Secondary links

Five Minutes With Pearl Lam

William Louey

When Pearl Lam opened her first Contrasts gallery in 1993, Chinese contemporary art was a tiny blip on the world cultural radar. Over the past decade, the dramatic explosion in international popularity and commercial success of Chinese art is, in part, due to Lam’s ceaseless efforts in global promotion. As the self-appointed champion of the Middle Kingdom’s modern art scene, she juggles the hectic schedules of gallerist and designer extraordinaire, as well as art scene muse and icon. TALK caught up with her during a layover at Hong Kong airport.

How do you think Western and Chinese perceptions of China’s contemporary art differ?

I think today the predominant Western perception of Chinese contemporary art is very different than what we see. Our culture, compared to that of the West, is so different. Chinese painting originated through calligraphy; from the very beginning it’s been at the basis of our culture. Many of the Western art institutions never look closely into Chinese culture or art history before they look at and criticise Chinese art and painting.

You say you hope to show the world who the Chinese are through contemporary art. Why have you made this your mission?

The world continues to globalise. Globalisation can be a good thing with trade, but a bad thing for culture. What we are doing now is following a uniform culture – a Western colonisation of culture. Much of this colonisation is voluntary and I see this as an important issue. There needs to be more of an exchange. People need to see that there is so much more to Chinese contemporary art. So this is my mission.

What advice would you give up and coming artists?

First thing I always ask myself is what would happen if one day I am in China, America, Russia, or Timbuktu, it doesn’t really matter where, and all the art is very similar, everything looks the same. I think this is what uniformity threatens. Being in the culture world, it is really different to be different – in the sense that people are not afraid of being themselves. I think the most difficult thing in life is to be yourself. So for an artist to not be afraid to be express their true self is important, whether they are commercially successful or not. Obviously today everybody pays close attention to the auction market, but the artist who makes the most money is not necessarily the best artist. Often it’s just marketing.

How important are events like the Shanghai Biennale for the continued development of Chinese contemporary art?

I think the past two biennales have not been dynamic enough and the themes are not very interesting; for me it’s a little bit boring. Having said that, the event is quite limited by the size of the Shanghai Art Museum; so the city's biennale is actually much smaller than most other similar events worldwide. I feel that at least Shanghai is pushing to have one and continuing the city’s artistic development.

You’ve been a leading figure in the Chinese art world for nearly 20 years now. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I can’t see that I have any accomplishments. Can you? I think what is amazing is that the world is changing. The global focus is now more attuned with the world's sub-cultural art scene and we all happen to be in this environment and are benefiting from it. Really, truly if I look at myself and ask – “What have I accomplished?” – I don’t think I have achieved anything in any major sense. But the environment and timing has allowed me to meet a lot of museum and art world people and in turn help place contemporary Chinese artists’ work into exhibits and galleries.



Recent comments

Talk Partners

Talk Insider - Register now and win!

Upcoming Events