpet. In 2001 – three years after Chopard started working with Cannes Film Festival – Caroline launched the ‘Chopard Trophy’ for young emerging acting talent.

“I wanted to do a bit more and bring something to cinema,” she says. “That’s why we came up the idea of the Chopard Trophy to kick start young talent.”

Caroline says that the expert judging panel has had a pretty good history in predicting the next big thing.

“For example, Marion Cotillard won the trophy eight or nice years ago, then seven years later she won the Oscar so it was obviously the right choice.” As well as Cotillard, big names including Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Diane Kruger and Gael Garcia-Bernal have all been awarded the Chopard Trophy.

However, it’s not just film stars that Caroline has close relationships. One of her best friends is Elton John.

“I actually met Elton during an event in Cannes,” she remembers. The legendary singer is also a watch fanatic and has a large collection of exclusive watches, including many from Chopard. When Caroline met him he was wearing a limited edition Chopard watch, made for the Prince Charles Foundation. “I suggested that we could do something for Elton’s Foundation and that’s how it started ten years ago.”

Elton John’s Aids Foundation raises vast sums of money from a number of major parties including the famous Oscar Academy Viewing Parties. Caroline has been a supporter of Elton John’s Aids Foundation for many years and supporting charity is something that the Chopard family feel very strongly about.

“Because Chopard is a family business we find it is our responsibility to give something back,” she explains. “My father is very involved with the Leukemia foundation of José Carreras and my brother supports other charities so everybody is doing something.”


As head of the jewelry division of Chopard, Caroline has taken the brand from luxury watchmaker to international luxury brand through her associations with film festivals, creating limited edition ranges for Princes and her high profile charity work. However as well as her business acumen Caroline is also very active in the creativity and design process of the jewelry pieces.

Inspired by her constant travels (she spends at least six months on the road each year), she takes inspiration from “anything and everything”.

“It can be music, architecture, mysterious countries… When travelling I am often inspired. That’s why a lot of the collections that I have designed have names like ‘Pushkin’, which was inspired by the Onion-shaped Orthodox churches in Russia.”

 

However ultimately she says, her ‘muse’, are still the gems and stones she works with, as they are the objects the often lead the whole design process.

When not travelling Caroline will spend time with her team of designers every day. The design process starts off with a sketch “sometimes even on a napkin in a restaurant” then the in house team of eight designers will work up this initial design into a near finished design. “There might be ten designs worked up for just one stone and when the best design is chosen it then goes to the atelier.” Here they will create 3D images of it to picture how it will look.

Chopard recently finished producing 150 unique pieces of jewelry of animals to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the company in 2010.  

“Creating 150 animal pieces is very complex,” explains Caroline. “But sourcing stones to find – for example a light grey shaded diamond – was very difficult but I wanted them to look as realistic as possible.”

The emerald dragon ring that Caroline wears shows huge attention to detail as the head of the dragon snakes around her finger and a large emerald makes up the body of the dragon.

For the animals series, we even brought in a sculpture, to sculpt all the little heads, all the little details,” she explains.

Once the stones are found the stonecutter and atelier will often work together. The atelier or sculpture will work with “normally 18 carat gold or perhaps white, pink or yellow gold. Sometimes they work with other materials such as platinum or titanium depending on what piece we are going to make.”

Many pieces are 100 percent handmade, Caroline explains. “We don’t make any casting but that’s the beauty of it – you also have something unique.”

After the jeweler has finished his work, the piece goes to the setting department for the stones to be set and then finally for a good polish.

The value in the piece is clearly not just the value of the gems and materials but in the time and expertise that is put into each piece. The Peacock – a large bracelet from the Red Carpet Collection – for example took over 2,000 man-hours to create.  

Chopard recruit from jewelry design schools in Geneva, Italy and elsewhere to find highly skilled craftspeople and Caroline explains that they ensure that they have a range of people from different age groups, nationalities and cultures to ensure a good range of influences.

“Actually our latest recruit – the youngest designer we have is Chinese,” says Caroline.

Chopard have a watch-making school and often take some of the best students on to become trainees within the group. After working as a trainee in the Chopard design studio this young girl then returned to school to finish her masters in design.

“She actually won the prize as the best designer of the school,” says Caroline. “Then called and said, she was ready to join the team. I told her she was welcome and that’s how it happened.”

However skilled talent is becoming harder to find with the increased technology that goes into much of the mainstream jewelry making. 

“There are certain skills that are at risk of dying out,” says Caroline. Finding skilled enamellers who can enable the dials of watches is becoming harder. “There are very, very few people who are able to do this 100 percent.”

For those that can though, the rewards are great – good specialists get paid “very well” according to Caroline. And this is because it is a skill that takes years of learning. To become a qualified watch maker takes four year but to reach the top expertise levels to make the ‘complications’ can take another four.

Caroline received hundreds of applicants from designers, eager to join Chopard, but says that she can now spot which designers might have potential just from their handwriting. But for Caroline, new designer have to have a passion for the craft. “And obviously talent, then the rest is endurance,” she says.

 

For Caroline, China is a key priority – this year they will open their thirteenth store and the brand already has a number of well-known ambassadors including Gong Li, Fan Bingbing and Michelle Yeo who are creating that red carpet buzz.

Chopard exhibited the Red Carpet Collection in Hong Kong and Shanghai recently, and after the Cannes Festival Caroline wants to do a show of the Red Carpet pieces across China.

“I am also making a book about the 150 animal series. When this is completed, she says, she plans to bring together all 150 pieces, if she can “convince the owners to lend them back to me for five weeks.” The exhibition would first be shown in Paris then in Shanghai. “Paris and Shanghai are sister cities, so it makes sense”.

You get the feeling with Caroline that she has more ideas than she knows what to do with – global touring exhibitions, producing books as well as running a major luxury jewelry company, Caroline really doesn’t stop.  

“I don’t know what a weekend is,” she says. “Sometimes, here and there I take two hours off though.” And during those couple of hours, Caroline might do some Pilates to relax or take her seven dogs for a walk. But, she says, it is skiing in Gstaad that is the only thing that takes her mind of work.

“When you are in the white snow, there you forget. There you can finally forget the hectic world of watching makin


For a man famous for his fast cars, Lapo Elkann is considerably late for our interview. His car collection (voted the best in the world by Wallpaper* Magazine) hasn’t helped him beat Beijing rush hour traffic. When he arrives in his bright blue suit and dark sunglasses he does however, look remarkable cool and collected. 

