The director of Massimo De Carlo in Hong Kong reflects on the challenges of showing large sculptures in the city's pint-sized galleries and reveals which artist the gallery is showcasing next
It's hard to believe Massimo De Carlo gallery in Hong Kong has only been open three years. Since it launched with an exhibition of portraits by Mainland Chinese artist Yan Pei-ming, it has impressed both the public and collectors with a string of thought-provoking shows featuring everything from monumental sculptures by American artist Doug Aitken to videos by Hongkonger Lee Kit and paintings by Ai Weiwei.
Leading this ambitious programme is Claudia Albertini, who was a fan of De Carlo's long-established galleries in Milan before she took the reins of his first gallery in Asia. Here, Claudia recalls what sparked her interest in art and introduces a trio of Mainland Chinese artists who have recently joined Massimo De Carlo's roster.
What was the first work of art that moved you?
Being Italian, art has always been at my doorstep—in my case, literally. My great-aunt was an artist and she used to live above our flat, so I spent a lot of time in her studio as a kid. Art for me was always about fun—my great-aunt used to produce very colourful art. And my house and my grandparents' house was full of art.
My interest in Asian art came later. I moved to Venice for university and started studying Chinese, which opened a whole new chapter in my life when I studied Chinese and Asian classical art.
Contemporary Chinese art was really taking off in those days and there wasn’t anything written about it at the time, so I thought, “OK, I need to go to China.” I managed to move to Beijing in 2004 and that was the beginning of a very wonderful experience. I was very lucky to meet most of the well-known Chinese artists and I kept learning and growing my knowledge about art through them. I spent a lot of time with Ma Liuming, one of the most well-known artists for his performances, and the late Cui Xiuwen.
What was the first exhibition you hosted at Massimo De Carlo in Hong Kong?
Massimo De Carlo opened in Hong Kong in May 2016 and the first exhibition we hosted was of Yan Pei-ming. He is the very first Chinese artist that Massimo started to work with and he’s also one of the very first artists that the gallery started to represent because Massimo and Yan Pei-ming have known each other for about 25 years.
It was an exhibition of portraits of famous artists, such as Picasso and Frida Kahlo, in their youth.
The exhibition was very successful and we are looking to have a second Yan Pei-ming show in Hong Kong.
What’s the most challenging exhibition you’ve ever hosted?
Every exhibition is challenging! It’s a challenge because you never know what is going to happen. But the surprises are part of the fun.
Logistics are a challenge. We set up an exhibition for Carsten Höller that included a huge plexiglass sphere—it had a diameter of more than two metres—with flickering lights. The sphere was too big to bring into the building, so it had to be disassembled and then reassembled in the gallery. And we once had to hoist a huge Doug Aitken sculpture through the window.
Our show of Elmgreen & Dragset this March was very challenging. It was challenging because the exhibition itself was a challenge to the whole atmosphere in Hong Kong, a new kind of exhibition. Most of the galleries here do exhibitions that are quite classical. When you completely change the space of the gallery into something else, that’s new—and it was fantastic.
It’s also a challenge to the audience because people come it and don’t really know how to behave. But that’s what the artist wanted and what we wanted. It’s encouraging people to stop and understand what you're looking at and why you're looking at it and how you feel about it. For me, art is about feelings.
Is there an artist you don’t currently work with who you’d love to represent?
There are a lot of artists who would be a good fit for the gallery. I have to say that we are continuously researching. I personally feel very passionately about researching the Asian territory, so there are artists in Asia, more specifically in China, who I keep looking at. All I can say for now is to keep your eyes peeled.
What's the best thing about the art scene in Hong Kong?
It’s vibrant. It’s got a special energy. I love the fact that on the commercial galleries side, we really try to work together to give our artists the best platform and bring the best works to audiences here.
What's the worst?
Logistics are difficult. Spaces are small. It's very humid, so you really need to be careful because works of art are very precious and some of them are very delicate.
Who’s the most recent artist to join Massimo De Carlo?
In London we just opened our very first solo show of Jamian Juliano-Villani, who is very exciting. She's a young artist from the USA who is full of energy and makes these bold, colourful paintings. This year we also started working with Lu Song, an artist from Beijing, and Wang Yuyang, another artist from Beijing.
What exhibition are you hosting next in Hong Kong?
That will be Xu Qu, opening on September 19. It will be a new body of work that will be specifically realised for the exhibition. This will be his first exhibition with us in Hong Kong. We had a project with him earlier this year in Milan, which was an earlier body of work.
Which exhibitions will you be visiting around the world in the coming year?
I want to see as much as I can! I was lucky enough to be in Venice for the opening of the biennale and—for anyone going—there are a lot of great exhibitions across Venice outside of the biennale. The Jannis Kounellis show at the Prada Foundation is top. And elsewhere in Italy, I also saw the exhibition of Sean Scully at Villa Panza.
Who in the art world most inspires you and why?
Artists are a very important inspiration. Spending time with artists, visiting their studios is probably the most enjoyable part of my job. Collectors nowadays are very, very knowledgeable, so they can give an insight that is probably very different to what I see myself.
And of course Massimo is a source of inspiration. He has a great mind and is a continuous source of inspiration.
See also: Art Insider: Pascal de Sarthe