Interview Session with Pearl Lam

Pearl Lam 2

(Business Lounge Journal – Art) For Pearl Lam’s parents, art was not seen as a suitable career and that is why they sent her to Shanghai to learn about property development. But three months after in business, she saved up her salary and spent it in a gallery in Hong Kong, her native home. The daughter of the late Hong Kong real-estate tycoon Mr. Lim Por-yen is now living between Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London as an art collector and dealer. Having a penchant for Chinese contemporary art, her four galleries were now located in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai, exhibiting many collections of oriental contemporary arts and beyond…One of our favourite would be the Aggregation 14 NV-054 (Dream 19) by the Korean artist Chun Kwang Young.

She’s also establishing the China Art Foundation, notable of bridging the gap between the West and China art scene and promoting cross-cultural dialogue.

BL: Business Lounge Journal

PL: Pearl Lam

BL: Describe your feelings toward art.

PL: Art has always been a passion of mine, something that has set me apart from the rest of my family. It wasn’t seen as a suitable career by my parents, so instead they sent me to Shanghai in 1993 to learn about property development. They had high hopes for me, but after three months in the business, I simply saved up my salary and spent it all in one go at a gallery in Hong Kong. I collected two paintings by the Shanghainese artist Sun Liang. These were both the first Chinese works I had collected and the first serious works that I had ever owned. Sun Liang became my friend and introduced me to the art scene in Shanghai, taking me to galleries and artist studios.

In the 1990s, I organised avant-garde pop-up exhibitions in Hong Kong, and in 2003, I was tasked with curating and mounting an exhibition as part of the French Year in China entitled “Awakening: La France Mandarine—The French Influence on Chinese Art”, which exposed me to some Chinese artists who were still not on the international radar. I learned a great deal from these artists and, later, from scholars like Professor Gao Minglu. Especially with Chinese contemporary art, I feel that learning about different artists and collecting their works has brought me closer to my own Chinese heritage. As a dealer, I have access to artists from around the world and am able to share with others art that excites me from different regions.

I buy and collect art that I love. I have been focusing on Chinese contemporary art, and as one of the very first gallerists promoting Chinese contemporary art (especially abstract art internationally), I am really excited to see the recognition it has received today. My work brings me huge enjoyment which is invaluable and immeasurable. I have been fortunate to be able to contribute to the development of the Asian art scene in the past 20 years, and I’m still enjoying it.


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Pearl Lam Galleries – Art Stage Jakarta 2016 (Business Lounge Journal).

BL: What’s your favourite genre of art?

PL: Abstract has always been a favourite genre of mine—both Western expressionism and Chinese abstract, which have different roots. I learned the most about Chinese abstract art from Professor Gao Minglu, who has been researching and writing about how it has roots in Confucianism and Taoism and how some branches of Chinese abstract has evolved from traditional calligraphy.

BL: Tell me more about your role as ‘the bridge’ between the West and China

PL: We have four galleries in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. All are in well-located metropolitan cities that play important roles as hubs in Asia’s growing art scene.  At the same time, each has its own distinct identity and wealth of artistic output. Pearl Lam Galleries’ mission has always been to promote cross-cultural dialogue; we work with artists from China and other parts of the world over a long period of time and are constantly looking to discover new markets and territories to present their work to new audiences. Having galleries in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore, as well as partaking in art fairs around the world, including Art Basel in Hong Kong, TEFAF (the Netherlands), Art16 (UK), and Art Stage (Singapore and Jakarta), we are able to explore new markets, find new artists, build networks with curators and museum directors, as well as develop our collector base.

We have a unique gallery model and exhibition programme dedicated to championing artists who re-evaluate and challenge perceptions of cultural practice from the regions they hail from. We believe it is important to support the local art scene and present artists’ work on the international stage, but at the same time we want to explore the complexity of cultural influences and dialogue between Asia and the West, and encourage international artists and designers to create new work which engages specifically with the region. Having said that, our two Hong Kong spaces are dedicated to providing platforms for both established and emerging artists.

BL: What art exhibitions that no one should miss?

Robert Rauschenberg at the Tate Modern in London. He was an artist who changed American art forever, but he also had an enormous influence on Chinese artists being one of the first Western artists to visit China in the 80s. His show at the Museum in Beijing was enormously popular, happening as it did at a great cultural turning point for China.

BL: Any artworks that you’re wishing for?

I experience art viscerally, so I always get excited when I see art that moves me. Then I dream of collecting it.