I was hoping to dislike Lapo. Not only is he taller, better looking and much, much richer than I am, he is famously known as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors and voted by Vanity Fair magazine as the world’s best dressed man. Lapo Elkann, however is a man I struggled to hate. He has so much energy I find myself asking him to slow down on several occasions and his honesty and charm make me believe that perhaps we aren’t from worlds quiet so far apart.

Born into one of the most famous families of Italy, Lapo is the heir to the Fiat SpA company fortune. His family company not only owns Fiat and half a dozen other car companies but also the supercars Maserati and Ferrari. At one point the company controlled nearly 5% of Italy’s GDP and Lapo’s Grandfather Gianni Agnelli was the richest man in modern Italian history until his death in 2003. He was also a style icon – a title his grandson, Lapo has inherited.

Today Lapo, along with his brother and sister, are the largest shareholders in Fiat. His brother is the Chairman of the group and his sister a film director. However it is Lapo who has spent much of his adult life in the headlines as the wild middle child. The creative one. The playboy. In recent years this has all changed.

Lapo, now 34, is an entrepreneur, having successfully launched ‘Italy Independent’ – a luxury product design company – and ‘Independent Ideas’ a creative branding agency.

Born in New York in 1977, he earned the title of international jet setter from a young age, being educated at French international schools in America, Britain, Brazil, France and Japan. Lapo’s writer and academic father divorced from his mother and married a man who was living in Brazil. “At the time and we travelled around the world and I would say that I was lucky to become an international person,” he explains, lighting the first of many cigarettes of the afternoon. “It is the luck that made me have a normal life because if I would have been brought up in Italy I would have been probably a brat”.   

After military service, in his early 20s he moved back to New York and began working for academic and diplomat Henry Kissinger. “I knew Henry Kissinger through my father and at a very young age I’d always underlined one thing: I admire you, and I would like to come and work with you when you will allow me to do so.”

After a stint in New York in 2001 working with Henry Kissenger, Lapo returned to Italy to join the family business working for Fiat – specifically for Ferrari and Maserati – where he shook things up. When he joined Fiat, the family company, the reputation of the brand was going through hard times and the share price had dropped to only three Euros. By the time he left it was 23 Euros and he was hailed a hero.

“I had to break certain rules in the company making workers and directors eat together. I broke the classist rules of the automotive industry.”

The shake-ups weren’t easy though. The company was suffering and changing the status quo was essential. “I had to deliver projects and ideas with 400 times less money than my competitors, less people, less time, less product… it was extremely tough.”

Family connections must surely have helped open the door to such a major job but that didn’t make changing the company culture easy. “If you are someone who is bringing change, people fear you,” he explains.

Having been born into one of the richest families in Europe, Lapo could have easily been nothing but a playboy – enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous but he repeatedly explains his understanding of money – how easy it is to spend but how hard it is to make. And he is not shy in giving his colleagues credit for the success of both Fiat today and his own companies. “If I succeed it is because I have a good team. It is not because of who I am, it is because who we are.”

This conflict of being aware of his wealthy and privileged upbringing yet desire to make a difference repeats itself throughout our time together. He talks about friends – “knowing a lot of people doesn’t mean having a lot of friends”, and emphasizes that his friends are from “all walks of life”, not just wealthy celebrities. But his global aspirations in business and his knowledge and interest in international affairs shows the size of his ambition. He talks not of businessmen but of global leaders through out the ages.  As we enter into a deep discussion on politics he talks about the success of the underdog and the importance of hope. 

Lapo calls himself an international citizen but Italy is in his blood and from his strong Italian accent to his stylish tailored suit he could be from no other nation. But how can such an international character also be so strongly defined by his home nation?

“I love my country, always did and always will. I will always do anything I can to make my country shine.” And his promotion of many Italian brands is certainly going some way to re-inventing brand Italy.

Europe – and Italy specifically is going through some significant challenges, economically and politically recently. Does Lapo feel the need to help improve the image of his country on a global scale?

“First and foremost I would say, for Independent Ideas, the project I would most cherish to work on would be the relaunch of a nation.”

So therefore does he have ambitions to go in to politics?

“I would say to rebrand and remarket a country you don’t need to be a politician. Politicians have abilities and capabilities in many areas – they need to lead, they need to implement a vision – but to lead and implement a vision they need teams, they need people and they need substance.

He speaks highly of currently Italian Prime Minister: “Mario Monti is respected globally personally, professionally and is someone who re-gave credibility to our nation at a global scale,” he says. But he admits Italy has weaknesses and work needs to be done. However, he says Europe is in need of “refurbishing” and needs to get back to hard work. “We have been lucky for many years and it is time in a certain way, to give a kick to our butts.”

Lapo talks a lot about politics, about the lack of charismatic figures in politics today and the lack of inspirational people for the public to look up to. But if the world is not looking to Italy for its political leaders it is certainly looking there for its leaders of design. 

“Many of the brands around the world, when they need aesthetics and they need beauty, they call Italians.” And Lapo’s ‘Italy Independent’ is certainly helping brands including Diesel, Vans, Virtue, Gucci and many others use those Italian aesthetics to improve the design of products and ideas. China is next on his list of countries to work with.

“Italy and China both have a history of tradition and innovation,” he says. “They both also have some elements of disorder and disorganization…of making things more complicated than what they are.”

But, he explains, he fell in love with China the first time he came here with Henry Kissinger many years ago. “This nation gives to me a sense of inner peace even though it is fast, quick, powerful and strong. It gives me a sense of wanting to do more.”

Lapo tells me that there are many elements of China he is a fan of, not least some of the people he has met on this trip. As well as speaking for three hours to students at a Shanghai design school, Lapo also met with TV host Yang Lan, film director Alexi Tan, who was also responsible for creating a special video for the Gucci 500 launch, and actresses including Li Bing Bing and Zhu Zhu.

“I think Zhu Zhu is a very talented and clever Chinese girl. She has a broad vision on creativity, which is very interesting,” he says. “I find Asian aesthetics extremely attractive,” he goes on. “I find Chinese women extremely gracious and extremely refined.”

Since our meeting in Beijing, Zhu Zhu and Lapo have been photographed as a couple, with Zhu Zhu seen on his arm at the parties at Cannes Film Festival.

Lapo’s success with the ladies is something that has been well documented and as pictures of the charming Zhu Zhu being whisked around Cannes by Lapo – both dressed in matching black and white outfits, I was reminded why it could be easy to be jealous of the man. 

