Retail and real estate (K11 and New World Development)
When Adrian Cheng began assembling his collection of some of the best contemporary art from around the world in 2010, he was among the world’s youngest billionaires, having taken the reins of his family business in retail. He launched Hong Kong’s K11 brand as part the $9.4 billion New World Development real-estate and retail empire, which was founded by his grandfather Cheng Yu-tung and where he is executive vice chairman.
Cheng believes firmly in two things: first, that art is for the masses, and, second, that the masses are likely, at one time or another, to go to the mall. In his K11 Art Malls, which he calls a “new museum model,” Cheng has placed art at their center: retail shopping on the main floors provides both the financial support and the audience for the art displayed in the basement. K11’s ambitions are only growing, and in 2022, Cheng announced plans to open a cultural complex in Shenzhen that is expected to span 2.4 million square feet. It has been given a $1.4 billion price tag.
Over the years, Cheng’s K11 Art Foundation opened exhibitions spaces in Hong Kong and Shanghai and has staged more than 60 exhibitions across China’s major cities, with some of the world’s leading contemporary artists, including Katharina Grosse, Guan Xiao, Neïl Beloufa, Zhang Enli, and Oscar Murillo. The foundation also staged major projects outside of China, including the Armory Show’s 2014 China Symposium Venice Biennale pop-up exhibition of Liang Yuanwei, as well as residencies for Chinese artists across the world, including Enli’s at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and Cheng Ran’s at the New Museum in New York.
His aim is not only to educate the public about art in general, but also, specifically, to raise the visibility of Chinese contemporary art. “I think the new contemporary Chinese art is reinventing Chinese cultural identity and building up a new Chinese culture,” Cheng told ARTnews in 2014.
Cheng has started to branch out beyond his malls. In 2016, he joined the board of the New York–based Public Art Fund, and in November 2018, he joined the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in one of the first major moves by the institution’s new director, Klaus Bisenbach. In May 2019, the Council of Fashion Designers of America appointed Cheng as its “first global ambassador with a mandate to support American designers as they seek growth for their brands overseas,” according to the Hong Kong Tatler.