"Ah yes, they are promoting it"
SHANGHAI - Until very recently, spending the day setting up the first ever major exhibition in Asia of 17th-century Dutch drawings, in a huge, one-year-old museum in a former Shanghai dockyard, hadn't actually shown up on my notional list of ways I expected to spend a day at the office. Yet thanks to a slightly surprising sequence of events, that was my day today. And boy was it fun!
We've been thinking for a while that the traditional Chinese love of works on paper should by rights mean that they should also be interested in Western drawings, and we've also seen a steadily increasing number of Chinese clients taking an interest in our Old Master Drawings sales, so when the Long Museum in Shanghai asked Kevin Ching and Patti Wong if they could source any interesting exhibitions for their massive new West Bund space, and we were also in discussions with a major collector of Dutch drawings about organising an exhibition of his collection, it was a perfect fit. Getting from that realisation to the wonderful mayhem of today's hanging did take one or two e-mails, but thanks to the amazing support and hard work of Kevin, Patti, and many others in Sotheby's Asia and London, rather amazingly we got there.
"But where should this one go, I wonder"
So, we walked into the galleries this morning - spaces that we had only ever seen in photos and on ground plans - to be met by nine sealed packing crates, and a vast team of eager technicians, the leader of whom, thankfully, spoke perfect English. (Turns out he used to work for Christie's in HK..) The photo sequence tells it all, really. Eight hours later, everything was unpacked, condition checked, laid out, hung, labelled and lit to perfection. Staggering.
Now we just have to see what the Chinese audience makes of it all! The opening is on Wednesday, and then on Thursday we're holding what should be a totally fascinating panel discussion, moderated by Kevin Ching, in which I will try and discuss with some leading Chinese contemporary and traditional artists whether there is something about drawings as an art form that transcends culture and time. I think the interpreter, whom I'm meeting later today, is going to be a pretty key player in this one..