Lapo likes talking about women. He says that looks alone are not what inspires him any more.  “Even though a lot of people might say I’m full of shit because I’ve had the luck to have a lot of good-looking girlfriends… which I am not denying.”

He talks about the phase in his life where he was on a quest for women who would “flatter his ego” and make him “look and feel better with himself.” But today he says, he likes women who have drive and dreams and who are getters who want to “change things”. 

Lapo and Zhu Zhu were also photographed celebrating at a football game. Not just any football game. It was the last game of the season and the game that saw Juventus win the Italian Football League.

If Lapo were to have a hobby, then Juventus would probably be it. It’s probably a bit more than a hobby though. Of course his family own the club and his cousin is the chairman. One of the large tattoos on his arms (“each tattoo represents a part of my life”) are the large letters of the club that declares his allegiance to the team.

Lapo jokes how he told David Beckham that he had chosen the wrong team when the British football superstar moved to Italy and joined AC Milan – Juventus’ archrival.

Outside of football, Lapo doesn’t have a lot of time for hobbies outside of car collecting. He calls himself a workaholic. To get things done, he says, “You need to have brain, heart, soul but also you need to have balls and be lucky. You need to battle,” he says.

And for sure Lapo battles. The easy route is not one he has decided to take. “I could perfectly have a beautiful flat, drive a Ferrari have a great girlfriend and live very easily,” he says. “That’s not my choice”

His choice is to work and prove himself a successful entrepreneur. It’s almost hard to keep up with all the projects Lapo is working on. However one of his most exciting projects is Ferrari’s “Tailor Made” project. One-off, customized Ferraris, built to an incredibly high specification.

“We did a year of research with the best companies, the best brands, the best cloth makers the best color treatment companies, the best technological companies,” he explains. When the results met Lapo and Ferrari’s high standards they launched “Tailor Made”, first at Frankfurt Auto Show and now at the Beijing Auto Show.

These supercars are made to every one of the clients’ specifications on not just technology and handling but also with interiors. Denim, tartan or even pinstriped suit seats have all been produced, with cashmere or blue teak interiors and styled in a classic or modern way. Lapo himself has a matt camouflage Ferrari 458. But his clients’ requests have certainly been varied with one client asking to try 500 different shades of red and another requesting that the matt paint of the car to smell of chocolate. 

But it’s not just the décor of the car, the pinnacle of the Tailor Made project is where clients are sent to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, and sit with Ferrari designers to create their own car. The price tag of this might set the buyer back up to six million Euros but there will be no other like it in the world.

Ferrari aside his two main companies ‘Italy Independent’ and ‘Independent Ideas’ keep him occupied and very enthusiastic. Italy Independent is a design company working with everything from and eyewear companies to boats and even a commercial space shuttle. Lapo was recently in Beijing to unveil the Gucci 500 – a Fiat car produced in collaboration with fashion brand Gucci.

Independent Ideas is his branding company and together they work on “product, communication, strategy and deployment of a strategy at a global level.”

Independent Ideas now employs nearly 100 people and he is proud to state that he started five years ago (launched on July 4th – American Independence Day) with just 250,000 Euros.

“To me independence is key, independence in the way I behave, in the way I dress, independence in the way I approach people, independence in the way I deploy the vision of the projects or objects of the companies I work for. And the team is independent in the way they think, the way they move, the way they act and the way they interact.   

If his several companies and Ferrari projects were not enough, he is also launching a foundation called Independent Looooooove (with seven os for the seven launch projects around the world.) The foundation will focus on children who have been abused and, he says, “who have not had the opportunities I had.”

“I owe my generation some elements of giving back and not giving back from cash but giving back from time, energy…”

This man who has been born into so much and has achieved so much, is his life goal to make a difference?

“My life goal? My obligation is to make a difference,” he says lighting another cigarette. “It is not something I want to do, it is something I have to do. My great, great grandfather is the second founder of automotive after Henry Ford, he made a difference. I have to make a difference, not because of him but because of what I have been given and by the blessing I have been given from God.”

Noting his sharp blue suit and heavily tattooed arms, style is something Lapo has certainly inherited from his grandfather (whose suits Lapo still wears today).

“I am not someone who follows fashion, I am someone who follows style,” he explains. “Fashion is seasonal it doesn’t last. In time and in history style remains.”

But what is style? “Style means the right blend to fit who you are. You don’t need to fit what fashion states you have to fit. You have to fit to what makes you happy and in a way where you don’t look like a buffoon. Style is not only of the exterior but it is first and foremost on the interior. We are in an era where people focus on the exterior but if your interior is not well packed remember you are carrying bullshit on you and around you and you need to find an equilibrium and a balance between both and that’s the only way you can survive.

For Lapo it is this equilibrium that he has now achieved in his own life, which turned his life around. In his 20s Lapo was known as something a playboy. That all ended in 2005 when he fell into a coma after a drug overdose. Something that led to him cutting out alcohol, drugs and even caffeine but means he is now more focused than ever before.

“I think that what happened to me, allowed me to know myself much better. It happened to me in my 20s so it pushed me to go much deeper in everything and anything I wanted or didn’t want. And I had to work on myself. On my good and my bad self.”

Coffee arrives. “This is the real one for you,” he says, as he takes the decaffeinated coffee. No stimulants needed for the new Lapo.

“Today I feel there is an equilibrium. A balance between my inner self and my outer self and that’s what gives me the ability to be some one who is able to generate positive energy and build the companies and also rebuilt myself the way I want it, and not the way others wanted me to.”

Do the generations of successful industrialists and tycoons from his family tree put pressure on him to succeed?

“I am the one putting pressure on myself, I always did, always will, because pressure is not an enemy for me it is a companion.”

He talks a lot about the mistakes he has made and that really we are all the same, we are all scared sometimes, all make mistakes and all sometimes fall into temptation but its natural to make mistakes, he says, it is how people pick themselves up from them that is the key.

The fast living heir is selling his car collection later this year and he is single and off the party scene. As the interview draws to a close and the last cigarette of the afternoon is stubbed out, Lapo decides to join me to head out to a fashion party. As the party starts to liven up he takes the car back to the hotel – he’s got a lot of work to do. Has the playboy finally grown up?

“Yeah,” he says, “but it’s not bad to grow up.


