Michael Xufu Huang: What luxury needs to know about China’s art scene

    Art collector, museum founder, and socialite Michael Xufu Huang discusses the intersection of luxury brands and China’s vibrant art landscape.
    The X Museum in Beijing. Photo: X Museum by Songkai Liu ©
      Published   in Lifestyle

    When Michael Xufu Huang co-founded the X Museum with businesswoman Theresa Tse in 2020 at the age of 26, he had already been collecting art for a decade.

    A Beijing-based institution dedicated to curating globally focused exhibitions for emerging international artists, the X Museum has earned a solid reputation over the past four years — from working with Swedish automotive manufacturer Polestar on a project inviting artists to reimagine the Polestar 1 model, to hosting a range of solo and group international exhibitions.

    There is also a second location opening next month, located in Shanghai's busiest mall, Taikoo Li Qiantan — exhibiting artists' work will therefore be situated alongside some of the world's leading luxury houses.

    "The policy of our museum is just to pay however much you want; it's a generous system, that way we can just promote art. Anyone who is in the mall can just come by for five minutes and enjoy the art then keep shopping," says Huang.

    As a millennial collector, socialite, controversial cameo-star of Netflix show Inventing Anna, and young cultural institution innovator, Huang has stoked fascination in the industry.

    Michael Xufu Huang, co-founder of the X Museum. Photo: X Museum
    Michael Xufu Huang, co-founder of the X Museum. Photo: X Museum

    In May last year, the Beijing X Museum relocated to the new industrial art district, at Langyuan Station in an old textile factory, where it held its debut X Gala, an event that Huang hopes will one day become the Chinese version of the Met Gala. And that level of ambition is certainly valid.

    The collector and museum co-founder’s cutting-edge judgment of art aesthetics has attracted a wide millennial and Gen Z-dominated fanbase.

    “I think the museum is kind of a tastemaker as my following is mostly people of my generation. X is a reflection of my own taste, which is also reflected in the people that we collaborate with,” Huang tells Jing Daily.

    Thanks to that sophisticated awareness of the industry, he is a credible voice for intel on China’s young creatives, and for teaching luxury brands what is shaping the mainland’s art world.

    After all, fashion’s embrace of art tightens each year, with recent highlights being Prada’s Pradasphere exhibition taking over Shanghai’s West Bund art hub from December 2023 to January this year, and Fendi collaborating with the local artisans of China to reinterpret the house’s famed Fendi Baguette for the “Beijing Hand in Hand” exhibition.

    Inside the new Beijing X Museum space. Photo: X Museum by Songkai Liu ©
    Inside the new Beijing X Museum space. Photo: X Museum by Songkai Liu ©

    Fashion’s Chinese art challenge#

    One of the key points of contrast between China and the West when it comes to art, is a disparity in the level of mainstream recognition. Huang says that China’s art landscape is niche, with a smaller audience and social media following than in the West.

    "The marketing professionals who work in the fashion industry in China aren't necessarily into art,” he adds, expanding on the disconnect between China's fashion and art industries. “As they don't know art very well, they don't have confidence in deciding who to work with. There is only a small number of people really paying attention to art in China; it’s not as big on the scale of celebrity as other global art industries are.”

    In Europe, collaboration between art and fashion is commonplace, Huang says, whereas in China, brands' local teams do not always direct decision-making on this aspect, so they are not able to contribute to the art industry’s growth.

    The X Museum has been focused on providing the mainland with access to a plethora of international talent. That multi-nationality has been of interest to Gen Z collectors, and also is inspiring a new generation of Chinese artists.

    “The new era of Chinese artists definitely has a chance [on a global scale] because they’re educated internationally,” says Huang. “They have an international collector base from the beginning, too, which is very important for artist growth. The subject matter is more universal now, it’s not just about life in China anymore. This is the internet age.”

    The merging of fashion and art#

    Economic headwinds at home and abroad have cast a pall over fashion in China and beyond, in turn impacting the extent to which brands are engaging with and supporting the national art industry, too. Huang says that fashion is taking a hit, something he sees reflected in the willingness of brands to collaborate on the X Gala in particular.

    The art expert sees value in brands collaborating with artists beyond the list of most-recognized creatives.

    “I see a lot of brands like Dior working with not the most famous artists, but more emerging names, and that’s really good. It’s probably because the people in head office have an awareness of collecting and just know what’s going on in the art world,” he says.

    Huang says institutions that have plentiful resources to collect, and are knowledgeable about the art market, provide the best alignment for brands seeking collaborators.

    Beyond celebrity#

    On the subject of celebrity endorsements, Huang describes how many of his friends have started buying more Chanel, simply because they are fans of the maison’s brand ambassador, Blackpink star Jennie Kim.

    “We have celebrities and socialites come to the museum who all relate to our young audience. I think that’s what people relate to as well, because I represent their generation,” says the millennial collector.

    On a personal note, his style is not influenced by mega-stars, as their look is not a case of good style, but rather a good stylist. Although he does point to the way Pharrell Williams’ appointment at Louis Vuitton made music stars more pivotal in fashion, in China and elsewhere.

    “It’s good to move away from only working with celebrities, to work with people in the creative industry, like artists and architects,” says Huang. “These conversations are important.”

    Though it’s still early days, X Museum is contributing to the expansion of China’s art market on an international scale, and laying the groundwork for the next generation of Chinese collectors and artists.

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