It's essential to choose how you want to communicate with the world: Interview with Chen Bolin

It's essential to choose how you want to communicate with the world: Interview with Chen Bolin

Actor, director and creator Chen Bolin joins Sotheby’s as guest curator for this season’s Contemporary Curated, including works by Yoshitomo Nara, Mark Grotjahn, and Ding Yi
Actor, director and creator Chen Bolin joins Sotheby’s as guest curator for this season’s Contemporary Curated, including works by Yoshitomo Nara, Mark Grotjahn, and Ding Yi

C hen Bolin has been a shining star in the movie firmament since the early 2000s, from his first lead role in Blue Gate Crossing (2002), which was screened at Cannes Film Festival, to his more recent performances in Good Night Beijing (2021) and The Dreaming Man (2017). Renowned for his exquisite taste and philosophical thoughts on the nature of artistic interpretation, Chen is an actor whose creative impetus and achievements in front of the camera have been a springboard into new domains: he is now a director, has a signature clothing line and his own art space. His latest endeavour is as guest curator of this season’s Contemporary Curated in Hong Kong, unleashing the Taiwanese star’s discerning eye on a visionary gathering of sought-after works, showcasing his distinctive and informed taste and his unique twist on contemporary art.

In the run-up to this highly anticipated occasion, we gained an insight into Chen’s mindset, attitudes and viewpoints in a wide-ranging conversation. We spoke to Chen about the social value of creativity, the guiding forces behind his burgeoning art collection, and the importance of fun.

Zhang Yingnan, Loft. estimate: 300,000 - 600,000 hkd

What do you think creativity, whether tangible or intangible, brings to individuals or societies? As a conduit for communication, what potential do you see in contemporary art?

We live in a world in which we are more easily seen, but what role do we want to be seen playing? Do we want to be an actor? A YouTuber? Or a foodie, a traveller, or a painter? There are many choices, and each role requires time and full commitment. You can open Instagram and post a fun Reel, but you have to think about how sustainable this social identity is for you. Is it something you really want to continue doing? It’s essential to choose how you want to communicate with the world.

Ding Yi, Appearances of Crosses 2015-B16. estimate: 280,000 - 480,000 HKD

Take Ding Yi, for example, he has taken the well-known symbol of a cross, which alternatively can also be the Chinese character for the number 10, and made it part of his artistic being, representing his work and creativity. Through his use of symbols, he has found a universal way to communicate with the world that transcends time and place. People can be from different times and speak different languages, yet his work holds this universal quality that provokes thoughts and inspires the imagination with a breadth beyond what language does.

Yoshitomo Nara, God Save Us. estimate: 1,500,000 - 3,000,000 hkd

Contemporary art, unlike more traditional art forms, showcases the diversity and freedom of our society. Artists can express their values in their own unique ways, and regardless of the medium or form they use, they can highlight the things they care about through their work. I think you can really see this in Yoshitomo Nara’s works on cardboard, such as God Save Us, which feels like an illustration of the power that comes with marching to your own beat. Nara has always advocated for what he believes is right through his work, from the very earliest works on found materials like his infamous No Nukes from the late 1990s. They provide powerful messages of hope in the world. I think that contemporary art has the potential to represent an attitude towards life. You look at Damien Hirst’s butterfly series, where the artist uses something as beautiful and timeless as a butterfly to talk about life and nature. These butterflies, which are so beautiful and transcendent, deliver a morbid reminder of the fragility of life. It’s cool that as the prospects of contemporary art are unconstrained and myriad, it can present us with new ways to experience the world.

An actor is a passive creator. In recent years, you’ve started to take on more leadership roles: directing films, opening an art space, and founding a fashion label. Now, you’re serving as a curator for Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auctions. Do you feel fated to be a communicator?

I have arrived at a point where I want to share interesting things with people. There are so many things in this world that we do not know about. I don’t consider myself a ‘creator’ because many actual creators exist in so many fields that people don’t see. I’m better suited to sharing and want more people to know about these true creators. I do feel somewhat destined to be a communicator because sometimes I worry that I’m too subjective. Every set of values or ideas that I show people could become a seed planted in their hearts. I hope to bring the world’s best side to everyone.

With my creative space that I opened with friends in 2021, I take special interest in new talent, with artists like Yukimasa Ida, for example. His work is all about human connection, yet his way of presenting figures is so unique and evocative. So much of Ida’s work is inspired by the concept of Ichi-go Ichi-e, or the idea of meeting or experiencing something once in a lifetime. It’s a very profound framework that his work exists in, and it is something that makes his portraits so touching and heart-warming because they remind us not to take anything or anyone for granted.