Cover story for Australia Unlimited on new head of the West Kowloon Culture District in Hong Kong - Michael Lynch. Very interesting guy with a lot of very interesting plans

China isn’t just experiencing an economic boom, it’s revelling in an arts renaissance of sorts. The explosion of visual arts in both Hong Kong and the mainland in recent years, plus the arrival of major fairs including Art Hong Kong and international galleries such as White Cube has shifted the traditional cultural axis from West to East.

Michael Lynch is an Australian who is at the centre of this new and exciting creative period in China. Lynch is the CEO of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), a magnificent cultural and entertainment district spanning 23 hectares that has been in the works for 16 years.

The WKCD was first conceived in 1996 by the Hong Kong Tourism Board to attract more visitors, and to address the lack of modern arts venues. Most of the current arts centres were built in the 1970s and 1980s. After years of public consultations, international design competitions and funding reviews, a master plan designed by Fosters + Partners was eventually agreed upon in 2011.

Theatres, restaurants, galleries and the centerpiece M+, a museum of contemporary culture, will surround a vast garden. The first architectural competition (for the Chinese opera venue) is already underway and approval of the master plan from the town planning board should be coming through some time this year.

The first arts facility is expected to be ready in 2016 and in the mean time Lynch is doing his best to create as much hype as he can over what is currently little more than a muddy building site, “We are trying to now move it from the talk stage to the realisation stage,” says Lynch from his Hong Kong offices.

“We are looking at doing big spectacular outdoor pieces – both concerts, festivals, performing arts and visual arts activities on the site. We hope to be physically gigging from the beginning of 2013 … to create that sense of anticipation and momentum on the project.”

Lynch has built his reputation on creating momentum and getting people talking. And he says, it’s achieved “by using some dogged Australian bull-headedness to make sure the project gets realised.  

Having grown up on Maroubra Beach in Sydney, the young Michael spent most of his third year of life in hospital paralysed with polio. Sixty years on he still walks with a stick – something Hong Kong newspapers have picked up in their cartoon satire.

“It certainly gave me a level of visibility and some form of recognition that I’ve been able to create some kind of niche as a rather distinctive character who doesn’t allow physical impediments or other impediments to get in the way of taking on what is an absolute humungous challenge,” he says with the raucous laugh of a man used to poking fun at himself.

As a voracious reader, it was only books that took him from his sun-drenched beach to the four corners of the world, until he first left Australia in 1963 to spend a year in England which gave him exposure “to a whole lot of things” before returning to school in Australia. “I played in the brass band in my school and I’d done amateur dramatics because I thought I was much more talented than I was.”

His university years further awakened Lynch’s cultural awareness but it was in 1972, when he got a job in Labor leader Gough Whitlam’s newly established Australia Council that set him on a course from which he has never looked back.

“I thought I wanted to be a lawyer and a politician and a diplomat and other things and getting exposure in those three years between 1972 and 1975 at that rather remarkable time in Australia’s development just got me hooked into the idea of the arts and the entertainment business.”

After rising to the top of the Australia Council it was on his first day at work as the newly appointed CEO of the Sydney Opera House that he realised he “was home”.

“I’d sailed past it on my way to England in 1963 and watched it being built. I was there the night it opened in 1973. And then going there in 1998 as the boss with a car parking spotI thought well this is probably as good as it’s going to get.”

Lynch would have been happy to stay there until the end of his working career but he was offered the CEO position at London’s Southbank Centre and the thought of “testing his mettle against the best in the world” was too appealing.    

Having worked all his life in Australia, not only was Lynch keen to see how he measured up in the international arena, but also wanted to see if he could make it in what he regarded at the time as the cultural capital of the world – London.

“It was a tough gig trying to change an organisation that had been around effectively since the 1950s and had got into bad habits. It wasn’t really any sort of ideal of an organisation and so that was hard graft in Britain. Australians changing British cultural institutions is somewhat reverse to the way it had normally been done.”

Seven years in London saw Lynch turn an antiquated beast into a modern cultural hub. His name as one of the world’s best arts administrators had been cemented.

In 2009, the WKCD came knocking for the first time, but Lynch, then nearing 60, decided on semi-retirement and returned to Australia. With a CBE from the Queen, he joined the boards of such major institutions as the AustraliaBroadcasting Corporation and Victoria Film.

“I thought it might be the time in my life where I might want to slow down but I actually got really bored,” he says. “I loved the things I was doing but I had a bit too much time to myself.”

In 2011, after the exit of its director, the WKCD came knocking again.

“I got the feeling that when they offered it to me I’d be an idiot if I didn’t take it. If I thought I could do it then I really should.”

“I had the boldness of being 61,” he explains of the reason he took up the post. “When you make a big decision like that you are not too worried about the consequences for your ego or your reputation and you are more intrepid in terms of taking on a project of this scale.”  

Aware of the challenges the job entails, Lynch argues it’s his long career as a cultural problem fixer and his Australian go-get-em attitude that led to his appointment.

“Hong Kong is that curious hybrid born of Britain and ancient China and now overlaid with modern China. That is a challenge for someone who came in and said to them, ‘you know, you’ve appointed me for three years, we’ve got to make progress and to make progress you are going to have to get things out of the way of us to be able to do that.’ So that’s been somewhat of a challenge.” One of the other issues of creating the world’s largest government-funded cultural centre is the complexity of not just building but filling a contemporary art museum bigger than New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Not to mention finding curators and talent to fill four major theatres and dozens of other creative spaces. 

 “I look at what it was like when I was in China in the mid 1990s – at what was then the very earliest stages of the contemporary work – and you look at it 15 years later and I’m just mind-boggled by the progress.”

Lynch is fully confident that when the venues begin to open in 2016, there are “no doubts that we will be able to find the works” to fill them.

Lynch spent the last decades of the 20th century helping to shape the growing Australian arts scene before moving to London during its heyday revival when it grabbed global headlines with the YBAs, Brit Pop and the opening of new museums including the Tate Modern.

“It was a fantastic period to be in London but I was very conscious of the fact that by the time I left in 2009 the centrality of Europe and of the States had shifted – and in a relatively short period of time.”

Lynch sees his role as an arts administrator as an opportunity to also reinforce and embed the connections between Australia and China. Lynch argues that despite the obvious difference in terms of political systems, the mutual sense of humour between the Australians and Chinese helps people understand mutual goals, regardless of the language barrier.

However he is aware that he is in a unique position – working for the Hong Kong government as part of mainland government – to see China through a slightly different prism than if he were to be working for an Australian company or in Australia.

