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WOAW Gallery: Why did it grow against the market?

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The three-year epidemic has impacted many industries, and the gallery industry is no exception. But there are always a very small number of galleries that can turn the crisis into an opportunity and grow against the market, such as WOAW Gallery, a cutting-edge gallery that originated in Hong Kong.

(Kevin Poon, founder of WOAW Gallery)

In 2019, WOAW Gallery will open its first art space in Wan Chai, Hong Kong. In 2021, a space in Central, Hong Kong will open. In 2022, a space in Beijing will be opened in Boled Art Center. In 2023, a space in Singapore will also open soon. The founder of the gallery, Kevin Poon (Pan Shiheng), said: “Because of the epidemic, you can get a good position at a relatively favorable price.” Also because of the epidemic, “People hide at home, buy things online, and buy art. Some works, they simply I bought it after looking at the catalog, because I can’t go to the gallery to buy it in person.”

“I contact artists directly on instagram”

Even when the epidemic was the worst and the store was empty and no customers were seen, WOAW Gallery was not idle. Kevin said: “During the three years of COVID-19, the exhibitions in our gallery have been updated, and there is a new exhibition in Hong Kong every five weeks.”

In the past three years since its opening, WOAW Gallery has cooperated with more than 100 international artists in exhibitions, among whom there are many popular emerging artists such as Anna Weyant and Cristina Banban. The 27-year-old Anna Weyant signed with Gagosian in 2022, becoming the youngest artist signed by Gagosian. Overnight, her works were hard to find. Spanish artist Cristina Banban made her debut in the image of a “fat woman”. Perrotin Gallery will hold a solo exhibition for her in its space in mainland China in 2021.

“I did exhibitions with them a long time ago.” Kevin said.

Kevin discovered Cristina Banban on Instagram, and because he liked her work, he directly contacted her for an exhibition. In fact, apart from word-of-mouth recommendations from curators and artists, social media is an important way for Kevin to contact artists. This simple and direct business method allows WOAW Gallery to cooperate with an astonishingly wide range of artists, covering almost every continent. Collaborations with artists are mostly project-based. Kevin, who advocates the life philosophy of “take it easy”, believes that some cutting-edge artists do not want to be bound by contracts, but hope to have an open cooperative relationship. He described the relationship between the gallery and the artist, like falling in love, “if you like it, eat together.” In addition, based on the trust of long-term cooperation, WOAW Gallery also has 5 exclusive artists: Andrew Englander, Charlie Roberts, James Goss, Jon Burgerman and Chinese artist Kang Haoxian.

In fact, some collectors also know WOAW Gallery from social media. Instagram and Little Red Book are important platforms for collectors to learn about this gallery. The website of WOAW Gallery has been done with great care. In addition to regular exhibition introductions and artist introductions, there will also be cross-comparisons of artistic inspiration and artistic techniques, which are almost comparable to art textbooks.

“There are not many gallery brands representing emerging artists, and now is a good time”

(WOAW Gallery Beijing space is exhibiting “MIXED GENE” curated by Kang Haoxian. Photo courtesy: WOAW Gallery)

Before opening the gallery, Kevin was already a successful businessman. The trendy brand “CLOT” and the buyer shop JUICE, which he co-founded with his middle school classmate Chen Guanxi, have been quite successful. He also runs restaurants and coffee shops. Around 2003, he started collecting art.

From KAWS to American graffiti master Futura, from Takashi Murakami to cross-border artist Sterling Ruby, Kevin has a wide range of collections. When he was a teenager, Kevin found spiritual belonging in the “Hip-hop” culture when he lived in the United States. He said: “Hip-hop is my roots.” This is also reflected in his art collection and the art style favored by WOAW Gallery. Can get a glimpse. What kind of artwork can touch Kevin? Make him happy, excited, and there is an optimistic spirit in the work.

(Kevin (middle) and Futura father and son, Futura on the left, Futura’s son on the right, well-known fashion photographer 13thwitness, photo courtesy of Kevin Poon)

In the long-term operation of trendy brands, boutiques, coffee shops and other fashion life industries, the pursuit of “cool life” is Kevin’s consistent business pursuit. He said: “In Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, young people are pursuing fashion, music, sports and other cultural consumption, and they are all pursuing a better lifestyle. When you already have good watches and bags, it is easy to Nice car, house, what else do you need? Art.”

In 2018, Kevin, who had always wanted to try to create a creative space, first tested the waters with a “Pop-up exhibition” in WOAW Gallery Wanchai space, and the exhibited artworks were sold out quickly. In 2019, his first art exhibition was Cristina Banban’s, and the market was unexpectedly good.

(Photo courtesy of Kevin and KAWS (middle) in Hong Kong: Kevin Poon)

Kevin doesn’t attribute this success to his market sensibility. He said: “I think there may still be market space for emerging artists in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the mainland. Among the relatively mature artist groups, there are already many blue-chip galleries operating, but among the emerging artist groups, there are actually no galleries.” What a great gallery brand is running them. I think now is a good time.”

“I don’t like being framed”

In addition to the three offline art spaces, Kevin also runs an online store “WOAW Store”, which sells prints, trendy toys, and limited derivatives of artworks. Some collectors will pick some gifts for their children here after buying artworks.

If it is said that art is a deep love, for Kevin, who majored in finance and has 20 years of business experience, running a gallery has the sensitivity and self-consciousness of a businessman. In the ancient industry of galleries, Kevin, who has always been at the forefront of cool culture, seems a bit “shocking” in his management methods.

“I don’t like being bound by rules and regulations, and I hope to bring some energy from the perspective of fresh people.” During the three years of running the gallery, Kevin devoted more and more energy to non-profit art institutions and academic activities. He has also made other contributions to the Hong Kong art community, such as supporting the non-profit art space Para Site and the M+ Museum, and also helping the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association to do some work.

It is said that it is difficult to make money as a gallery, but at least Kevin does not think so at present. WOAW Gallery is active in major art fairs around the world. It participated in ART021 (Shanghai ART021 Contemporary Art Fair) in November last year. It has just returned from the Untitled Art Fair in Miami. It will participate in the first exhibition in January Singapore International Art Fair (ART SG). Kevin said: “Every industry has challenges, and it is easy to give up. It is not me.” Looking forward to the future, his greatest wish is to provide a platform for Chinese artists to go to the world platform.

(This article only represents the author’s own point of view. The author’s email address: shirleyft@163.com, the editor’s email address: zhen.zhu@ftchinese.com)

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