Leo Xu is closing his Shanghai gallery after six years to co-direct David Zwirner’s Hong Kong outpost together with former Christie’s head Jennifer Yum. Zwirner’s gallery, his first in Asia, is due to open in the H Queen’s complex on 27 January with a solo show of new works by the Belgian painter Michaël Borremans.
Xu has been an innovator in the contemporary art scene in China for several years. In 2011, reportedly galvanised by the New Museum founder Marcia Tucker’s memoir, A Short Life of Trouble, he quit his job as James Cohan Gallery’s associate director in Shanghai to establish Leo Xu Projects.
Initially backed by the art entrepreneur David Chau, Xu’s gallery quickly gained a reputation for pushing the envelope. He found ever inventive ways to survive at the emerging end of the market by regularly organising exhibitions outside of the traditional gallery venue and modelling his business on architecture firms by selling artists’ ideas to other sectors—shopping malls or urban planners. Xu championed pioneering artists such as the portrait photographer Pixy Liao and the media artist and activist Xu Wenkai (better known as aaajiao). He was also among the first to show international artists such as Danh Vo and Wolfgang Tillmans in China.
Xu says he is joining Zwirner for the gallery's “three-dimensional programme, its roster of artists and its innovative and sophisticated approach to the market”. The Shanghai dealer points out that the “rapid and robust” growth in the Chinese and Asian art markets has led to a call for professionalism and greater demand for the “best artists and uncompromised shows”.
Leo Xu Projects will close by the end of the year, but Xu says his new role will enable him to continue his work with artists and communities, particularly those who are local, “but in a new capacity”.
“I see lots of possibilities of crossing paths with my artists in the future,” Xu says. “They have launched their careers internationally and are starting to show and work with many local and international galleries.” Zwirner is looking to expand its representation of Asian artists, Xu adds.
Mathieu Borysevicz, the owner of the Shanghai gallery Bank, describes Xu as a “poster boy for young indie galleries” in China. “He charted a place for smaller glocal sensibilities to thrive amongst the old bastion of China's hitherto big boy scene. Now he enters the next phase in the industry's metamorphosis.”
Yum, the former vice president and head of day sales in the post-war and contemporary art department at Christie’s New York, also worked in the auction house’s Shanghai office. There, she was instrumental in developing the firm’s business in Asia, particularly in South Korea and Japan. For nearly a decade, Yum was the principal of Jennifer Yum Art Advisory.
Zwirner’s Hong Kong gallery will occupy the fifth and sixth floors of H Queen’s, located in the city’s Central district. Zwirner joins galleries including Hauser & Wirth, Pace and Pearl Lam. The complex will rival Hong Kong’s other main gallery cluster in the nearby Pedder Building, which hosts Gagosian, Lehmann Maupin, and Simon Lee, among others.
“We are pleased to be the anchor tenant in the spectacular new H Queen's art building,” Zwirner says. “Starting in January, I can't wait to introduce the gallery's artists to a new global audience.”
Additional reporting by Lisa Movius