“You’re much more sensitive to the nuance of local politics … of Chinese politics and developments on artistic and cultural fronts.”

A man in the later stages of his career would be forgiven for letting his ego take over and attempting to create a legacy. However Lynch has all the humility of a newly arrived intern, with a can-do spirit of a man half his age and the excitement of a teenager. His candid and honest approach is refreshing. He speaks of “getting things done” and “building a team of successors” who will carry out his dream of creating an exciting cultural landscape for Hong Kong and China.

“I don’t ever see myself as being there at the huge opening ceremony,” he says. “That is probably a role for my successor.”

 

 

 


A good six page spread in German Traveller’s World Magazine on Beijing based artists Huang Rui, where he talks about his art, his home and his life.

STARTS:

Beijing’s high-rise buildings and congested streets disappear in the rear view mirror and are replaced by empty, back roads as we approach the suburban art district of Huantie. China’s most famous art district – Factory 798 – is already five miles behind us and we can see stray dogs and chickens rummaging around in the fresh rubble of what was, up until recently, a row of rural homes.  Out of town villages are being replaced with suburban villas, as the newly wealthy look to find somewhere away from the smog and gridlock of downtown Beijing.

Past the purpose built studios that house young aspiring artists – freshly graduated from schools such as Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts – the road turns into a dirt track. We turn off into a gated compound to find a vast grey brick building in front of us. Waiting at the door is Huang Rui – one of China’s most important artists.

Huang Rui is a large man who dominates the frame of the doorway. His large craftsman’s hands and long flowing hair, gives him the air of a medieval blacksmith rather than a politically active twenty-first-century artist.

The red string around his wrist indicated that this year is his Zodiac year. One would guess from his youthful demeanor and child-like smile that Huang Rui is turning 48 this year, but in fact he is turning 60. Huang Rui was born in the year of the Dragon.

And like the Dragon, Huang Rui has been breathing fire since his youth. Upon entering his self-designed home the first thing that comes into view is a sculpture that leaves the visitor in no doubt as to his personal and political views.

A three dimensional metal sculpture of two intertwined Chinese characters – the characters for the numbers six and four symbolizing ‘June 4th’ the date that the government forcibly re-took control of Tiananmen Square 1989 that was at the time occupied by protesting students.

Huang Rui was born in 1952 in Beijing’s traditional low-rise courtyards, three years after Mao’s Communists took control of Beijing. As the Cultural Revolution launched, 16-year-old Huang Rui was sent to Inner Mongolia to work as a farmer for five years before returning to Beijing to work in a leather factory.

Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 led to the end of the Cultural Revolution that was responsible for the destruction of so much of China’s ancient traditions and culture and the deaths of millions of people; and by 1978 a new leadership was beginning to bring China into a new era.

It was this year that the young Huang Rui with some other liberal minded thinkers started publishing a radical literary magazine called ‘Today’. From the group of students, academics and artists that helped produce ‘Today’, Huang Rui formed a group of untrained artists called the ‘Stars’.

The avant-garde art group contained artists including Wang Keping, Ma Desheng and Ai Weiwei and, for the first time since the Communist Revolution, art was being produced that was commentating on politics and society.

The name for the group came naturally. Huang Rui explained the decision to the China Academy of Fine Arts: “During the Cultural Revolution you could talk about the stars but you couldn’t do it in public, because the stars did not exit. The stars did not exist because there was only one sun, and that sun was Chairman Mao. The sun was the only thing that shone. Chairman Mao was the only one who gave light. During the Cultural Revolution only political philosophy, not natural science was discussed. Also the stars only appear at night. It seemed a very natural choice at the time. The stars shine independently, every star shines alone. They exist by themselves and for themselves.”  

The Stars Group were the first to publically protest the restrictions and censorship of the Cultural Revolution but it was an exhibition outside the National Art Museum of China in 1979 that was to cement their names in history. Huang Rui and Ma Desheng led the arts collective in hanging hundreds of works on the railings outside the Museum creating what was China’s first contemporary art exhibition in modern times. For three days the works were on display to the public before the police closed the show down for disturbing social order.

The Stars Group continued to produce avant-garde works with a second show in 1980 but the group gradually disbanded after many of China’s most influential artists begun to move abroad in search of further education and freedom of expression. In 1984, Huang Rui moved to Japan where he was to work and study until his return in 1992. However in a period when China was bidding for the 2000 Olympic Games, politically active artists were not welcome.

“Since the days of the Stars, people always used to meet up at my house, and when I came back from Japan, we just carried on with that tradition,” says Huang Rui, sipping green tea at his kitchen table. 

“Today it is Ai Weiwei who is the focus [of the government’s attention] but back then it was me, even though I was less bothered about causing trouble by then.”

In the early 1990s Huang Rui was hosting gatherings for some of China’s most politically sensitive thinkers, including Wei Jingsheng – a dissident who had just been released from 14 years in prison for his democratic writings.

“The police came round and suggested it was better that I left the country and return to Japan,” remembers Huang Rui

Huang Rui returned to Japan in 1994 and when he tried to visit Beijing in 1995 he was turned away at customs and told to apply again for a visa for his native land again on July 1st 2000 – a month after the 2008 Olympic city had been picked.

It was not until April 2001 that Huang Rui was finally allowed to return to his home country.

In 2002 Huang Rui was one of the first artists to move into a semi derelict former weapons factory on the outside north-east corner of Beijing known as Dashanzi. The factory – number 798 – would go on to become one of the most important art districts in the world.

Originally built in the 1950s it was this factory area that housed thousands of workers, building electronic components for military use as war with Russia threatened. With a Bauhaus inspired architectural model, the high ceilinged, well lit spaces made ideal artist studios. Huang Rui encouraged his colleagues and friends to join him in the area and China’s first major art zone was born with Huang Rui was at its helm.

As well as a home, gallery and café Huang Rui also launched the Dashanzi International Arts Festival in 2003 pulling together small galleries, performance artists and the media to firmly put 798 on the cultural map.

As the popularity of the area and the influence of the artist community grew however, the local government grew increasingly nervous.

“They put barricades outside my house, and slogans like from the Cultural Revolution era were put up in the area banning art events,” says Huang. “Many galleries and artists were very nervous to take part in the next festival but we wrote a formal letter to the government explaining the value of the cultural area. It was signed by hundreds of artists and also by about 20 international diplomats who were praising the area as a cultural centre. They eventually realized it would be a problem if they cancelled the arts festival.”

