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At just 27-years-old, Michael Xufu Huang embodies the millennial zeitgeist. He is an uber-art collector and co-founder of two of the most pioneering art institutions in China. His most recent, X Museum, opened in Beijing during the pandemic. A recipient of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2017, Huang is a figurehead for a new generation in the artworld, passionate about new technology, X Museum embraces moving image art, and embodies, under Huang’s guidance, all that the next generation of art lovers look for in a museum. Here, Muse joins him in conversation.

“From the formation of the idea to opening our doors, it took about eight months.”

Michael Xufu in front of the museum entrance

Michael Xufu Huang. Courtesy X Museum.

MUSE: What was your biggest challenge opening X Museum?

MXH: It was a special time to open X Museum during the pandemic, in a good way, that really allowed us more opportunity to take on projects that are eye catching. I think it has also prepared me to be ready for any kind of situation, no matter what happens in the future. I'm also the kind of person that if I want to do something, I act really fast. From the formation of the idea to opening our doors, it took about eight months. After opening the museum, the challenge will be the museum itself, and our programme. So now I need to adapt to a new pace, that is to really go step by step. I realise that now I have to respect that the art, the reputation and the programme has to build slowly. We’re just opening our fourth show. I'm really happy, I think now people can see clearly what our programming is like, see our motifs, and our focus for the museum – and everything becomes clear.

MUSE: How does founding a new museum compare to life as collector?

MXH: The challenge is that it’s very different from being a private collector, where art is more leisurely in some ways, because with the museum, I also have to think about the mission. When you open a museum you want to build its influence, you want to have a platform that's very sustainable, that is always on track with what's happening, and with what artists are doing. Hopefully, twenty years after I retire, new directors will come in and run it like any other institution. I think that's much needed. So, I guess thinking about all the different aspects at once, because we’re managing every aspect, that’s what makes it different to being a collector.

“The reason X Museum is fast growing is because I was living in America, and I was on the board of some museums there, so I learned how they function.”

Wave Transmitter Crystal World exhibit by Luo Wei

Luo Wei: "Wave Transmitter Crystal World", 2019. Multi-media installation. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist.

MUSE: Who has mentored you on your journey?

MXH: I'm used to observing what other people are doing and learning from their experiences. The reason X Museum is fast growing is because I was living in America, and I was on the board of some museums there, so I learned how they function. I looked at what the good parts were, in order to learn what Chinese museums don't have, what I can improve and adapt. For example, an institution like the New Museum, showed what kind of shows give different results, artist shows, group shows, or Triennials. I learned a lot from them. In the UK at Serpentine, Hans Ulrich Obrist [juror for the Rolls-Royce Dream Commission] is someone I talk to a lot. The way he works, and his open mindedness is something I'm learning from. I think art is about how to really create influence by collaborating with different people, different industries.

I have also learned a lot from my partner who runs the largest pharmaceutical company in China and has helped a lot with the vaccines here.  She taught me how to manage people, negotiate with different partners, or how to think about the long-term run of the museum in order to really build a legacy. I'm learning from everyone who is important to me.

Michael Xufu with his business partner in the museum courtyard

In fact, X Museum’s website is a moving image work created by moving image artist and VR architect Pete Jiadong Qiang. We had considered that not everyone would be able to come to the museum physically, especially because we have friends all over the world, so we would build a web 4.0 experience. It is a more interesting way to consume information, like playing a game. In the future, we're going to have videos moving in the space and will be able to play the game with VR goggles, and really immerse yourself in the information.

MUSE: You belong to a new generation of art collectors and art museum founders, what do you observe about the art world today?

MXH: When I think of someone like Hans Ulrich Obrist who started interviewing artists very young, I don’t feel so young. It's down to the individual and how much you want to do. I think the rules are the same, you have to work hard and do something that people remember you for. I was lucky. I look at the new generation of artists, and I really believe in them and can help them make their name and I need their help me to make mine.

“I look at the new generation of artists, and I really believe in them and can help them make their name and I need their help me to make mine.”

MUSE: What lies ahead post-pandemic?

MXH: I cannot wait to travel. I miss going to art fairs and other museums around the world.  I have missed seeing art in person. Also, I hope people can visit X Museum finally, especially our Triennial [which launched in May 2020], which we created to promote younger Chinese artists. I want foreign visitors to see them, international curators, collectors, gallerists, everyone who loves art, to see what's happening here.

Diptych of Michael in front of art objects

Michael Xufu Huang. Courtesy X Museum.

MUSE: What is your philosophy in relation to the artworld?

MXH: When I collect, I definitely have my criteria, an aesthetic. Works need to please me first. At X Museum, we're not afraid if a young artist doesn’t have an established career.  A lot of young artists really look for X Museum as a stamp of approval and we want to help them grow their careers. In terms of the art market, Asian collectors are now so important, and we introduce the artists we exhibit to this audience.

MUSE: What inspires you in the art world?

MXH: For our Triennial we looked at the relationship between technology and humans, whilst our next show will survey the fashion garment in production industry, around the South China Sea. Such varied programming means we can tap into different audiences, and really let people know about new ways in which art is accessible.

VR artwork by Liu Xin in Museum X

Liu Xin: "Living Distance", 2019. 2-channel video installation, VR installation. Variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist and Make Room Los Angeles.

 

MUSE: Which artists working in moving image inspire you?

Liu Xin is a favourite. Cao Fei and Hans Ulrich Obrist were the co-jury for our prize that she won. We're really happy to see more and more Chinese artists working in the field of moving-image. Her VR piece was one of the most sophisticated VR pieces I've seen [called Living Distance]. She worked with NASA and she sent her wisdom teeth in a rocket to space, so as the viewer you have that experience of going up in the rocket. Xin exemplifies for me how art can give technology context. Also that piece touched on a Chinese saying: ‘if you lose your upper teeth, you're buried in the land. If you lose your lower teeth, you go to the roof’ – or in this artwork, into space – so it touches my heritage. I think Liu Xin will be a very special artist.

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