SHANGHAI - “How to make Giacometti contemporary?” That was the question for Budi Tek, whose Yuz Museum in Shanghai is currently hosting China’s first retrospective of the 20th-century master. To see the artist’s iconic bronze sculptures such as Walking Man inside the soaring interiors of the Yuz – a former airplane hangar – is to have your perception of the works forever changed. Organised with the Fondation Giacometti, Paris, and curated by its director, Catherine Grenier, the retrospective is the first Giacometti show in China and, comprising 250 works, the largest presented anywhere. For Tek, the focus is on collecting the work of living artists, “it also part our mission as a museum to introduce China to the most important sculptor of the 20th century,” he says. “We want to tell the world that the Yuz Museum places the bar very high.” Sotheby’s recently spoke with Tek about the origins of this historic exhibition, Giacometti’s reputation in China, and the first time he saw the artist’s work.  


This is the first Giacometti exhibition in China. What is the significance of the show? Why Giacometti, and why now?  

There has never been an exhibition about him anywhere in Asia! Giacometti is one of the few artists to create a bridge between the Modern and the contemporary. This is what inspired me to risk doing the exhibition. It’s very exciting to show Modern art in a contemporary museum. That itself is a significant statement. We are asking, what is Modernity and how does it appeal today? The aim was not only to show an important 20th-century artist but also to exhibit his extraordinary works in a way that underscores the relevance of his creations today.  

What is the backstory of this exhibition? How did it come about?  

At Art Basel in June 2014, I met with Catherine Grenier, then the newly appointed director of the Giacometti Foundation in Paris. During our conversation, she proposed the idea of a Giacometti show at the Yuz. I immediately thought that it was crazy enough to consider, and a few months later we finalized the plan. It was a collaboration; our teams had long discussions between about every aspect of the exhibition. We wanted a retrospective that was broad, generous, spectacular. The enthusiasm was mutual.  


How do you think the Chinese audience has responded to the show?  

Since the retrospective opened at the end of March, we have experienced an incredible reaction. On 18 May, International Museum Day, almost 3,000 visitors came to see the show. By the time it closes at the end of July, the show is expected to bring 200,000 visitors, and millions more will know Giacometti’s work better through digital media. The actress Gong Li said she was sending all her friends from Shanghai. People stay in the galleries for a long time. They take pictures of course but they also take notes from the audioguide. There are art-making classes for school groups and a special dual-language issue of Beaux Arts magazine about the show is a best seller in our bookshop. There is even a Parisian-themed Giacometti café. We are offering a total experience to audiences and they are thrilled.  

How has Giacometti influenced contemporary Chinese artists?  

Giacometti is an artist’s artist in China. He has been taught in all fine art schools here for more than 40 years, and is a hero for a lot of younger artists, but they have never had a chance to see his works until now. And as you know Giacometti’s works, especially the sculptures, have their roots in all sorts of Asian inspirations.  

When did you first encounter Giacometti and what about him fascinates you?  

I learned about Giacometti’s works from auction and exhibition catalogs, but the first time I actually saw them in a museum context was at Fondation Maeght, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. I was carried away by the strength and the lightness of the sculptures. To me it seemed as if they were vibrating. I like that kind of experience.    

Alberto Giacometti is on view through 31 July at the Yuz Museum, Shanghai. The exhibition catalogue is published by Dilecta Editions with the support of Sotheby’s.