Lifestyle Asia catches up with 27 Questions alum Arthur de Villepin, who touches on his own upbringing and relationship with art, before giving us an in-depth walkthrough of Villepin gallery’s new exhibition.
Arthur de Villepin has a long list of titles — in addition to art collector, gallery owner and board member of a number of different cultural organisations, he’s also the curator of his gallery’s newest exhibition “Anselm Kiefer: Golden Age”. Opened last month, the show features paintings and a sculpture created by the German artist between 2020 and 2022, accompanied by salon talks, guided tours and educational materials. It should be noted that de Villepin, along with his family, has a long-standing relationship with Kiefer, and the collaboratively curated exhibition offers a selective view of one of the most important artists of his generation that can be found nowhere else.
“The exhibition title Golden Age refers to the peak of human civilisation and the flourishing of peace and prosperity,” says de Villepin. “It aligns with the idea of utopia from Ernst Bloch, a German philosopher.” Indeed, installed across three floors in the gallery, Kiefer’s art alludes to the utopian ideal, capturing the transformative nature of their creation. In the exhibition, works such as Alkahest and For Segantini depict the imagery of mountains as a recurring motif, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for utopia. Other symbols in “Anselm Kiefer: Golden Age” include bicycles and wheels, conveying the idea of renaissance and cyclical changes.
But enough from me — de Villepin explains it best in our interview below. Read on to learn a little about the curator himself, why the gallery decided to work with Kiefer for its latest exhibition and what the audience can gain or experience when they see “Anselm Kiefer: Golden Age”.
In conversation with Arthur de Villepin
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up between the US, India and France and I have been based in Hong Kong for the past fifteen years. I love the city and its dynamism, it is a meeting point for so many different cultures, especially when it comes to the arts.
My own art journey is also inspired by the many places I have lived and been influenced by, and ultimately it led to my co-founding the Villepin gallery in Hong Kong in 2019. The gallery wasn’t my first cultural business venture — under the Art de Vivre Group, I have established businesses that are still running successfully, but art has always been my passion and I wanted to do something exciting and different in this city which has become my home and an important part of me.
Villepin was founded with a core mission to advocate the work of artists, estates and foundations that we feel are important on an international level, supporting their work through carefully curated exhibitions, while bridging them with the leading collectors and institutions in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.
It is very important to me to support the local art scene, whether through activations here in Hong Kong or by promoting cross-cultural exchanges. In addition to the gallery’s programming, which is increasingly building public and educational content into each exhibition, I have an active role on the board of a number of different cultural organisations; I am on the Executive Committee of The Friends of Hong Kong Museum of Art, a board member of le French May, as well as recently a board member of the Institute Les Lumieres de Paris.
When and how did your interest in art begin?
I was born and raised in an artistic family, my mother and sister are both artists and my father is an avid collector. Because of this, I had the chance to be surrounded by art and artists from a very young age. We met artists, poets, and writers at the dinner table at home. My childhood experience allowed me to form close friendships with artists, and that is what I cherish the most. It is always intriguing to see the world through the artist’s lens, especially when that is directly from their studios where you learn about their works and process directly.
As I started to become more involved in the arts through collecting and through my gallery business, I encountered different collectors along the journey. I find it incredibly rewarding to be able to connect artists with collectors, expand the dialogue about art and culture and share ideas between different communities.
In such times of change, connecting is key, but also questioning our world. That’s why each exhibition of the gallery tries to raise important issues, for example: with Zao Wou-Ki, “Friendship and Reconciliation”, and “The Eternal Return to China”; with the artists of the Second School of Paris,” The Art of Hope”; with Francis Bacon, Adrian Ghenie, Ida Yukimasa, Zeng Fanzhi, and George Condo, “The Loss of Human Face”, and now with Anselm Kiefer.
Tell us about the exhibition ‘Anselm Kiefer: ‘Golden Age’?
We are very pleased to showcase the most recent works of Anselm Kiefer, one of the foremost contemporary artists practising today. It is both an honour and privilege to be presenting the powerful vision of this seismic artist to Hong Kong audiences. The exhibition title Golden Age refers to the peak of human civilisation and the flourishing of peace and prosperity. It aligns with the idea of utopia from Ernst Bloch, a German philosopher, but includes for Kiefer a double dimension of regret and also promises. For him, nothing is ever ended. For him, there is a cycle of life marked by human time as well as geological and cosmic times. He believes the artist has a special responsibility to respond to the challenges of history through the power of art, through creation, transformation and perpetual alchemy. After the difficult times of Covid and following the opening of borders, this exhibition comes at the best moment to open new perspectives with the energy and imagination of art and culture.
How did Kiefer’s upbringing and culture influence his art?
Anselm Kiefer was born during the closing period of the Second World War among ruins and chaos, a large part of his practice investigates the history and the national identity of the German post-war. There is a strong recurring theme of construction from destruction and the resilience of society. The cultural influences on Kiefer’s work are vast and varied across literature, philosophy, religion, poems and myths from histories of cultures around the world. In our current exhibition ‘Golden Age’, ancient Aztec beliefs, Norse mythology and European history are just some of the influences we can see in the works.
What would you describe as the key elements of Kiefer’s art practice?
Materiality, transformation and history. Kiefer is very experimental when it comes to the use of materials. His work usually incorporates impasto and unconventional materials such as lead, gold leaf, straw, the sediment of electrolysis, dried flowers and more. His ability to transform materials, like an alchemist, into a sculpture or painting with historical and spiritual significance is the key to his practice.
Kiefer sees materials as spiritual transcendence in his art practice and is fascinated by the transition of objects, for example, Alchemy, a manifestation and a belief of transforming base metals into gold which is a topic he often explores. He integrates words and signs into most of his works as a reference and a tribute to artists, philosophers, and poets, whom he likes to engage in a dialogue with.
Which is your favourite work in the exhibition and why?
That is tough to say as the works are vastly different in terms of the theme, story and inspiration. If I had to choose a piece to hang at home as my personal collection, it would be Alkahest (2021-2022) or For G. Segantini – the bad mothers (2022). The former relates to the search for a universal solvent in alchemy, while the latter served as a tribute to Italian painter Giovanni Segantini.
What do you hope the audience can gain or experience when they see your exhibition celebrating Anselm Kiefer?
We hope to inspire and enlighten visitors by learning more about Kiefer’s practice and his life. In exploring the artist’s interest in history, signs and words as well as in the combination of materials, depicting the cycle of ruins and growth, the exhibition reminds us to believe in the importance of the journey and process of the search that we all go through. I hope the exhibition can provide enriching experiences for viewers to perceive with more acuity the passing of time: past, present and future.
What’s next for Villepin Gallery?
We want to be able to respond better to the questions of our collectors in terms of relations with institutions, but also to promote our artists beyond the gallery. I am thrilled to share with you news of two of our represented artists, Myonghi Kang and Marie de Villepin, that are currently and respectively having exhibitions at the TAG (The Artists’ Garden) Museum in Qingdao and the TAM (Today Art Museum) in Beijing. In the upcoming year, we have an extensive program planned, preparing of course new exhibitions in our gallery, but also new projects and collaborations with institutions in Hong Kong and China.
Catch “Anselm Kiefer: Golden Age” from now until September 2023 at Villepin, 53-55 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong.
(Lead and featured images courtesy of Villepin)