798 was saved and it was officially declared China’s first protected art zone. However, Huang Rui’s power had become too great. “They didn’t want two voices in the area. It was the government management or me.” The vocal artist didn’t win. Huang Rui’s electricity and water was turned off and after a four month stand off he was forced to leave 798 in the spring of 2007.

Today, Huang Rui lives in a vast grey-brick building a few kilometers past 798. His home is made of Qing and Ming Dynasty grey bricks, salvaged from the thousands of ancient buildings destroyed in the redevelopment of the ancient capital in the run up to the Olympics. Inside the bright building are a number of studio spaces that house much of his work including both sculpture and paintings.

Huang Rui is highly socially engaged and his works use political satire and humor more directly than any other of his contemporaries. His works highlight the irony and fallacies of the government.

 “They constantly change their policies,” says Huang Rui from his wide kitchen table. “The government change policies faster than the weather. It’s like a big game to them and what I do with my work is turn it into a small game.”

Examples of his ‘games’ can be found in his high ceilinged main studio. Two-meter high towers with classical Chinese drums, cymbals and gongs attached to them stand inviting the public to play with them. The instruments are painting with characters depicting the social and political problems of today. “H1N1, the Euro, Global Warming, Steve Jobs…” Words that take the biggest global issues of today and turn them into instruments – games. A game where the public can release their frustration through banging and smashing away.

Next door, Huang’s Table Tennis tables also have Chinese cymbals and drums embedded into the table – an object that turns not just China’s number one pass-time but also the symbol of Chinese diplomacy – also into a game.

“When you are playing with something, you can understand it a bit more”, he explains. “I take the most serious subjects and turn them into games”.

Having grown up during the Cultural Revolution where political slogans were daubed across walls on classrooms and factories alike, the use of slogans and letters in bold primary colors run through much of his works. However Huang often changes the context or meaning of these political slogans into humorous plays on words.

In a smaller downstairs studio beside the large rectangular indoor water feature, is a room where Huang Rui can be found painting more detailed smaller works. Behind him, hanging on the wall is a two-metre canvas with gold character painted in the shape of the key erogenous zones of a female body. The characters are from a speech that the leader Deng Xiaoping gave just after the Tiananmen incident in 1989 that read: “To control the state you need two basic principles (strong central government and open markets)” – in Huang Rui’s work he is changing the meaning from controlling of a state to controlling of a woman, belittling Deng Xiaoping’s famous phrase. 

Likewise, the Chinese slogan calling for Mao Zedong to live for 10,000 years, Huang Rui has used 10,000 RMB worth of 100 RMB notes (each depicting Mao’s face) to create a large character for 10,000.

“Behind the language you can easily change the meaning of it. For a previous generation it meant to live forever, for today’s generation it means wealth. But both are used in Communist China and both are linked to Mao.”

Huang likes to use elements of history in his work to show the passing of time. “A lot of times people need to be seen in history – Mao for example,” explains Huang. “He held China’s history in his hand and it’s important to have that kind of historical reference.”

Some of Huang Rui’s most famous works hang in the next room – the Chai Na/China series. These large scale works are paintings of photographs Huang Rui took of areas of Beijing that were in the process of demolition. Old courtyard homes known as Hutongs, lie in rubble with the odd stool or children’s toy still visible in the destruction. The works use a play-on-words with the character ‘Chai’ – meaning ‘to destroy’ and ‘Na’ meaning ‘Here’ - Together they sound like the English word ‘China’.

“The authorities would spray the character ‘Chai’ on the walls of the buildings earmarked for demolition,” says Huang. “And the residents would then know they might only have a matter of weeks to find a new home before the bulldozers came.”

Much of this destruction of the old was conducted as the city was being gentrified for the Olympics. These works combine skilled painting with bold colours, text and political slogans – all the visual elements Huang Rui’s works are recognizable by. They also show the challenge of fighting the authoritarian system and the social challenges of contemporary China. Something Huang Rui is more famous for.

A recent performance work saw Huang, dressed in his long traditional Chinese robe and dark sunglasses that date from pre-communist China, herding a live donkey around a traditional grinding stone inside a Beijing gallery.

“The poor people are like the corn being ground down – society pressing against them. Although there is movement the movement is fixed so the poor just keep getting ground in circles as ultimately, they cannot escape.”

Chinese artists are currently some of the most sought-after in the world and many of Huang’s contemporaries are selling works for millions of dollars. Huang knows however, to grow to that scale many of his strong views will have to be censored and he is not someone willing to ignore these issues. For Huang the challenges to society and the restrictions imposed upon the common people by the authorities is what is his key message. He has spent a lifetime speaking out and he isn’t going to be silenced any time soon.  


Affordable Art Beijing 2012 was another huge success. Check out this awesome video we made


AAB studio visits


A recent cover story written for FOCUS magazine on IPR issues in China.

Once infamous for its production of fake handbags and knock-off watches, China is now taking copyright and trademark issues seriously as it bids to become a nation of innovation, says Tom Pattinson

When entering the China market British companies have a number of concerns, but protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) usually tops the list. In CBBC and BritCham’s 2011 China Business Climate Survey, over 80 per cent of respondents cited IPR as an issue of “significant importance to their business” – and with good reason. China’s vast manufacturing base has seen local companies copying patented products and ignoring trademarks, as well as producing counterfeit goods from luxury handbags to imitation whiskey and, more worryingly, fake drugs, car parts and airplane components. A series of well-documented cases cite luxury brands such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton suing counterfeit product vendors including those at Beijing’s Silk Market. Stories about fake milk, pet food and cooking oil have hit the front pages, and last year China was back in the headlines after officials discovered 22 fake Apple stores. The shops were so convincing that even the blue-shirted staff thought they were the real deal. IKEA and B&Q have both fallen victim to carbon-copy Chinese stores, and have undertaken lengthy legal battles to protect their IP and company image. “IKEA is one of the biggest home furnishing companies in the world,” IKEA China said in a statement. “Protecting IKEA’s intellectual property rights is crucial.”

And crucial it is for every foreign brand operating in China. Companies must be well prepared before entering the market to ensure their company secrets remain secret. However, the Chinese authorities are making a conscious effort to crack down on IP infringements with top-down pressure on local courts and a number of high profile campaigns.

Last year’s IP Special Action Plan called “Showing the Sword” seized a huge amount of counterfeit goods. Although critics have argued that the high profile seizures have limited long-term benefits, the message to both infringing companies and local law courts is clear; IP must be protected if the country is to innovate.

