An Interview with Zhou Tiehai, Artist and Director of West Bund Art & Design Fair

by Mara Sartore
October 26, 2016
Mara Sartore
Zhou Tiehai

On the occasion of the launch of our Special Issue on Shanghai, we interviewed Zhou Tiehai, artist and director of West Bund Fair.

Zhou was born in 1966 in Shanghai where he still lives and works. He attended the art school of Fine Arts at Shanghai University. Zhou Tiehai’s conceptual projects represent the artist’s vengeful attitude towards the egotist art market. His work has the power to amaze and provoke, is the result of a host of strategies that combine antagonism and sincerity. The key ingredients that drive Zhou Tiehai’s unsettling yet amusing practice include: appropriating classical imagery, generating ironic projections, proclaiming laconic yet heartfelt discourse, and actively subverting painterly craft.

He takes on the role of both artist and patron, as many of his airbrush paintings are rendered by assistants under his supervision. He permits himself to ‘play’ with art’s historical heritage by making paintings that are simultaneously self-aware and self-abnegating. Virtuosic and pop culture are both present within a single canvas. He manipulates acclaimed magazine covers for his own purposes and articulates the notion of ‘artistic agency’ within current conditions of the art world and global economy. He makes self-promotional images that subvert the establishment notion of how artists should look and behave.

Mara Sartore: Shanghai is the city where you were born and have always lived, what is your relationship with it and how would you describe the city contemporary art scene?

Zhou Tiehai: During the past 20 years, contemporary art in China has basically gone through a process from the underground status to normalisation, from no market to a rapidly growing market. Shanghai is relatively curious and highly inclusive of Western culture, the younger generation regards the consumption of contemporary art as a fashionable city lifestyle. Apart from that, the rapid development of contemporary art is also largely related to the city’s transformation and urban planning.

M.S.: As director of the West Bund Art & Design, you deal (or have to) with the art market, what is it like being an artist and a fair director at the same time?

Z.T.: The shifts between these identities are natural. Thanks to the long involvement and direct experience in the art industry, when the time comes, it occurs naturally.
Talking about fairs, I first went to Basel in 1997 to visit Art Basel, then in 2000 I joined Basel’s “Statement” session as an artist. Since then, I either participated or simply visited all the major international art fairs. In this process, I gained my own comprehension; I have been observing  the increasingly homogeneous phenomenon among many of these events, which makes me feel that there is still room and much potential to produce more and unique exhibitions.
For this reason in 2014, when the West Bund Artistic Center invited me to organise the fair and showed me the space (a former aircraft manufacturing factory), I felt I could undertake this project.

M.S.:  Which are your expectations for this edition of West Bund Art & Design fair? Is there any artist in particular you are looking forward to seeing?

Z.T.: I hope that West Bund Fair will be able to maintain its own features in a stable scale. We have involved important international and outstanding galleries with “an attitude”. Besides that, the delicate, user-friendly exhibition design, enables the visitors to feel comfortable in this surrounding, inviting them not only to focus on works of art, but also to enjoy the fair, allowing them to experience its atmosphere as a whole. I believe that the participation of our fabulous lineup of galleries will continue to bring us surprising works of art.

M.S.: For all those who are visiting Shanghai from abroad, could you suggest five art spaces not to be missed?

Z.T.: The West Bund is the most worth visiting place, you should spend there a whole day, or an even longer period of time to see it all. Long Museum (West Bund), Yuz Museum and Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP) constantly promote important domestic and international exhibitions. More and more galleries and project spaces have settled down in West Bund: ShanghART Gallery, Aike Dellarco Gallery, Qiao Space, Madein Gallery and the new space of Edouard Malingue. In West Bund art lovers can experience the most dynamic side of contemporary art. Power Station of Art and Rockbund Art Museum are also both worth a visit.

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