Pearl Lam Galleries – Art Stage Jakarta 2016 (Business Lounge Journal).

Pearl Lam Galleries – Art Stage Jakarta 2016 (Business Lounge Journal).

As a gallery, we fundamentally believe that art should be accessible to people of all ages, demographics, and social groups, as it provides a lens for us to better understand the world in which we live. As such, besides our exhibitions, we also hold talks and workshops that are open to the public.

The Galleries

BL: How did the idea to open Pearl Lam Galleries come about?

PL: Mounting the exhibition Awakening: La France Mandarine was such an overwhelmingly positive and confirmatory experience for me that soon after I decided to open my first gallery space in Shanghai, and I’ve never looked back since!

BL: Is there anyone who you’re looking up to, as an advisor?

PL: Last year I was able to spend two days with Professor Gao Minglu to learn and acquire knowledge about Chinese contemporary art. He is the leading curator and scholar of Chinese contemporary art who first introduced Chinese contemporary art to the USA.

I love to talk, listen, and, amongst other things, learn more about Professor Gao’s theory of contemporary art that argues that Chinese contemporary art as opposed to Western contemporary art does not derive from modernism, but from ancient Chinese ink brush philosophy.

Professor Gao proposes that in contrast to Western abstract expressionists, Chinese abstract artists turn inwardly, reinventing ancient Chinese philosophy and traditional Chinese art forms, such as calligraphy, ink brush, and landscape painting. This ancient culture is based on Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, the very core of Chinese culture, and whose philosophy is still practised by Chinese people around the world today.

Visiting Professor Gao to acquire the gift of knowledge is a true gift to me. It is like taking vitamins for my mind, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity.

The theory of “Yi Pai” was introduced to me by Professor Gao Minglu. My gallery works with many “Yi Pai” artists. Their works are meditative and spiritual, deriving from the philosophy of ink brush culture. I often argue that Chinese contemporary art does not follow Western contemporary art. Western “modernism” has not played a great role in the development of contemporary art in China. When I am confronted by art and I am in communication with the artists, it is always very exciting and a pure learning process for me.

BL: Did you built your collection/galleries as a reflection of you?

PL: In general, art is a reflection of the times in which it was created. Contemporary art speaks to contemporary culture, whether through narrative, form, style, etc. Through art, artists are able to express feelings and ideas that they might not have been able to convey verbally. Art awakens the senses and may raise important issues about current situations in the world, which is vital in modern society where people move at such a rapid pace that they often don’t stop to really take in the environment that surrounds them.

In addition to the above, personally, art is relevant because it crosses cultural divides. For myself, a person who travels back and forth between the East and West, I see first hand how art can act as a bridge between cultures and facilitate communication through the exchange of ideas. By understanding another culture’s art, one can better understand how they live and think, which also reflects on one’s own culture through the similarities and differences. This is especially relevant in today’s globalized world, where cross-cultural understanding can go a long way in creating an enlightened world community.

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BL: What kind of artists that you would like to work with?

PL: I must appreciate the works and the artists’ concepts and thinking. Whenever an artist changes my perspective, it motivates me more to share their vision with the rest of the world. I like to work with artists who can surprise me and make me think differently about art and life in general.

We champion artists who re-evaluate and challenge perceptions of cultural practice from various regions. We do not select artists solely based on market popularity; we choose artists whom we believe in.

Most importantly, I must like the person and be able to build a long-term trustworthy relationship with him/her.

BL: Who is the majority of your customer? 

PL: We have strong collector bases in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the USA, and we have found that differences in collectors arise from confidence and experience in collecting, rather than age or location.

BL: Is it important to educate millennials on art?

As a gallery, we fundamentally believe that art should be accessible to people of all ages, demographics, and social groups, as it provides a lens for us to better understand the world in which we live. As such, besides our exhibitions, we also hold talks and workshops that are open to the public.

BL: What do you think about the statement: “collecting art is generally a very time-consuming activity”? Do you agree?

I agree. Taking the time is part of the fun and the process. It is vital to learn, read, travel and gain as much knowledge as you possibly can so you can make informed decisions. However, in the end, buy what you like and what moves you. It’s my personal belief that it’s always important to remain curious, and I’m drawn to art that stimulates me to want to learn more about something.

Business Lounge Journal/VMN/BLJ – Pictures: Pearl Lam Galleries in Art Stage Jakarta 2016 (Business Lounge Journal).

One Response

  1. M.C. Lee

    Not everyone has the same understanding and feeling in abstract, but it will not reduce its value for those who love it.


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