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November 29, 2009

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Old pattern catches an avant-garde eye

BEIJING native Lu Hao is one of China's most famous and influential contemporary artists.

A Ferrari owner himself, he recently collaborated with the Italian luxury sports car brand to launch the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano China Limited Edition models, including a one-of-a-kind special featuring Song Dynasty Ge Kiln pottery patterns in celadon green.

The car was sold at auction in Beijing recently at a private dinner organized by Ferrari to a Shanghainese client for 11.65 million yuan (US$1.7 million). Some of the proceeds will fund a program for Chinese students to study automotive engineering and design in Italy. Lu plans to donate his design fee to contemporary art organizations.

Born in 1969, Lu graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. As one of the earliest and most successful Chinese avant-garde artists, he has cultivated a unique artistic philosophy. His works feature in many museums around the world, such as the Museum of the University of Cambridge, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, and the Singapore Art Museum.

He has also participated in numerous international exhibitions, including Archeology of the Future - The Second Chinese Art Triennial Exhibition in 2005, Documenta 12 in Kassell in 2007, and the 2008 Shanghai Biennial. He was awarded the Chinese Contemporary Art Award in 2002.

Earlier this year, he was co-curator of the Chinese Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennial.

Q: Why did you choose the Ge Kiln pottery pattern for the special Ferarri car?

A: I have to admit that at the beginning, I did go through all those cliche Chinese elements, such as the dragon, the cloisonne enamel and the traditional Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. However, I realized that they are either too complicated or too "loud" - people would probably pay too much attention to the pattern rather than the car if I used either one of them. One day when I was having dinner at a restaurant, I asked for an ash tray and the waitress brought me this small ash tray featuring the Ge Kiln pottery pattern. I was so impressed that I decided with no hesitation "this is it." It is a very simple pattern, but I believe that it will immediately arouse people's curiosity to find out what it is, and the stories and culture behind it.

Q: What is your understanding of "Chinese elements?"

A: To me, Chinese elements are everywhere. They include all those things that I dealt with when I grew up in the country, such as iconic daily objects used by people in an old Beijing hutong.

Q: Much of your work, from the earliest "Flower Bird Insect Fish" to "Beijing Welcomes You," is linked to Chinese culture. Why?

A: Because I am Chinese. I insist that Chinese artists should create works in our own "Chinese ways." Personally, I appreciate people like Elton John who plays rock music with piano. You don't necessarily have to wear a leather jacket or carry a guitar to play rock music. If you can play it with some traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu, then you are successful. The same is true with Chinese contemporary arts. You don't have to follow the "rules" or "standards" set by Western people.

Q: Talk about working with Dior to create an artwork for its 60th anniversary celebration in Beijing.

A: I created an installation of Plexiglas to house the "muguet," the iconic Dior flower, through which I emphasized the fragility of architecture. All architecture could easily vanish.

Q: More Chinese artists now work with luxury brands. Are they being too commercial?

A: Not at all. I think we need more collaboration of this kind. Think of Western artists like Andy Warhol.

Q: What do you do when you're not working?

A: Either driving my Ferarri at 180 kilometers an hour, or reading at home. I have read many historical books lately.

Q: What do you observe in daily life?

A: I like grassroots culture. I enjoy observing ordinary people's daily life.


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