Interview with Pearl Lam

From her modest beginnings of promoting Chinese contemporary art in pop-up exhibitions in Hong Kong, to owning three galleries, Pearl Lam has been at the forefront of bridging the East-West gap in the art world for many years.

Lam’s tireless work and drive to bring art together, has also earnt her the title as one of the most influential women in modern art. She has also been dubbed as the Queen of Eastern Art, as she advocates it throughout the world day-in-and-day-out through exhibitions at her galleries and other avenues in the art world.

Since she emerged onto the art scene in 1993, Lam has stimulated cross-cultural art. She has provided, and continues to provide, platforms for artists from both sides of the world to come together in her Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore galleries, showcasing their work to audiences and artists from both sides of the coin.

fluoro spoke to Lam about her passion, heritage and what’s in store for the Queen of Eastern art.

fluoro. Why is it important for you to create a cross-cultural dialogue between China and the world?

Pearl Lam. I am from Hong Kong, a British colony, where I adopted the colonial attitude, this, compounded by the fact that I left for the US and UK at a very early age, resulted in me not truly knowing my Chinese culture, which I misperceived.

Then, fresh from graduating university, I was dispatched to Shanghai where I had to spend an enormous amount of time from 1993 onwards.

After the first 10 years of my living in and visiting China, I started calling myself “Chinese” and became very proud of my Chinese culture and embarrassed about my previous colonial mentality.

Through my own experience, I recognised how China is largely misunderstood in the West, and vice-versa.

With China having the fastest growing economy in the world and increasing global political influence, it is important to educate the world about Chinese culture and to foster open dialogue between China, the rest of Asia, and the West. There is much to learn from thousands of years of rich Chinese history and traditions, which are still evolving to this day.

f. How do you feel you have helped change the perception of Asian art around the world?

PL. I’ve helped expose the art world to different contemporary Chinese artists, who follow the Literati tradition of working in multi-disciplines and rooting their art in traditional philosophies like Taoism and Buddhism, but reinventing them for today.

Slowly but surely, I hope to show how diverse the spectrum of Chinese contemporary art is and to educate people on the foundation of Chinese contemporary art, which is not the same as in the West.

Chinese artists like Zhu Jinshi are comfortable creating large-scale installations out of thousands of sheets of folded rice paper, as well as painting Chinese abstract on canvas. Chinese artists are not limited to one medium.

f. How has your heritage impacted your outlook on work and life?

PL. Being Chinese informs my passion for continuing to bridge the divide between the East and West through art and culture. I am able to draw from multiple perspectives from both my Chinese culture and Western education, which helps me to maintain an open mind and sense of humour about life.

f. What does Chinese culture bring to the world that no other culture can?

PL. China has over 5,000 years of history and traditions, and is where Taoism and Confucianism originated. There is a unique spirituality in Chinese culture, which connects to nature and the human soul in a distinct way. China has evolved through various dynasties and the modern day Cultural Revolution, which has resulted in a unique and resilient cultural landscape. From Chinese landscape paintings, calligraphy, to contemporary Chinese abstract, which have all been informed by history, Chinese culture is truly special.

f. What was the moment in your career that defined you?

PL. One of my proudest accomplishments was the first summit held by my foundation, China Art Foundation in 2008 at Ditchley, where academics and museum directors from the West were able to have a heart-to-heart open dialogue with their Chinese counterparts.

At the end of the conference, one professor from China said that this was a historical moment, as this was the first true dialogue from academics in the West wanting to learn about Chinese culture.

f. What places in the world, other than China, do you connect with? Why?

PL. I also maintain a home in London, as I was educated in the UK and have many friends there. I connect with the culture and love the diversity there. Great place for food, museums, and shopping! I can also say the same about Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and other parts of the world.

f. Have there been any controversial pieces that you have held in your space? If so, why did you decide to take them on?

PL. In China, even something non-controversial can be controversial. I’ve had the authorities request us to take down a painting they deemed political by a young Chinese artist named Yang Bo. It was a painting of an imaginary video game featuring political figures. It didn’t have an explicitly negative comment about the government, but people can have their own interpretations.

f. Has there been an artist that has made you rethink your own place in the world’?

PL. I hope that every artist I exhibit has that effect on people in some small way. Whenever an artist changes my perspective, it motivates me more to share their vision with the rest of the world.

f. How does Pearl Lam Galleries merge the world of art and fashion?

PL. In the past, I’ve shown fashion alongside art and design, which I would like to do again in the future. Pearl Lam Galleries promotes a cross-discipline approach.

f. Over the last 20 years how has the art industry changed?

PL. The art industry has become increasingly global and is not just centred in the West. You have cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Istanbul becoming rising art hubs with world-class international art fairs, new museums, and international galleries. As the world is opening up, so is the art world.

f. Is there an untouched avenue in contemporary art you’d like to investigate? If so, what and why?

PL. Currently, I’m interested in contemporary Chinese abstract art and its unique foundation. Besides Chinese abstract, there are other aspects of Chinese that have been erroneously attributed to Western influences, which I’d like to explore.

Professor Gao Minglu’s Chinese theory of art that he calls OYi Pai’, has had international exhibitions before, but I’d like to bring it back to the forefront of discussion through an English language book launch and exhibition in March 2015 to coincide with the next Art Basel Hong Kong.

f. What does the future look like for Pearl Lam?

PL. It’ll be busy as usual.

I’ll be exploring different art markets like Istanbul and opening shows throughout my Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore galleries.

I hope to continue to bring international artists to Asia, and Asian artists abroad. I’d also like to further delve into the Southeast Asian art scene and work with new artists in the Singapore gallery.

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