Design & Decoration S03 ep17 : Michael Goedhuis, Goedhuis Gallery, [London]
Interview with Michael Goedhuis
Michael Goedhuis opened Michael Goedhuis Ltd in London in 1989, inaugurating the New York space in January 2002. Mr Goedhuis has spent two decades specialising in early Asian art. He has now returned to London to expand his concentration on Asia and Europe.
My company is actually American but I am Dutch origin. My father was a Dutchman and my
mother was a Scot and I specialise in Chinese contemporary art and hopefully the best of the
Chinese whether they live in China, mainland China, or whether they live in the Dia…
And it sounds a pretentious thing to say, but I believe that China is the dominant reality for all of
us for the rest of history. Chinese civilisation has interested me very much, ancient civilisation and
now I think what is happening in China in the contemporary world the contemporary Chinese
culture is very similar to what was happening in the beginning of the 20th Century in Europe,
namely artists and musicians and film makers and theatre directors trying to create a new language
to express a new reality in China, just as people at the beginning of the 20th Century in Europe
were trying to express a new reality at the end of the 19th Century, so you had people like Cézanne
finding a new pictorial language, you had Stravinsky trying to develop a new eternal musical
language and I think the same is happening in China today so it’s a very creative moment in
Beijing is the centre of the art world in China. Strangely enough, not Shanghai. It happened in the
Renaissance in Italy and in the late 15th Century and it happened again in the early part of the 20th
Century in Europe just as I’ve described and it’s happening again in China now because of this
convulsion in the society, or partly because of that, and I think it, the ramifications of what’s
happening in Chinese culture today are going to ripple through the rest of the world for the next 20
I’m very exposed to the musical world here, the classical music world, and I happen to know that
many people teaching music at the top academies here are very aware of the top, the elite in music
in the next over the next 20 years is very probable it’s going to be Chinese and one of the reasons
is not just the numbers which is enormous but because the teaching is tough. Here as Magda
knows, if children say are asked to add two and two and they say four yeah, fantastic, the easiest
things get the biggest applause, there you don’t get applause unless you work.
Before Chinese contemporary I was doing early Chinese antiquities and before China I was doing
India and Japan rather and then before Japan, India and before India, Islam and before Islam I was
an economist. Actually I was quite happy as an economist and I just went back to school for a little
while to do art history and then I got an incredible opportunity and I, it was the only time I did
anything right, I seized that opportunity, the rest of my life has been a disintegration but I seized
that opportunity and had a wonderful life for a few years.
I was dealing in Chinese contemporary art in 1995 and I was the pioneer, I was the first person in
the Western world to be doing it and do you know something it took til 2004, so nine years later,
for this market to take off.
People now are trying to change Chinese calligraphy in such a way to break the mould of the past,
the way the rules which it’s been written in the past, to make it relevant to the modern world. In
simple terms, what does that mean, it’s become freer, more abstract, more emotive and so that’s
one way. Another way that the Chinese are tackling, trying to find a new language is to try to adopt
certain elements of, stylistic elements from the West and integrate them into Chinese culture.
Another one is to just focus on what is happening in China, the for example you know all the
changes in China and to depict them in realistic terms so there are many ways in which people are
trying to describe what is happening in this culture.
It’s an absolute luxury to be able to be involved with China, or India today because of the revival
of these two great civilisations and the importance that they’re now going to have on all of our
lives, it’s fascinating. Do you know not one ancient civilisation, not one great civilisation, not one
great empire has every come back apart from now China and India.
I’ve just actually built and then tried to publish and then tried to sell back to the government in
China what we believe to be the finest collection of Chinese contemporary culture. We never got
anywhere with the government. They are not yet at a stage when they want to repatriate great parts
of their civilisation, old civilisation, nor what is happening in the West so I’ve now sold it to
somebody in the West.
Two years ago people were telling me there were going to be 50 museums built in the next 10
years, all over China, and they are on their way to doing a lot of that but they are not buying back
their own culture yet. Individuals are, the odd individual, but the government has not yet got to
that point. They will, and I have a great respect for the Chinese government when they want to do
something they will do it, but they haven’t done it yet, it’s just premature.
In China today there are about 30 to 40 to 50 to 60 perhaps 100 buyers of Chinese contemporary
culture out of one billion. In the West there are a scattering of individual collectors all over the
West and then there are a few museums who are beginning to collect but they only have just
started Moma and the Tate, the Guggenheim and so on, just starting. The rise in prices in China
has been propelled by actually very few buyers, the people who are very intense about buying but
very few. You only need two or three or four or five more people out of that billion to start coming
in to this market and it will push the prices even further up.
The sluggish museums in the West like Moma and the Guggenheim who have been so slow to
recognise, or the Tate in London, so slow to recognise the significance of China, it’s pathetic,
especially in America no museum, not one museum in this country has taken a grip on this thing
and said look, let’s try to build a good collection of Chinese contemporary art, now they’re all
jumping in very late in the day.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Michael Goedhuis, Goedhuis Gallery, London