So much in the art world revolves around questions of value, not just in terms of estimates and price tags, but also the more fundamental question: What is your time, energy, and attention even worth?
What is the personal math you do to determine the meaning and value of something? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we ask people from the art world and beyond about their personal values, in art and in life.
For May Xue — the co-founder of digital art platform Outland (she’s also its artistic director for Asia), as well as the co-founder and executive director of Horizon, a Los Angeles-based residency for early to mid-career artists from the US and abroad — such questions hang by an appreciation for exploring the unknown (and a rigid daily exercise routine).
Xue has spent more than a decade shaping major art institutions in China and Hong Kong, from the K11 Art Foundation (where she served as Director of Education and Institutional Relations and General Manager) to the non-profit UCCA Center for Contemporary Art (formerly known as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art; Xue served as CEO).
“I am proud to have contributed to the development of Chinese contemporary art, which has thrived in recent years,” she said. “Now I’m focused on nurturing young artists and collaborating with artists to discover new potential in their creative practice.”
Xue was in London to present Outland’s latest project at Frieze London, a series of newly commissioned works by light artist Leo Villareal, which will be available as NFTs later this year. Fresh from a preview event that projected the vision of Villareal onto a 19th-century church and transformed it into an immersive LED installation, she kindly answered our questionnaire.
What’s the last thing you set your mind to?
What are you saving for?
A chair by Pierre Jeanneret.
What would you buy if you found €100?
I would save it for a rainy day.
What makes you feel like a million bucks?
Currently my routine: getting up at 5 a.m. every morning and going to the gym. I train for one to two hours and then start the day. It makes me feel full of energy.
What do you value most in a work of art?
The spirit and sincerity of the Creator. Every step an artist takes is an embodiment of their thinking and their challenges, and so it’s important that they stick to their path rather than being stuck to the demands of the market. Two works I keep returning to are those of Chinese artist Yang Zhenzhong I’m going to die and Japanese artist On Kawara’s I’m still alive. Both show courage to face life and death while provoking reflection on what the power of contemporary art is.
What’s not worth the hype?
While I believe thorough analysis and awareness are important for an artist, artists often attract attention due to hype that has nothing to do with their creative practice. I hope that an artist’s works will draw more attention and tell their story.
Who’s an up and coming artist you’d bet will make it big?
I think James Jean will be an indelible name in the future history of contemporary art. His works are sought after by many – including Takashi Murakami and actor Daniel Wu – and his paintings are difficult to acquire. However, Jean’s importance has not really been recognized. His research into integrating Chinese and Western art history and his depiction of a fantastical world offers so much to explore.
Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t come into his own?
As a darling of the Venice Biennale 2019, Ian Cheng certainly drew a lot of attention, but in my opinion it fell far short! His work truly exists at the intersection of art and technology, and his latest NFT series “3FACE” has pushed the boundaries between generative art and image-based NFTs. Outland commissioned this work because we want to be a part of sharing his practice with audiences around the world.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the art world?
exclusivity. There are so many unheard voices in the art world that can teach us so much, so we should do everything we can to speak up for them.
What was your best investment?
My biggest investment has been my dedication to art from a young age. It has nurtured me through all these years and given me new perspectives on many aspects of life beyond art.
Also a love of discovery. I turned from the traditional art to the world of Web3 as it presented a new challenge to overcome.
What would you like to own one day?
Determination. Especially in the business world and that of web3, which is full of unknown people, courage and courage are required when making decisions.
What is your most prized possession?
The young artists I meet through the Horizon and Outland collectors often teach me new things. This knowledge and joy cannot be measured.
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