Michael Xufu Huang: Ain’t Nothing But Curatorial In The Rear View
Walking through a maximalist, multi-sensory exhibition of lu yang’s recent work at M WOODS, Michael Xufu Huang catches his reflection in an acrylic prism containing what we’ll describe as a ghostly 3D hologram featuring an army tank/temple hybrid. There’s a two-fold awareness in the smile that curls his lip, and for good reason. Huang, just 23, already boasts a curatorial resume you’d expect from a seasoned, senescent, older art-world bee, in less fashionable clothes.
Then, he knows we’re chatting for the sake of this, The Reflections Issue. Originally from Beijing, the young curator studied art history at the University of Pennsylvania and, while still a student, co-founded M WOODS, an independent, not-for- profit contemporary art museum in Beijing that focuses on cutting-edge and emerging artists. M WOODS highlights future-facing, digitally- minded work that speaks less to collectors or gallerists than to the here- and- now. It’s become one of the hottest stops on China’s rollercoaster art ascent.
M WOODS’ early successes attracted wide notice, landing Huang a spot as a member of the board of trustees for the New Museum in New York City. But despite his increasingly hefty curriculum vitae, he maintains a refreshing youthful dynamism and an all-important sense of fun, evident in his fashion-heavy Instagram, in which a snappily dressed Huang appears alongside a who’s-who of the art world elite, bopping from install to retrospective, clearly enjoying the art world house of mirrors. We bust a quick chat with the guy before we’re all off to a massive lunch.
What attracts you to curation?
Curation allows me to find my own voice through the promotion and support of artists that I love, and allows me to contribute more directly to the greater cultural environment of China.
Describe this year’s M WOODS accomplishments?
On a personal note, I curated my first show, Heart of the Tin Man, which brought together works from my collection by twelve artists investigating current Internet or technological practices. And for the museum, we’ve reached higher levels of attendance and kicked off our expansion plan for next year.
You love fashion and unique style. How does this relate to your work as a curator or does it?
As much as I think “curation” is an overused term, I do appreciate the sentiment that care should be taken to every aspect of life. It’s not reserved for museums and galleries. Personal style is the easiest form of self-expression. Getting up in the morning and deciding to wear a three- piece suit is as semantically charged as deciding to wear Puma track pants and a wife beater.
With that said, art and fashion are constantly crossing over, and I think the most interesting moments in exhibitions are when allowances are made for this slippage between ordinary life (fashion) and our ideals towards it (art).
What is your favorite moment on the art world calendar? Why?
Art Basel Hong Kong because I always host the best kick-off party and I love seeing everyone in Beijing beforehand and inviting them to Hong Kong.
Are there other curators who inspire you? Who are they and how so?
Many. I’m not going to list every big curator who’s inspired me, but I am grateful that both Hans Ulrich Obrist and Lauren Cornell contributed essays for my curatorial debut. And the curatorial team that stood out for me last year was definitely DIS (Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso and David Toro), the minds behind Berlin Biennial 9. I thought the show was very coherent and it introduced me to many new artists related to the topic of post-internet art.
What is your next project about?
Since graduating, I have worked on more investment projects between China and the US just to pay my own bills. But on the creative side, I started a company working on collaborations between art and other industries. It’s going to be unexpected and revolutionary. So stay tuned.
You are very young in a scene of often older people. What are the advantages of being younger when it comes to curating and collecting? Disadvantages?
In the beginning, no one was willing to take me seriously because it’s just how that society works. But I’ve found my own niche and with time I’ve proven my earnest interest and capabilities. It’s special to be young among an older set. Everything I’ve done thus far has turned a seeming disadvantage into an advantage.
What is special to you about the Chinese art market? Where are your frustrations with it?
I think China is a land of many opportunities and can even change the rules for the rest of the world. I think the Chinese art market still needs more time to mature, but it is very vibrant already. I am especially happy with the emerging artist scene in China because they are so innovative and international. They are no longer subject to their nationality but to their merit. My only frustration is that it needs to be bigger, more inclusive. That’s why we (Lin Han, Wanwan, and I) are working on M WOODS: to bring more young people into the art system.
Describe a recent dream.
Recently I dreamed a vein in my brain popped and was swelling, and I woke up horrified. But then I looked it up on a Chinese website, and apparently it means I’m gonna make a lot of money.
I also dreamed a friend contracted an STI called “Birthday Cake.” I listen to a lot of Rihanna. Maybe it’s related to that? Who knows?
This is The Reflections Issue. What are you reflecting on lately?
Currently, I’m concerned with my schedule. It’s always packed! I have to work day and night because of the time difference between the US and China. There are so many things that I want to learn and try but really have no time for, like blockchain or cooking. I plan on setting aside one week soon where I can just absolutely cut off everything related to work and just be me.
Which contemporary artist do you think is best suited for the bedroom?
What a loaded question. It sounds like the premise of a work by Sophie Calle. Of course, you couldn’t invite her work into your bedroom cause then she’d be inviting the entire neighborhood over, and you’d never get any sleep. But in all honesty, I’d put any art I collect in a bedroom— maybe not always my room.
I commissioned a fragrance portrait from Sean Raspet for Heart of the Tin Man at M WOODS over the summer. I think the concept serves as a gentle reminder of someone, and it’s a lot less garish than a commissioned oil portrait. In art collecting, you can’t just buy for value. You should be willing to bring the art home.
Written by Matthew Bedard.
Set Assistant: Yige Li.