Sometimes, in certain settings, I sense, with more than a bit of joy, that others see collecting as a wonderful thing, and view the collection of art as a noble task. But when I sit back and really think about it, I can't help but think that collecting is a disorder, one that leads you to want to have all good things. It is a grave case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. My obsession with collecting began in my early years with bubblegum. In my second year of middle school, there was a popular brand of bubblegum called BigBabol. There were a hundred pieces to a box, and each box had a toy inside. There were sixteen different toys in the series, and in order to collect them all, I bought over fifty boxes of BigBabol bubblegum in a span of three months. That's over five thousand sticks of gum. I was handing it out to everyone I saw. This was my first experience with collecting. It was then that I discovered my love for collecting. I found I had a powerful desire to possess the things I loved. It was just natural to collect them.
My propensity to collect has been a part of my life ever since. I have also been plagued by obsession-compulsion ever since. In everything I do, I demand perfection. I worked out in order to develop six pack abs, and along the way, I won a national bodybuilding championship in 2004. I studied finance, and in 2003, I naturally entered into the family business, into the art auction system. I began by researching classical art. I started collecting porcelain in 2004, and particularly enjoyed the products of the Ming and Qing dynasty imperial kilns. I wanted to have a specimen from the royal kilns of each dynasty. I was fascinated by all kinds of antiquities. Much of the richness of classical Chinese art is embodied by these traditional artworks. Without planning to do so, I had begun training myself. I was on a quest for perfection. In 2006, I grew intensely interested in researching and collecting Buddhist sculpture. This can, of course, be traced back to my mother, a devout Buddhist. Under her influence, I have been passionate about Buddhism since I was a child. I also clearly remember that I first began collecting Buddhist sculpture out of devotion. This continued until 2007, when I began dabbling in the research and collection of contemporary art. I had entered into the Minsheng system, which was at that time actively getting involved in the research and collection of contemporary art, planning a system of Chinese contemporary art systems, and I was involved. I was quite enthusiastic about approaching an entirely new field, and I diligently studied it. I auctioned many outstanding specimens from my collection of over one hundred antiques so that I could collect works of Chinese contemporary art. I did not, however, sell any specimens of Buddhist sculpture. Those I still keep today. Because of my faith, I will preserve this Buddhist art for the rest of my life. But beyond this, all of my passion and faith since 2007 have been concentrated on the research and collection of contemporary art, and this will continue into the future.
Before I knew it, I had spent twelve years as a collector. I quit my job at Minsheng in late 2015. It was then that I realized my collection had grown and matured alongside me. These contemporary artworks are inextricably linked to my own history, encounters and experiences over these past twelve years. I chose to hold this exhibition of my collection in Chengdu for good reason. I am from Zigong, here in Sichuan Province. I chose to return to my home province to hold this exhibition in hopes of bringing some positive energy to the local art industry and Chinese contemporary art.
The Image or Persistence of Existence
Paintings make up the vast majority of Huang Yu’s collection. The greatest scene a person can see is likely that provided by nature, and the visions that most draw the mind are those that affirm the emotions of the viewer. Huang Yu’s emotional response to painting is the core component of his collecting style. In quite a few of the works in his collection, we can see that Huang Yu has persistently drawn from his emotions and judgment in his gaze at these reliable images.
Beginning with the image of the young boy who bought and handed out over five thousand packs of bubble gum so he could collect the toys inside, Huang Yu has built a firm mental image of himself as a collector. His demand for perfection, for icons of the times, and for a life of beauty set him inevitably on the path of art collecting.
Huang Yu possesses in his heart a great wellspring for his imagination. He firmly believes deep down that the images he pursues are eternal and irreplaceable. He chases after them, yearning to keep them. He refers to himself as obsessive-compulsive. His obsession is with the mystical aesthetic in his heart. Huang Yu was born in the 1980s, and he has lived in peaceful times of constant newness. He does not have the abysmal outlook of many born to previous generations who have experienced great loss, and that leads many to wonder about the embodiment of his values, and why he would be so obsessed with preserving certain images. I believe it is out of an instinctual drive for completeness and perfection. I think that for many in his generation, intuition is a great spiritual resource. Huang Yu once discussed the cultural resources and information he encountered in his youth. He was skeptical of the grand themes and ideas around him, but fascinated by the microscopic details, such as those found in the films of Stephen Chow. He naturally infused the language of his life with the language of Stephen Chow’s movies.
Like most Chinese collectors, Huang Yu never received systematic art history training, though his entry into the field of collecting was no accident. Like many older collectors, he first began in the realm of antiquities, cultivating an interest in classical art. His mother’s Buddhist faith led him to research her beloved Buddha statues, making his eventual arrival in the contemporary art collecting scene at once coincidence and destiny. He joined the Minsheng Art Museum collection system as an assistant in 2007, at a time when that museum was making its mark on Chinese contemporary art history as a radical collecting organization. That was also when Huang Yu began to truly encounter Chinese contemporary art. He immediately decided to trade in most of his antiques and warmly welcome the icons of the current times into his life. Among the names in his collection we see many of the images that are the driving forces behind Chinese contemporary art.
As an image of both ancient past and future, painting encompasses the profound depths of memory as well as the unknowable reaches of the future. Huang Yu’s education in painting was self-directed. Among the myriad images and forms, he has a keen eye, allowing him to make careful, deliberate acquisitions. His time as a connoisseur of antiques has provided him with valuable experience, from both his successes and failures, but what matters is that he has made it, and he will not give up. He has faith in the images he wishes to keep. He is aware, of course, that the path before him will be a difficult one. In a time of increasing complexity and diversity, the retention of an unchanging vision becomes the key to survival.
Any collector who wishes to leave a name in history must present an increasingly clear vision, and will surely aspire to establish an important system. This is the path that Huang Yu wishes to take. He draws from the knowledge and experience of his predecessors to find his position between past and future. His first question is how to distinguish his ideas from collectors of the previous generation, transcending past experience to form his own working system. Another great question facing Huang Yu’s generation is how to confront capital. This is an issue worth confronting with honesty in this day and age, when we seem to have grown accustomed to linking games of capital with art collecting. In this regard, the collector may be the most conflicted. Does the collector want to worship art, or profit? Huang Yu has his own views on this issue. He says we may not have enough capital to preserve an entire era, but we do have our own judgment and means of resistance. Collecting is a source of both sadness and joy. Sometimes it fills him with hope, sometimes it leaves him suddenly hopeless.
Huang Yu left the Minsheng Bank system in late 2015, setting out on his own individual path through a diverse and difficult scene. For this, he must maintain a sense of responsibility to his collection, must skillfully deal with capital, and must face hope, disappointment, rises and falls. As he collects the most conceptual icons of our era, as he looks, sees and listens, he must choose between theology and mythology.
The exhibition of Huang Yu’s personal collection is set to open in May 2016. He joins with the most influential artists of this period for a visual retrospective, one that represents twelve years of his achievements, and twelve years of his artistic pilgrimage.