task force

How An­dré Fu made light work of turn­ing a his­toric space into the new Per­rotin Shang­hai gallery


Be­hind the scenes at An­dré Fu’s Per­rotin Shang­hai

Over the past three decades, Em­manuel Per­rotin has built up a global busi­ness based on his sharp eye for cre­ativ­ity and im­pec­ca­ble tim­ing. This Septem­ber saw the open­ing of the French art dealer’s 18th gallery – his first in main­land China – near Shang­hai’s Bund water­front. It’s a long way from his first ven­ture at the age of 21, when each morn­ing he would rise early to trans­form his bi­jou Parisian apart­ment into a chic gallery, show­ing work by then lit­tle-known artists such as Damien Hirst and Mau­r­izio Cat­te­lan.

Shang­hai is a nat­u­ral home for Per­rotin. New­found wealth and en­chant­ment with art have buoyed sev­eral art fairs, pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions such as Wang Wei’s Long Mu­seum and Budi Tek’s Yuz Mu­seum, and now of­fices for blue-chip gal­leries Lévy Gorvy and Hauser & Wirth. The area around the city’s Huqiu Road in par­tic­u­lar has be­come a new cul­tural en­clave, home to the Rock­bund Art Mu­seum and Christie’s auc­tion house.

‘We have been look­ing in this area for a few years, but wanted to find the per­fect space where peo­ple would want to spend qual­ity time,’ says Per­rotin of the top floor of the Con­ces­sion-era build­ing, which he has turned into an airy 1,200 sq m con­tem­po­rary gallery.

Per­rotin al­ready had form in Asia, spot­ting the po­ten­tial of Takashi Mu­rakami long be­fore he be­came in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned, and open­ing a 650 sq m gallery in a Ramsa-de­signed build­ing in Hong Kong just be­fore Art Basel chose the city as its Asian out­post in 2013. He also opened gal­leries in Seoul in 2016 and Tokyo in 2017, which ex­hibit an eclec­tic ros­ter of artists in­clud­ing Daniel Ar­sham, Izumi Kato and Paola Pivi.

The gallery’s Hong Kong-based part­ner Alice Lung dis­cov­ered the 1937 brick ware­house, formerly used by the Cen­tral Bank of China. ‘It was much larger than what we were orig­i­nally look­ing for, but it gives us the flex­i­bil­ity of sched­ul­ing more than one show at a time, plenty of stor­age and high ceil­ings,’ she says.

Ren­o­vat­ing a her­itage space in China is not for the faint of heart, so Per­rotin en­listed the help of Hong Kong ar­chi­tect An­dré Fu to cre­ate four large ex­hi­bi­tion rooms and a mez­za­nine above with an of­fice, pri­vate sa­lon, meet­ing room and a ter­race. Renowned for his hos­pi­tal­ity projects, most re­cently the Wal­dorf As­to­ria Bangkok, Fu also de­signed Per­rotin’s Hong Kong and Tokyo gal­leries. The pair first met af­ter Per­rotin stayed at The Up­per House ho­tel in Hong Kong (W*129), one of Fu’s early, ca­reer-defin­ing

in­te­rior projects. ‘An­dré un­der­stood what I was try­ing to do with my Hong Kong gallery, even though he took my draw­ings and im­me­di­ately re­versed the en­tire de­sign. Boom! It worked per­fectly,’ says the gal­lerist.

Ac­cord­ing to Fu, the con­text is very dif­fer­ent for each of the three gal­leries he has cre­ated for Per­rotin: ‘In Shang­hai, the scale is much larger and we have in­tro­duced a re­cep­tion space that acts as a cen­tral hub, cre­at­ing a tran­si­tion be­tween four gal­leries that are very dif­fer­ent in size, per­son­al­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence.’ Fu worked closely with Per­rotin’s team, trans­lat­ing their spa­tial stud­ies and the gal­lerist’s ‘dream­scape’. ‘I care about every sin­gle de­tail,’ Per­rotin ex­plains. ‘When I started in this busi­ness I did ev­ery­thing my­self, even paint­ing the walls, so I learned it all.’ Fu says the new gallery’s un­con­ven­tional pro­por­tions, high ceil­ings and nat­u­ral light from large win­dows ruled out the clas­sic white cube re­sponse: ‘Some spa­ces are more clas­sic art spa­ces with a pure white ceil­ing, while oth­ers have ex­posed beams, win­dows on one side or a dia­logue with an­other room. How­ever, it all has to act as one space with a sense of in­tegrity. And a bit of ten­sion.’ The chal­lenge, he says, was al­low­ing the gallery’s per­son­al­ity to shine, ‘but not too much’, al­ways bear­ing in mind that a gallery is ul­ti­mately a back­drop for artists to ex­press them­selves.

An el­e­va­tor opens di­rectly onto the third-floor gallery’s dis­creet re­cep­tion space. ‘When you come out you should im­me­di­ately see an art­work,’ Per­rotin in­sists. ‘The first im­pres­sion has to be the art, not a per­son or desk.’ Fur­ther in are two large rec­tan­gu­lar gal­leries, two smaller ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces, a stor­age room and a new stair­case lead­ing to the mez­za­nine. Dif­fer­ent par­quet floor pat­terns in each of the four ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces evoke a tra­di­tional Shang­hai res­i­dence, while, else­where, me­tal win­dow frames are a sub­tle nod to French Con­ces­sion-style win­dows. ‘It is not in­tended to repli­cate tra­di­tional ver­nac­u­lar, but in­stead con­ceived as a mod­ern art space that re­flects on its his­tor­i­cal con­text through an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence,’ Fu ex­plains.

Ac­cord­ing to Fu, the great­est chal­lenge was to cre­ate a de­mar­ca­tion be­tween the her­itage tim­ber and high beams that give the place char­ac­ter, and the new, open white box ‘in­ser­tion’ that of­fers move­ment and flex­i­bil­ity. When de­sign­ing a project of this com­plex­ity, he says there is no sub­sti­tute for spend­ing time on-site and imag­in­ing what it will be like to look at works of art of dif­fer­ent types and sizes. ‘It is all about ask­ing your­self what if,’ he says. ‘You can’t pre­dict or draw with­out see­ing the space your­self. You have to phys­i­cally be there to in­stinc­tively re­spond to it.’

Set on cre­at­ing ‘a sense of com­fort and the feel­ing that you are in a con­sid­ered en­vi­ron­ment’, Per­rotin also in­sisted on in­stalling un­der­floor heat­ing, af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that many art spa­ces are freez­ing cold dur­ing Shang­hai’s harsh win­ter months. ‘It is im­por­tant to cre­ate a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with clients,’ he ex­plains. ‘That in­cludes hav­ing a space to sit and dis­cuss the art.’ He be­lieves the new gallery will pro­vide a per­sonal con­text in which to ex­pe­ri­ence art, es­pe­cially since many of their artists cre­ate new works for each show.

At Per­rotin Shang­hai, the lay­out means the gallery re­tains a high de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity. ‘The dif­fer­ent spa­ces will chal­lenge artists,’ Per­rotin says. ‘We have to give the artists an obli­ga­tion to fight with the space.’ And first into bat­tle is Bel­gium’s Wim Delvoye, with a new body of work that re­flects his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with com­bin­ing the ‘pro­fane with the sub­lime’. Known for his un­con­ven­tional works, Delvoye is fa­mil­iar with China, hav­ing had a stu­dio in Shang­hai and a farm that sup­plied him with pigs, which he tat­tooed with lo­gos and pat­terns and whose skin he then sold as can­vases. The in­au­gu­ral show (un­til 20 Oc­to­ber) presents some of these works, as well as new sculp­tures in­spired by the most pop­u­lar in­stant noo­dles in China. Novem­ber will then see Takashi Mu­rakami en­ter the ring with his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion in main­land China, in­spired by con­tem­po­rary Japan and its otaku sub-cul­ture. It’s clear that Per­rotin is adding his own cre­ative twist to Shang­hai’s cul­tural land­scape, and it seems that vis­i­tors and col­lec­tors will be the ul­ti­mate win­ners.

From left, Per­rotin’s Hong Kong di­rec­tor Alice Lung, ar­chi­tect An­dré Fu and gallery owner Em­manuel Per­rotin in the Per­rotin Shang­hai dur­ing con­struc­tion

Above, the main gallery boasts an orig­i­nal 6m-high wooden beam ceil­ing as well as new oak floors

Right, the 1,200 sq m gallery is lo­cated on the top floor of the 1937 Am­ber build­ing, a for­mer ware­house on Huqiu Road in the heart of down­town Shang­hai

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