In November, Vice Premier Wang Qishan said that China will make its Special IPR Campaign permanent and will continue high-level involvement as well as increasing crackdowns on intellectual property rights infringement.

One British company that benefited from the recent crackdown is Strix, manufacturer of safety control systems for small domestic appliances. Strix was awarded RMB 9.1 million in damages after winning a landmark case against two Chinese companies who were found guilty of using their patented technology.

“This legal decision [is] a big step in the right direction for the Chinese judiciary’s [policy] regarding intellectual property, regardless of the plaintiff’s country of origin,” said Paul Hussey, Chief Executive of Strix.

In fact, foreign companies represent an increasingly small percentage of cases as Chinese firms register their own patents and IP. According to Tom Carver, Chief Rep-resentative of law firm Wragge & Co.’s office in Guangzhou, 94 per cent of cases consist of Chinese companies suing other Chinese firms. Of the cases involving foreign businesses, over 90 per cent of foreign firms win their cases. “Claimants generally don’t start actions unless they are sure they are going to win,” he says.

Wragge have won all of their cases on behalf of Dyson makers of the eponymous vacuum cleaner and blade hand dryer. Although the majority of firms stop producing when an injunction has been granted, “damages are not significant by UK standards,” says Carver. “In the UK if you say you’ve lost a million pounds in revenue then you’re likely to get quite a lot of it back. In China you won’t.”

                   Even with counterfeit case victories, infringing companies don’t always stop producing knock-off goods. “[We won a Dyson case] and they were fined US$7,500,” Sir James Dyson told the Guardian. “They didn’t pay the fine and they just carried on.”

However, China’s desire to become a country of innovation and technology will continue to improve their IP strategy. But even with a centralized plan, implementation remains challenging.

Chris Bailey, Deputy Country Manager for Rouse International, believes that as well as the difficulties of policing an enormous country with widespread counterfeiting, culturally Chinese companies may feel pressured to copy other brands even though they have their own quality products.

He mentions Chinese car manufacturer SAIC, who bought British car manufacturer Rover’s technology but didn’t acquire the brand name. “They created the new brand Roewe to sound like Rover but why bother?” he asks.

Despite the challenges, it is clear that IP issues in China are growing in importance. “Hu Jintao said IP is the basis for competition in the 21st Century,” says Bailey, an attitude reflected by the increase of IPR infringement court cases. According to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), Chinese courts heard 52,708 new cases of intellectual property rights infringement from January to October 2011, up 42.2 per cent from the same period in 2010.

The growth of Chinese brands and changes in consumer attitudes are also helping turn the tide. Although China is yet to create a global brand that is truly Chinese, some of the country’s largest companies such as Lenovo, Li Ning, Haier and Huawei are investing more in branding.

As China’s economy and consumer disposable income grows, buyers are looking for respected brands that can guarantee quality. This is particularly visible in the mobile phone sector. In 2007, at least 20 per cent of all mobile phones sold in China were fake, but this figure had dropped to seven per cent by 2010. Most consumers are savvy enough to know that fake high-tech items such as smartphones simply don’t work.

The mood is shifting, and according to Grant Thornton’s China Britain Services Group, who advise on IP in China, while it may be tempting to wait until China offers a more secure environment for IP assets, the opportunity cost could be high. “The potential advantages are huge, and not only in terms of salary arbitrage and tax incentives. As China becomes a leading market for many products, companies able to develop products locally will have two advantages: they will be better at meeting consumer needs and they will be faster to market. Not only that, many companies say that the risks of doing R&D in China are becoming easier to manage. Most importantly,

China is a major source of R&D talent. Chinese students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering may now exceed 1.5 million a year.” said Nick Farr, head of the group.

And with China’s top-down desire for innovation, a surge in consumer integrity and an escalating economy, the image of knock-off China. 


A recent article on the London art scene I wrote for Vogue China (Feb 2012)

 

At Frieze – the largest contemporary art fair in London – this October, there was one party that everyone was trying to get tickets to. Model Lily Cole and rock star Michael Stipe of REM were sipping champagne alongside the world’s most influential art collectors, curators and artists. Damien Hirst, Sam Taylor-Wood and Tracey Emin were just some of the a-list artists that were at the opening of the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, south London.

Hosting the event was White Cube owner Jay Joplin – the man who represents many of the first generation of Young British Artists (YBAs) who rose to international fame and acclaim in the early 1990s. Damien Hirst, whose famous work of a shark in formaldehyde called ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living’ was one of those who took art from the culture pages to the front pages of national newspapers. He was not alone. YBAs of the 1990s such as Tracey Emin shocked audiences with revealing and personal works documenting her sex life and the violent death of family members, whilst the Chapman Brothers’ works featuring torture and disfigurement was regarded as vulgar and offensive. They were shock artists who put on shows in disused warehouses in a time when the economy was slow and the British art market almost stagnant.

There was however, one man who was buying artwork. Charles Saatchi a millionaire, advertising mogul, had been bringing German and American art to the UK to show, collect and sell until he discovered some young British artists – mainly students at the famous Goldsmith College of Art – who were producing some groundbreaking works of art.

Saatchi invested in shows with them, bought many of their works and became a patron to this group which including photographer and film maker Sarah Lucas, Mark Quinn who would go on to make a sculpture of his head made from his own frozen blood, and Tracey Emin who produced a work of a tent with names of all of her sexual partners embroidered on to it.

Saatchi’s influence took these artists to the forefront of the nations attention when in 1992 his YBA show launched them to stardom. The Saatchi name became synonymous with being able to make or break an artist but it was this reclusive collector who created a new era of art history that will go down in history books for decades to come.

By 1997 the normally conservative Royal Academy – Britain’s most academic art institution – featured the YBAs in a show called ‘Sensation’ lifting the level of celebrity of these artist to that of the Britpop Indie bands of the day like Blur and Oasis. 

After nearly half a decade of American dominance in contemporary art, Britain had re-taken the title of world capital of art. Julian Opie became the new Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst the new Jackson Pollack, and Chris Ofili the new Willem de Kooning.

Over the next decade British art continued to dominate global contemporary art fairs but towards the end of the 2000s increasing competition emerged from new markets in the Middle East and Asia who were joining artists from European and American at art fairs from Basel to Miami to Hong Kong.

 

SINCE the 1980s a good gauge of trends in contemporary art in the UK has been the Turner Prize. Britain’s most prestigious contemporary art prize has often been a cause of contention and the last decade has probably been the most controversial if its history.

