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Despite protests and Coronavirus, former French prime minister and son press on with new Hong Kong gallery

Dominique and Arthur de Villepin say new space will be shaped by their collecting experiences and relationships with artists

Arthur and Dominique de Villepin

Undeterred by ongoing protests and fears over coronavirus spreading from mainland China, former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin and his son Arthur are moving ahead with plans to launch their ambitious new gallery in Hong Kong this March. The pair say they will employ a new business model based on their “friendships” and close relationships with artists.

The launch show in the new three-storey Modern and contemporary art space, located on Hollywood Road, will be dedicated to the late Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki. The exhibition, entitled Friendship and Reconciliation, will include oils, watercolours and ink works priced between €60,000 and €10m.

“Our relationship with Zao Wou-Ki was based on friendship. We have put real soul behind the idea [of basing the gallery on strong friendships]," says Arthur de Villepin. "Perhaps the truth is we will do this a little more naively and in a less business-like way. Our approach will not just be commercial. The exhibitions will run for six months with three months devoted to creating salons [in the style of the early 20th century European salons]”.

The pair say they will draw on their contacts in the region. “I had the chance to travel and became friends with many artists. We have created strong roots in Asia since 2007, and have a strong network here,” says the former diplomat Dominique de Villepin, who was prime minister from 2005 to 2007 during the tenure of president Jacques Chirac.

Arthur de Villepin points out that Chinese collectors have always been interested in buying regional Chinese art, though there has been a shift towards international art. “We have always closely followed the market, with a growing interest in China," Dominique de Villepin says.

He says this will "be a gallery built by collectors for collectors,” and his son also stresses that they are “collectors first”— their holdings includes works by artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Miquel Barceló, Yan Pei Ming and notably Zao Wou-Ki—and hope to create a gallery that reflects this ethos. Arthur de Villepin remains bullish about Hong Kong's status as an art hub. “I believe it will remain the centre [for art] in the Asia-Pacific region,” he says. The political situation in the city remains fraught however in light of the recent wave of anti-government protests.

Yesterday, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam announced it would stop all cross-border ferry and high-speed train services between it and the mainland, and halve the number of flights. So what about the effect of the coronavirus epidemic on the economy and business? “We are following news of the situation closely but do not expect it to impact our opening in Hong Kong this March,” Arthur de Villepin adds. The next exhibition at Villepin will be dedicated to the second School of Paris artists—hailing from both Europe and Asia—who worked in the French capital after the Second World War.