Collector’s eye: Wanwan Lei and Lin Han

Art lovers talk about the best and worst works they’ve bought

The Beijing art power couple Wanwan Lei and Lin Han cofounded M Woods in Beijing’s 798 art district in 2014 with their friend  Michael Xufu Huang, and the trio have established the institution as one of the capital’s most varied institutions. Bringing with them the more relaxed globalism of China’s young generation of  elites, they have shown artists ranging from Guido van der Werve and Andy Warhol to Duan Jianyu and Qiu Xiaofei. This month, M Woods opened a 94-work show (until June 11) organised by Lei of the French painter Cristof Yvoré (1967-2013). Yvoré’s first exhibition in China and solo show is among the highlights of the inaugural Gallery Weekend Beijing, which closed on Sunday.

Both Wanwan and Han were born in 1987, he in Beijing and she in Hong Kong. Han studied animation at the University of Northumbria in Great Britain, and now heads a public relations firm. Wanwan studied art history at Beijing’s Central Academic of Fine Arts and earned her masters in arts management from New York’s Columbia University. Prior to opening M Woods, she worked in several New York galleries and launched her Wanwan Lei Projects exhibition series of international emerging artists. Here, the couple gives us a sneak peek into their private art collection. 

How did you first get into collecting?

Lin Han: We arrived at collecting in different ways. Wanwan has been around art and artists her whole life, and studied and worked in the industry. I had less exposure in my younger years but I started collecting when I realized I had so much to learn from artists.

What was the first piece of art you bought?

LH:  The first piece I bought was by Zeng Fanzhi in 2014. I was studying his work, as well as the market, for a long time and realized that in order to be taken seriously as an emerging collector it would be wise to buy this piece as my first. 

What was the most recent work you bought?

LH: A painting of apples by Courbet, a drawing by Raoul de Keyser, and a work by Guido van der Werve

If your house was on fire, which work would you save?

LH: I’d save my wife and our cats first. 

If money was no object, what would be your dream purchase?

LH: I think one of the biggest enjoyments of collecting is working within your budget to make acquisitions that have an emotional payoff, something you believe in and can feel.   

Which work in your collection requires the most maintenance?

Wanwan Lei: The oldest works in our collection have very fine requirements for storage (constant temperature and humidity, etc.), including paintings by Old Masters and a stone carving from the Northern Qi Dynasty. But in general, we treat our entire collection with a great amount of care. 

Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

WW: First, I’d invite Zhao Ji, Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. He was an emperor, ordained from birth as the political leader of a country, but he also had great artistic aspirations and aesthetic ideals. I would love to hear him give voice to this inner conflict between duty and passion. If I could pick one other, I’d invite Lucas Cranach the Elder because I adore his paintings. I’m especially enchanted by the one model that appears repeatedly in his works. He was very interested in the darker shades of the human spirit. 

What is your preferred way of buying art?

WW: I think the relationship fostered between collectors, artists, and their representative galleries is important within the greater ecology of contemporary art.