Collector Michael Xufu Huang Is Launching His New Museum With a Triennial That Aims to Capture China’s ‘Millennial Zeitgeist’

The list of people who have founded not one, but two, museums is small. The list of people who have done so before the age of 26 might be nonexistent. That is, until this March, when Michael Xufu Huang opens his new private nonprofit, the X Museum, in Beijing. 

Huang announced last September that he would be leaving M WOODS, the Beijing museum he cofounded in 2014, to start a new space with business partner Theresa Tse that is dedicated to charting the next generation of Chinese artists. And, as if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the 25-year-old art Chinese collector is seeking to define the “zeitgeist of the millennial” with the new institution’s first exhibition, a triennial.

“The X Museum we want to build is a unique art museum in China that is devoted to creating opportunities for young talents,” Huang tells Artnet News. “The inaugural exhibition will set an academic tone for the museum.”

A rendering of the X Museum in Beinjing. Courtesy of the X Museum.

A rendering of the X Museum in Beinjing. Courtesy of the X Museum.

The show, titled “How Do We Begin,” is billed as the first edition of a “three-year rhythmic review of Chinese contemporary art and its development with a focus on emerging artists.” Organized by curator Poppy Dongxue Wu, it will feature 33 emerging Chinese artists under the age of 40, from Cui Jie, best known for her futuristic cityscapes, to Guan Xiao, who makes humorous installations inhabited by quirky bronze sculptures. 

“The first edition of the triennial reviews the development of technologies, how they impact means of production from multidisciplinary viewpoints,” Wu says. “It speculates…what our relationship with media and technology would be like in the 2020s.”

A rendering of the X Museum in Beinjing. Courtesy of the X Museum.

A rendering of the X Museum in Beijing. Courtesy of the X Museum.

Huang and his team have also convened an impressive four-person jury—Diana Campbell Betancourt, artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation; Kate Fowle, the director of MoMA PS1; Zhang Zikang, the director of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing; and Hans Ulrich Obrist, the creative director of London’s Serpentine Galleries—who will hand out the first X Museum Triennial Award to one of the artists in the show. (The monetary purse accompanying the award has not yet been announced.)

The international flavor of the jury reflects the museum’s goal of dissolving the lines between Chinese and Western art. “When contemporary Chinese art was first brought to the stage of international art, there was a conclusion that it carries a certain ‘Chinese-ness’ that cannot be simply translated into other languages,” Wu says. “Millennial artists were born in the digital age, they grow up in the context of globalization and such trace of ‘Chinese-ness’ is not visible in their practice.”

Curator Poppy Dongxue Wu. Courtesy of the X Museum.

Curator Poppy Dongxue Wu. Courtesy of the X Museum.

Huang has been collecting art since he was 16, when his parents bought him a lithograph by Helen Frankenthaler for his birthday. Since then, he’s amassed a world-class collection of of-the-moment work, including pieces by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Jesse Darling, and Amalia Ulman. He was just a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania when he founded M WOODS with husband-and-wife collectors Lin Han and Wanwan Lei. In just six years, it has emerged as one of China’s more prominent private art museums. 

Given that success, Huang’s decision to transfer his collection away from M WOODS and form a new nonprofit with Tse—whom he met at Penn—surprised some onlookers. Although it did square with the flashy, confident persona Huang has cultivated, the collector is quick to dispel the notion that X Museum is a vanity project. 

“For a long time, I received a lot of international attention, not only because of my role as a collector but also because international artists I promoted were brought in focus in China,” he says. “X Museum is an art space that encourages innovation and inspires possibilities, not a place to show off my collections.”

The poster for the first edition of the X Museum Triennial, “How Do We Begin?” Courtesy of the X Museum.

The poster for the first edition of the X Museum Triennial, “How Do We Begin?” Courtesy of the X Museum.

The first edition of the X Museum Triennial, “How Do We Begin?” opens March 17 at the X Museum in Beijing and will be on view through July 5, 2020.

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