The French art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin has never been one to make a quiet entrance. True to form, next month he will open his new Shanghai outpost—the gallery’s first location in mainland China—with an exhibition of work by Belgian artist and provocateur Wim Delvoye. A decade ago, that same artist’s work was censored in the city.
The show, Delvoye’s first solo presentation in Shanghai, spans 15 years of his career and includes work from the very project that aroused opposition ahead of a planned appearance in the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair in 2008. The piece, a three-screen video installation titled Art Farm, documents the artist’s time running a pig farm in the Chinese province of Sichuan between 2003 and 2010.
Perrotin does not anticipate any issues this time around. “The problem was that he wanted to show the pigs live at the fair,” the dealer explained. (Ant Farm appeared at the city’s Xin Beijing Gallery in 2007 without incident.)
To create the video, Delvoye tattooed each young piglet, creating living art that grew and changed as the animal matured, their hides stretched like a canvas after their deaths. “The pigs who were with Wim were the lucky ones!” said Perrotin, describing their lives, which included daily massages, as a stark contrast to the terrible conditions faced at factory farms. “To have skin that would be in good condition for a work of art, they were treated super well—the aristocracy of pigs.”
A Commitment to Asia
The forthcoming gallery is Perrotin’s fourth location in Asia. It will open inside a former warehouse built in 1937 on Huqui Road, once nicknamed “Museum Road” because of the nearby museums and auction houses. Although a large handful of Western galleries have opened in Hong Kong over the past 15 years, very few have made the jump to launch in Shanghai. (Lévy Gorvy and Hauser & Wirth operate offices in the city, but not full-blown gallery spaces.)
Perrotin expects to stage eight solo shows a year in his Shanghai space, which can host two exhibitions at any given time. In preparation for the new venture, he is leaning heavily on gallery partners Etsuko Nakajima and Alice Lung, who oversee the gallery’s existing Asian operations.
Originally founded in 1990 in Paris, where the gallery now has three locations, Perrotin first expanded to Asia in 2012, with a Hong Kong outpost. Seoul followed in 2016, and Tokyo the following year.
The landscape of the Asian art world has changed quite a bit since Perrotin first set foot in the region, and Shanghai represents a big opportunity for growth. Indeed, Hong Kong is no longer China’s only center for international art and commerce. In Shanghai, Perrotin says, “things happen super fast. What would take 20 years in Europe takes five years there.”
As the gallery operations have expanded over the past nearly-30 years, Perrotin has experienced greater freedom, but with it, greater pressure. “The big difference is you have the pleasure to work with your artists more regularly,” he said. “You don’t have to wait two or three or four years, depending on the city, in between every show.”