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Collector uses restored ancient houses to showcase contemporary art

By DENG ZHANGYU | China Daily | Updated: 2018-05-08 08:08
From left to right: Collector Qin Tongqian organizes contemporary art exhibitions in three Chinese traditional houses; Artist Tong Tianqing's installation of bamboo with engraved characters is displayed in an ancient house in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province; Artist Zhang Hui's painting hangs in one of the houses. [Photos provided to China Daily]

In three well-restored traditional Chinese houses built several hundreds years ago, a show featuring oil paintings, art installations, videos and mixed media works in Shaoxing, in East China's Zhejiang province, provides a strong visual contrast between traditional architecture and contemporary art.

The show involves works by both established and young emerging artists.

Artist Tong Tianqing's installation of bamboo with engraved characters is in a courtyard in an old building dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a typical Hui-style house that features white walls.

The houses are a common sight in Anhui and Zhejiang provinces.

Upstairs is a work showing the disparity between artists' ideas about their own genes and reports of their DNA based on gene tests.

Dialogues with seven artists who took the gene tests show that artists think they are different from others in terms of personality and psychology.

However, the tests disprove this.

Fang Fang, the curator of the show, says it's very interesting to show avant-garde art in ancient Chinese buildings, especially when there is an art piece involving gene tests. And he adds it's just like putting the past, the present and the future together.

The three ancient houses, complete with their interior wooden structures, are a small part of a complex of more than 90 houses relocated from other provinces-including Jiangxi and Anhui-to a valley in Kuaiji Mountain in Shaoxing.

Qin Tongqian, the owner of these old buildings, says he loves to combine his ancient Chinese houses with contemporary art as a way to promote traditional culture.

Qin began acquiring ancient houses about three decades ago. And now, he has more than 600 structures, which are home to more than 10,000 pieces of antique furniture.

The 55-year-old has four factory-like warehouses where he stores his treasures in Shaoxing and Shanghai.

The current show is not the first time that Qin has held an event combining contemporary art with traditional architecture. In 2016, he invited established abstract oil painter Ding Yi to stage a solo show at a spacious 600-year-old house in the ancient town of Zhujiajiao on the outskirts of Shanghai, where Qin renovated some old houses and relocated them to build a boutique hotel called Ahn Luh Zhujiajiao.

Separately, in Shaoxing, he has restored ancient houses and built another hotel called Ahn Luh Lanting.

For years, the collector has described his treasures as a "sweet and painful" burden, as he did not know how to protect them while letting people appreciate them. So, he says letting people live in them seemed to be a good idea.

Now, to better protect his treasures, Qin has built a team of about 80 people, including craftsmen and experts on ancient architecture. And he also worked with colleges in China and abroad to learn more about ancient house renovation.

Qin says that ancient houses stand for traditional Chinese culture and lifestyle, which should be passed on to the next generation. So, he has restored these houses that were once on the verge of collapse and redesigned them for a modern lifestyle.

Meanwhile, besides the show in Shaoxing, Qin also organized a forum on April 19, where scholars, artists and experts could discuss ways to boost the culture sector.

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