Studio Rouge specialises in Chinese Contemporary Art, and with two locations at the Bund and in M50, they offer an interactive space for artists and visitors to get in touch with each other and gain an understanding of the modern art world in China. We met with founder George Michell, who gave us some insights into the background of Studio Rouge, their approach, motivation and what to look out for.
S247: Tell us a little bit about the background of Studio Rouge.
Studio Rouge was established in 2004 here on the Bund, and then in 2006 we opened a second space on Moganshan road. I’d been living in China for many years and then eight years ago I decided to stay in Shanghai and open a contemporary art gallery. At that time there were very few art galleries, since then a lot opened, especially on the Bund. I chose the Bund because it’s a very iconic and historical place, with the old concessions that were established here. The art-deco style architecture makes it a very distinctive location in Shanghai, easily recognised around the world.
I think the main reason why I opened the first gallery was because it was a dream and I was fascinated by art galleries; Shanghai gave me the opportunity to make this dream come true.
S247: Why the name ‘Studio Rouge’?
I grew up in Australia during the 60’s and 70’s. We lived in the shadow of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia and thus the Khmers Rouges. It sounded to me like a very exotic and romantic name. The Rouge, or red, means revolution in a certain context but it also reminds me of my grandmother and the fashion at the time when women put rouge on their jeans. It can represent passion as well and allusion to the communist revolutions. It’s also a reference to the ‘French colony’ in Shanghai, even if we’re not supposed to employ this term anymore, haha. Studio Rouge is simply an interactive space where artists and fans are involved in conversations and collaborations. There is a more active and interactive focus here than in more common galleries.
Art can be very serious in Studio Rouge, but fun is important as well. Opening parties are fun, we meet interesting people and we have great conversations which create a very positive environment.
Opening party for 'Ooh La La' at Studio Rouge at the Bund
S247: So what’s your motivation, what do you want to show?
When I was at university I studied theatre, and I have been fascinated by the Chinese political and social development over the past 30 years. I think that my passion is art and through arts I am able to communicate and explore different themes and interests.
Chinese Contemporary Art effectively reflects the changes over the past three decades. I want to share it with people from everywhere. It’s also a recognition of the art form and its upstanding quality and unique way of expression.
S247: What kind of artworks do you exhibit mostly?
I think you can expect a wide range of relative media and artistic expression here. We have the exhibition ‘Ooh La La’ at the moment, which incorporates LEDs, diodes, photography and performances. That’s one style of contemporary expression, which integrates technology and other artistic forms, to create new exciting works. Some of the works are quite interactive and involve participation from the audience. And there are also other mediums like oil on canvas, photography and sculptures. Each of the artists have their own unique way of expressing themselves, and they say something about contemporary China and the life that we experience here today. Some of them are even modern takes on the traditional Chinese process of creating art.
LCD Artworks from 'Ooh La La' - an exhibition with the Island6 Art Collective 'Liu Dao'
S247: Do you only exhibit Chinese artists then? How do you usually find interesting artists?
We exhibit both Chinese and international artists. But most of them live in China and have some understanding of the Chinese culture. I have been living in China for 30 years, so I’ve developed an extensive network, including friends and colleagues in the artistic community throughout China. Other artists come and present their portfolio directly to me and some send their work by email, and if I like it I will contact them.
S247: Who are your visitors made up of?
50% international and 50% local. On Moganshan road it’s 75% Chinese and 25% international. Most of the collectors are international, though. At the moment, Chinese people are quite wealthy, but not everyone has an understanding of contemporary art. Younger people, around 20 and 30 years old, receive a better education and they have an understanding of the contemporary art world. They also have more of a passion, a love for art, but unfortunately they usually can’t afford art financially. However, the more time goes by, the more Chinese people appreciate and understand contemporary art. Particularly in Moganshan, where young people take a very strong interest in the arts.
S247: We have visited your current exhibition ‘Ooh La La’, which is in collaboration with Island6, but there is one thing that’s been bugging me: what does the ‘Apsara Dancer on the Pearl Tower’ actually mean to express?
I suppose it’s a bit like a fairy on the top of the pearl, a female spirit on the cloud of water. Shanghai is surrounded by river and clouds. For the Chinese philosophy it’s a very feminine environment, so this girl is like a fairy, in the spirit of Shanghai, the developing city. Sometimes, the fairy could fall, that’s why she tries to find her balance. It’s truly about the spirit of modern day Shanghai, extremely beautiful, but still growing...
The exhibition opened on the 8th of March on National Women’s Day. It’s a very feminine and ooh la la ambiance, most of the works represent the beauty of the body; but there are also boys’ pieces as well, haha.
Apsara Dancer on the Pearl Tower
S247: Do you often collaborate with others galleries in Shanghai? Or is it all competition?
I think each gallery has its own style and direction, art is a very subjective thing. What one person likes can be hated by others. I think we have a good understanding between the galleries and a respect for what we have. It’s a great choice for people who collect works and it’s a good thing. We did a lot of collaborative projects, with one gallery in Beijing, and also ShanghART here in Shanghai. We have a special project at the Bund here, with six important galleries altogether; we want to transform the Bund into an art destination as well as a historic one.
S247: What do you think the future holds for Studio Rouge?
The Bund is internationally known and has now become a significant destination for art. We are very fortunate to be located here, not only at the Bund but also in Shanghai in general. It’s a really romantic and mysterious city in the mind of a lot of people who know a bit about art. We want to expand of course; we are going to open a third space in Hong Kong next month on Hollywood road.
S247: What about upcoming exhibitions?
We’re going to have three exhibitions in May. Our next exhibition is in early May and will display the works of Zhou Nana, a young female artist from the Sichuan Province. Her work is an interesting mix of air brush paintings and stencils. It highlights the prospect of the cast of the world.
We will have a show called Ruby Roxy until the Dragon, which is a group of about 20 artists who collaborated together, using the theme ‘red’.
We are also working on a curating show with French and Chinese artists called What can I do to get your attention? Later on, we will present a show called Wild Horses Would from a group of Australian artists who have been living and working in China, which will depict relations between Australia and China. Finally, we will have an exhibition about contemporary ink by the young abstract artist Jiang Wei Tao. He takes creative and interesting photographs using plastic bin bags.
PICTURES: CAMILLE GAZEAU / STUDIO ROUGE