Yukimasa Ida, Bob. estimate: 700,000 - 1,000,000 HKD

Can you tell us about three artists you really like or admire?

I like KYNE, Hanai Yusuke, and Koji Yamaguchi. I prefer works that bring art into everyday life. These artists derive tangible and intangible principles from important interests in their lives. With their art, they build distinctive images and memorable moments.

Yusuke is passionate about surfing. When he surfs, he deals with a treacherous, ever-changing seascape. It’s like life; you’re constantly responding to a changing reality. Do you go with the flow or fight against the tide? Yamaguchi loves skateboarding. He goes out to skateboard every day and he brings the scenes that flash past him as he moves, those ‘landscapes of movement’, into his practice.

Miwa Komatsu, Inheritance, and Evolution. estimate: 500,000 - 800,000 HKD

These three artists have worked with companies and brands catering to diverse lifestyles. With commonplace items as vehicles, they have given more people the opportunity to bring art into their everyday lives. That is something I can see in Miwa Komatsu’s work. The artist has found the fantastical in the everyday world around her, in nature and temples, beliefs and legends of her home country in Japan.

Take someone like Mark Grotjahn, who took the landscape of Capri as his inspiration for Untitled (Capri 52.57). The work really captures a time in the artist’s life that really had an impact on him and encouraged him to make this beautiful and colourful body of work. When you can feel the totality of the artist’s life, what inspires them, what makes them want to create new things, this is what I draw my inspiration from.

Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Capri 52.57). estimate: 4,800,000 - 6,800,000 HKD

Could you talk about some of the artists in your collection and the direction of your collection overall? Do you have favourite works of art?

For me, the value of a work of art lies in how I interact with it and how it resonates with me. When you encounter the right work at the right time and place, you want to buy it. When I look at them, I may be reminded of my own life philosophy, or they may bring a smile to my face. When I first saw Javier Calleja’s work, I was instantly uplifted by the sense of childlike wonder and playful joyfulness. His work captures a heart-warming innocence which instantly draws you to them.

Andy Warhol, Heart Shaped Candy Box (True Love). estimate: 800,000 - 1,500,000 HKD

What role do you think Andy Warhol has played in the history of contemporary art? What influence has he had on you?

In Popism: The Warhol Sixties, which Warhol authored together with Pat Hackett, he noted a change in the settings in which artists worked, from the field or forest to the city. The experience of modern life became a source of inspiration for artists. What I admire about Warhol is his incredible ability to comment on modern life. Pop culture and art are not monoliths; they can be examined from many different angles. Much like the diversity of our present society, there are so many things in our everyday lives that we take for granted, but everything has its own value and meaning. Warhol was great because he really understood the fundamentals of modern life and the value of his generation. He was revelatory, encouraging people to look more closely at the social construct.

Your Instagram profile picture is a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT. Can you share why you chose it? What influence do you think NFTs and the metaverse will have on the contemporary art world?

The rise of digital art does not imply the decline of physical painting or vice versa; they will likely complement one another. Each will have passionate supporters, but those in the middle who like both may be most numerous. You can see how the two can interact in Tomokazu Matsuyama’s work; his painterly aesthetic merges traditional Ukiyoe with digital prints in a way that feels so contemporary and demonstrates the possibilities of taking inspiration from the digital. His compositions travel between different realms - the past, the present, the real and the digital - with the artist exhibiting his traditional paintings alongside the NFTs he created in 2022 as a way to explore reality and identity.  NFTs are unique, prevent counterfeiting, and encourage transparency, all qualities digital art is keen to adopt and are immensely important in art market transactions. In addition, a portion of the sale price goes to the artist every time the piece changes hands, which just doesn’t happen in the traditional art market. In the near future, we may use NFT-related technologies to buy and sell physical paintings.

Left: Tomokazu Matsuyama, Hot Cake S.H.O.C.K. estimate: 900,000 - 1,500,000 HKD; right: Lucas Arruda, Untitled. estimate: 550,000 - 750,000 HKD

When did you become interested in contemporary art? Was there a particular moment or experience?

Through music, clothing, and design, I started to learn about and better understand various aspects of art, and I have really enjoyed developing this knowledge.

Finally, as a curator in this collaboration with Sotheby’s, what do you hope to communicate to viewers and collectors?

Art has no absolute standards, and there’s certainly no good or bad, right or wrong. You have to find passions that are unique to you, based on your life experience – they will be so much more interesting than what others define for you. Having fun is the most important thing.

Lead Image: Toko Shinoda, Expanse. Estimate: 220,000 - 380,000 HKD

Contemporary Art

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top