The following is one of several extended looks into figures and institutions selected for “The Deciders,” a list of art-world figures pointing the way forward developed by ARTnews and special guest editor Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean. See the full list in the Winter 2020 issue of the magazine and online here.
It’s been six years since Simon Wang opened Antenna Space in the M50 Gallery District in Shanghai and in that time, he has already launched the careers of several of his artists on the international stage: Guan Xiao, Cui Jie, Nadim Abbas, Liu Chuang, and Li Ming. As a group, they are redefining what people know as Chinese contemporary art.
“I just wanted to create a space for young artists (who were also my friends), with good programming that [would allow them to] resonate with each other,” Wang shares in a phone interview from Shanghai. Born in Heilongjiang in 1984, Wang graduated from Harbin Institute of Technology in 2006 with a degree in English literature before entering Beijing’s gallery world as a sales assistant at Beijing Art Now Gallery and director at Gallery Yang. But he was already meeting artists on his own, including Guan Xiao. He met Guan over the internet (China’s weibo) in 2009 and put her in a group show at Gallery Yang, but the gallery refused to represent her. Out of frustration, Wang decided to go out on his own to represent the kinds of artists he wanted to support.
With start-up help from Shanghai-based collector David Chau, Wang opened Antenna Space with a program packed with China’s future art stars. Guan Xiao, for example, has gone on to have exhibitions at Kunsthalle Winterthur (2018); K11 Art Space, Shanghai; ICA, London; CAPC, Bordeaux, and Jeu de Paume, Paris (all 2016) and was included in the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); the 9th Berlin Biennale (2016); the 13th Biennale de Lyon (2015); and the New Museum Triennial, New York (2015). In December, Wang hopes to have similar success with Yu Honglei, a Beijing sculptor he brought to Art Basel Hong Kong in 2016, whose work is in the prestigious Rubell Family Collection in Miami, and K11 HK, mega collector Adrian Cheng’s space in Hong Kong.
“There’s something my artists share, a certain emotion, aesthetics, and spirit,” he says. “Yes, many of their works are contemporary, related to our daily life, all these things that we see and do every day, but they are also classical, rooted in the history of art.” Asked if he means Chinese or Western art history, Wang answers, “both.”
“I think great artists don’t try to define themselves as Chinese or as Western,” Wang says. “They reveal themselves very naturally in their work, but not as some easy facade or as some excuse to identify themselves in a certain way.”