In 2001, Martin Creed won with his work, ‘The Lights Going On And Off’ – which consisted of an empty room where the lights simply turned on and off. Fiona Banner’s work ‘Arsewoman In Wonderland’ – a written narrative of a pornographic film printed on a wall, was nominated the following year and transvestite, Grayson Perry’s sexually explicit ceramic works won in 2003.  In recent years the winners of the award have generally been more visual and somewhat less risqué, appealing to a broader audience.

Keith Tyson’s Turner Prize winning paintings led a new movement towards less shock-art and more cerebral works, depicting the interconnectedness of humanity and the universe. Mark Wallinger also became a major influence in British contemporary art in the mid 2000s with his videos and instillations works commentating on social class and politics. Wallinger was the first contemporary artist to show work on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth – one of England’s most famous landmarks, and will be working with the 2012 London Special Olympics.

Now again in London there is a new wave of British artists making their name and dozens of avant-garde galleries opening their doors to the next generation of art students and buyers. It was during the economic recession of the early 1990s that the YBAs created a scene and Britain’s art scene is once again rising like an artistic phoenix from the economic flames of today’s financial crisis.

 

GALLERIES showcasing contemporary art have long been focused around east London’s Shoredich and Hoxton areas. Many YBAs had studios in the region and small galleries sprung up in this area to exhibit some of their works. Tracey Emin first opened a shop in the area with fellow YBA Sarah Lucas in the early 90s and like her, many of the YBAs including Gilbert and George still live in the area. It’s not uncommon to spot many of these artists in the trendy bars and cafes around Brick Lane.

Unlike Beijing’s 798 or New York’s Chelsea art districts London’s East End is not neatly packed in to a few streets but the diversity of venues is vast, ranging from artist run space to major galleries. However the old industrial and warehouse area of east London is interspersed with fine dining restaurants, underground clubs and artistic cafes making the experience an enjoyable day out.

One of the most prestigious galleries in the East End area is the Whitechapel Gallery. First opened in 1901 it has held exhibitions of artists including Picasso in the 1930s, Mark Rothko in the 1960s and Lucian Freud in the 1990s. After a recent expansion the gallery reopened in 2009 to be one of the most influential and exciting spaces in East London for contemporary art. In Spring 2012, British conceptual artist Gillian Wearing will be holding a major show at Whitechapel Gallery showing her video and photographic works.

For new rising stars try the gallery Store where artists including Bedwyr Williams and Ryan Gander, who has been gaining a lot of attention for his photographic and instillation works can be found. Seven Seven and the artist-run Ama Enterprises are also spaces to find works from emerging young talent. Also Turner Prize-winner Wolfgang Tillman’s gallery Between Bridges is a great unknown treasure that has established a reputation for championing some of the best artists overlooked by the more commercial galleries. 

Victoria Miro is one of the more established galleries showing well-known artists such as Peter Doig, Chris Ofili, Tal R and Grayson Perry, whilst the Hoxton branch of White Cube is where some of the household names like Damien Hirst can be found. The Approach Gallery is a great space to check out some of the major players with Gary Webb, Rezi van Lankveld and the excellent paintings by Michael Raedecker often on show. And Herald Street Gallery shows many young trendy artists such as video artists Oliver Payne and Nick Relph. It is Maureen Paley Gallery, which is credited with pioneering the East End art scene and she represents some of the more established British artists including Rebecca Warren, Gillian Wearing, Woflgang Tillmans and Paul Noble. All worth checking out.

 

IF the once-edgy East End has now become the established commercial art zone of London the galleries south of the river are taking on the mantel of ‘avant-garde’ and forging a way ahead for the new wave of YBAs.

The Hayward Gallery, on the South Bank, opened in the late 1960s but in recent years has changed its focus to a more contemporary feel, having shown a retrospective of American painter Ed Ruscha and Dan Flavin’s light installations as well as a major show of British sculptor Anthony Gormley in the last recent three years. Next year David Shrigley will be showing his sculpture, animation and drawings that are famous for being morbidly humorous in what will certainly be a highlight of the year.

Elsewhere on the South Bank, the Tate Modern opened in an old power station in 2000 as sister venue to Tate Britain to become the UK’s main centre for global contemporary art. As well as the major permanent collection, the Tate Modern is famous for showing vast instillation works by some of the worlds most famous artists including Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois and Ai Weiwei. Damien Hirst will hold a major show from April to September 2012 here.

These major national institutions along with the rapid gentrification of the poorer south London area have seen a number of smaller galleries open up – especially in the borough of Bermondsey. The Poussin Gallery features many modern British abstract artists including Willard Boepple, Alan Davie and Robin Greenwood.

Elsewhere along the Bermondsey strip is Delfina Gallery and Café where artists including Keith Tyson, Michael Raedecker and Mark Wallinger all previously had studios and many works by these and other younger artists can be seen on the walls of the trendy café.

However, Bermondsey was firmly put on the art map in the middle of October by the opening of the third branch of White Cube – now the largest art gallery in Europe. The space designed by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects is 5,440 square meters and features three major exhibition spaces, making it one of the most important commercial galleries in the country.

 

AS well as the East and South art districts of London, many smaller private galleries dealing with a wide range of art can be found in the heart of the city, with London’s Bond Street being home to older and classical works and Chelsea housing a number of independent art spaces. Also in Chelsea is the Saatchi Gallery. One of the UK’s most important galleries, it shows a diverse range of contemporary art from around the world that has included a major show of contemporary Chinese art in 2008, Middle Eastern art in 2009 and Indian art in 2010.

Britain’s National Portrait Gallery is also packed with painted and photographic portraits by some of the biggest names in art and fashion including Lucian Freud the fashion photographer David Bailey. Interspersed between ancient Egyptian mummies and roman sculpture is the British Museum that also shows works by contemporary artists and is currently showing a major exhibition of Grayson Perry’s works until February 2012.

Excellent schools such as Goldsmiths and St Martins continue to produce exceptional talent and many of these and other established artists will be exhibiting in China in 2012 as part of the UK Now project to showcase contemporary culture in cities around China.

So for those who never managed to get a ticket to the White Cube opening, fear not, there continued expansion of Britain’s contemporary art scene means that the next celebrity filled opening is just around the corner.

 


A recent article I wrote on the uses of bamboo in design. Not only in architecture and furniture but also in clothing and even skateboards and keyboards!



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