By: Helen Homan Wu
On a pleasant Summer weekday in New York (before we were hit by the brutal heatwave), I met up with Sharon Zhu for lunch at Má Pêche, the work of celebrity chef David Chang. We were both excited about the menu and also dishes that were not on the menu but spontaneously appearing on push carts and trays. What a brilliant concept to serve a la carte haute cuisine in a Chinese dim sum tradition.
Sharon has just returned from a long journey trekking through South America, and New York City was her layover break before returning to London, where she lives. The lofty ambiance in the restaurant was perfectly suited for an intimate conversation about her travels, comparing the New York and Berlin art scenes, and her gallery House of Egorn. Surprisingly we didn’t touch on Brexit at all, but was talking passionately about Cuba and China.
She founded House of Egorn, a contemporary art gallery in Berlin, just over a year ago and has already been making quite an impression internationally. Her gallery program definitely stands out amongst the Berlin art community and at large, as one that focuses on “a new generation of artists from the Far-East and 'Far-West’”.
We continued our art and travel conversation over email, followed by a questionnaire, which inaugurates our new 10 questions for young collectors series.
What's the best exhibition or artwork that was worth a trek across the globe to see?
Rather than singling out one exhibition or artwork, I would put Naoshima island in Japan very close to, if not right at the top of my all-time art pilgrimages. You literally get to see just a few works in each of the museums (Lee Ufan, James Turrell, Walter de Maria, Monet waterlilies, among others), but the way each and every piece is presented and perceived (I don't want to give too much detail away - the experience of a first visit there should not be spoiled), the whole setting of the island, the journey to get there - it all adds up to something truly unique (this is such an overused word in our day and age, but in this case entirely appropriate). Of course the almost total lack of tourist throngs is an important factor in creating the serenity of the place, so I always hesitate to tell people about it, but then I can't help urging everyone to go as it's so utterly beautiful.
As a visitor, what do you look for in an art fair? in a biennial?
Something that's entirely unexpected and truly breathtaking for its freshness - if it genuinely moves me on some level, then that's real icing on the cake. But it happens rarely in an art fair context - everyone's too busy doing business! It's much easier to actually focus on the art in a biennial, especially if you go after the opening days. Also, I think it's really important that biennials draw real locals in rather than creating this art world bubble that's completely disconnected with people who live and work in the city. I always enjoy going to the Havana Biennial for this very reason. Almost everyone you meet in the street has an opinion about some artwork or another they've just seen in a Biennial event!
“I think it's really important that biennials draw real locals in rather than creating this art world bubble that's completely disconnected with people who live and work in the city.”
Favorite and most unique hotel you stayed in?
I'm not a big fan of luxury in rooms when it comes to traveling - I'm almost never there except to sleep, during both business and personal trips. Location is usually on top of my list of priorities, as I like to be in the midst of things and be able to walk everywhere. And also, quite often, it's not at all the material side of things but the people who really make a place special. I just returned from a 10-week road trip across South America 3 days ago with my husband and our two-year-old daughter and we stayed in 20 difference places!
One of my favorite hotels on this trip was Casa Gangotena in the center of Quito. The view you get from the roof terrace is outstanding, and the service was impeccable. I go to Havana about once a year as we work with a number of Cuban artists at House of Egorn, my gallery in Berlin, there's a casa particular (private B&B) where I always stay - the owner knows exactly what I want to eat and how I like my stay there to be. It's a beautiful colonial house and every morning she serves fresh mango juice made from fruit hanging outside my bedroom window. Digging deeper into the past, my husband and I did an extensive road trip in Syria back in 2009 (we've been to quite a few 'unusual' places in our time) and I remember the Old Vine Hotel in central Damascus fondly - most of the city must be unrecognizable now, tragically.
"there's a casa particular where I always stay...It's a beautiful colonial house and every morning (the owner) serves fresh mango juice made from fruit hanging outside my bedroom window.”
Do you have an art advisor? a travel advisor?
Yes, in both cases myself. I'm a connoisseur of quite a few things but probably an expert on both these subjects.
What is art for?
To lift our lives that little but crucial bit, from merely wonderful to truly transcendental.
“To lift our lives that little but crucial bit, from merely wonderful to truly transcendental.”
What are you reading?
I have just started 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara, which my husband read during our trip and told me it was the first book that had moved him greatly in a long time. Also, concurrently, 'Lives of the Artists, Lives of the Architects' by Hans Ulrich Obrist. He's doing an ongoing interview with two young artists who will show at House of Egorn in November and the transcription will probably become the exhibition text - I'm immensely excited about it.
What are your 5 favorite cities?
In no qualitative order: London for theatre, museums, history and the river; New York for restaurants, convenience and endless energy; Shanghai for nostalgia (I spent the first 18 years of my life there) and ability to transform itself ceaselessly; Havana for the beautiful people, the Malecon, and its potential in general; and finally, of course, Berlin, for the galleries, parks, cake shops (we have the best one in the city around the corner from our flat there) and artists.
What’s your advice for someone traveling to Berlin for an art trip?
Plan at least a half day each to focus on the gallery districts of Mitte, Potse (where House of Egorn is located, right opposite Neue Nationalgalerie which will re-open next year with a thrilling new design by David Chipperfield) and the area east of Checkpoint Charlie. During Berlin Art Week the whole city will be overrun with international art world crowds, but it's always the international community of artists who have made Berlin their home (including major names such as Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, Douglas Gordon and many more) that make the city so special.
“During Berlin Art Week the whole city will be overrun with international art world crowds, but it's always the community of artists who have made Berlin their home (including Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, Douglas Gordon and many more) that make the city so special.”
What’s your collecting philosophy?
Try to remain sensible, sticking to a certain framework/theme. But, if something really grips you, you need to listen to your heart and just try to make the budget work...!
Where is your next destination?
Well I'm off to Berlin again next Monday but that's not a 'destination' - that's work commute (I do it 2-3 times a month, between London and Berlin)! So the next place that I'll be visiting for the first time is Krakow, in a few weeks. People keep marvelling at the fact that we haven't slowed down our travelling pace since the little one arrived - if anything we've been travelling more with her.