With Asian cultural scenes dominated by private forces and investment, the Ecosystem series brings together individuals and institutions to discuss how collecting can help promote a healthy art ecology. In this issue, William Zhao talks to art patron Adrian Cheng.


You have been collecting contemporary art for quite some time. How do you differentiate between artworks for your personal collection and those acquired for the K11 Foundation, of which you are the founder?

I use two distinct criteria to decide between the two. The K11 Foundation mostly collects works that we believe are influential, both to the academia and future art history, or works by artists with whom we feel an affinity. It includes a large number of highly experimental installation pieces and video works. We are planning to open a museum in Beijing in 2018 to house this collection. For my personal collection, I select works by young artists around the world with whom I feel a more personal resonance.

How do you differentiate and find balance between your support for young and established artists?

Different artists need different kinds of help at different creative stages. For instance, Chinese contemporary artist Zhang Enli is a relatively mature artist. During Art Basel in Hong Kong in 2014, we helped him arrange exhibitions of his spatial paintings, which allowed him to boldly experiment with new kinds of artmaking. Younger artists generally lack resources and experience; accordingly, we decide how best to provide help towards these ends. We have supported young Chinese artists like Cheng Ran, Guan Xiao, Zhang Ding and Chen Tianzhuo by introducing them to international art platforms, allowing them more opportunities for interaction and healthy incubation, while broadening their horizons.

We provide artists with the necessary
opportunities and platforms.

As an art collector known for strongly supporting the young generation of Chinese artists, how would you help audiences understand these artists? After all, it takes patience to know and understand contemporary art.

First of all, one of the tasks of our foundation is to educate the public, allowing them a deeper understanding of artworks and artists by exhibiting and explaining these artworks to them. Later on, as we continue building this artistic ecosystem, we hope that the public will grow to accept more and different approaches to art.

Some of the art projects you support, like artist Cheng Ran’s nine-hour video piece, are highly experimental and conceptual works. Why are you always so especially supportive of this kind of art?

In my opinion, to support young Chinese contemporary artists is to allow their voices to be heard. One finds that young artists nowadays can express things in such innovative ways—I believe we should provide them with the necessary opportunities and platforms for them to show their creativity. Much of today’s mainstream art begins with experimentation. Therefore, our foundation must play the role of facilitator.

In October, Chinese artist Zhang Ding will have a large-scale exhibition at ICA, London. What convinced you to provide this artist with your full support?

Zhang Ding’s work integrates music, installation, some elements of sub-cultures, and his understanding of the development of global cultural integration. I am blown away by the power of his large-scale installations. I believe that he is unique among young Chinese contemporary artists.

What is your view on K11’s (and your own) contributions to contemporary art? How do you imagine your position in ten years?

Our main objective is to incubate and support artists with potential, especially in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Our Art Village is dedicated to the fostering of artistic and curatorial talents. Although our contributions have so far been relatively small, we hope that over the next ten or twenty years, we will help build a healthy ecosystem for Chinese art that might parallel the international art world. We are not constrained by geography or objective environment—pop-up spaces, itinerant exhibitions, and our collaborative projects with various art institutions are great examples of our vision and method. We are persistent with our vision, and we hope that this persistence will lead people to acknowledge our genuine devotion, and believe that we will eventually be proved right when our goals are realized.

William Zhao is an art collector, curator and writer based in Hong Kong, actively contributing to the international contemporary art scene.

Image: Performance at the opening of Tianzhuo Chen's exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris