We talked with Mr. Li Xiu’an who is the caretaker of the CAAW (China Art Archives & Warehouse), an art gallery at CaoChangDi, Beijing.
Mr. Li tells us that Ai Weiwei the owner, or one of the owners, is of this gallery. Some research shows that Ai Weiwei has founded the gallery together with the late Dutch artist Hans van Dijk in 1997. He has curated many of the exhibitions at the gallery and was running the gallery as an artistic director together with Belgian business director Frank Uytterhaegen. Mr. Uytterhaegen, a celebrated art collector and widely respected as a pioneer of China’s contemporary art scene, died recently; on December 27, 2011. We talked with Mr. Li before that, in October 2011.
How long have you been working here as a caretaker of the gallery?
I’ve been working here for ten years.
From the start of this gallery?
This gallery is older than ten years.
I used to work for a gallery around Longzhaoshu area, close to the southern 4th ring of Beijing. That gallery belonged to a Dutch artist called Hans van Dijk.
You’ve been working as a caretaker all the time?
Yes, I’ve always been working (part-time) as a caretaker.
How did you get into the art business?
At the moment I am working for a Belgian boss. He was looking for a caretaker, so I applied.
Is there any specific art that you like most?
Many of them!
Do you prefer traditional Chinese art or modern art?
To me traditional art seems to be better.
Do you like this art?
Yes. It is quite nice.
(An exhibition by artist Mao Tongqiang in which the artist designed marble tiles, carved with characters from the West Xia language, an ancient and extinct language dating back around 1000 years; created during the Western Xia Dynasty (1032-1227 AD). The text, translated by an expert on the old West Xia language, displays Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”)
Do you find this work traditional?
It presents the West Xia language, one of the ancient languages of our country.
The presentation is quite modern.
The presentation is good. I learnt from the artist that he found that in some European countries the West Xia language is still well preserved in collections.
Is he a famous artist?
He is quite good and he is known through the introduction by Ai Weiwei.
Did he carve the characters himself?
He employed someone to carve the characters.
How many people visit this gallery on average every day?
Usually there are more visitors during the weekends.
How many visitors during a week?
Around 50 to 60 people per week.
What kind of people come to visit?
In general they are artists and foreigners and a lot of Chinese visitors. Visitors are from all walks of life.
Do you have visitors coming from abroad especially to see an exhibition?
Normally they already based in Beijing. There are also artists coming from abroad to visit exhibitions.
What was the most successful exhibition you ever had here?
There were so many fun exhibitions that I don’t really remember a specific one in detail.
What’s your job when there are no visitors?
When there are no visitors I work as a housekeeper for my Belgian boss.