Pearl Lam: A Pioneer in Defying the Western Notion of Chinese Art

Anyone who has heard or has little knowledge of the owner of Pearl Lam Galleries would be aware that she is often labelled as a ‘Rebel with a Cause’, ‘The lady who changed the Chinese Art Scene’ and so forth. But where did this rebellion start from? It’s a known fact that she defied her father and family and entered the world of art as a gallerist after studying accountancy and financial management. The sole reason was she wanted to do something where her family and father did not have control, and that was ART.

International Gallerist Pearl Lam -The Art Disruptor

It is one idea to rebel against the parents but a whole new ball game to disrupt the Chinese art world. So how did that start? After negotiating with her father to do pop-up shows, this powerhouse of China’s art world started her first eponymous art gallery in 2005m in Shanghai, Pearl Lam Gallery. The intent was to disrupt the idea of what ‘Chinese Art’ has been considered by the homogenous and elitist Western art culture.

While Pearl Lam was still considering ways to make her gallery different from the rest, she met Mellisa Chung, the Asian Society Museum Director of that time. Chung suggested Lam change the idea of her gallery to a foundation so they could work together. However, Pearl Lam, being who she is, refused to give up on having a gallery because there were too many ‘restrictions’ as she puts it in running a foundation.

Hence, she focused on disrupting the Chinese art culture and what is being showcased in the Pearl Lam Galleries with contemporary Chinese art. An art form that the Chinese knew about but the West was unaware of.

Why Pearl Lam Continues To Disrupt The Art World?

Just showcasing contemporary Chinese art was not enough for Pearl Lam. She had to do more for Chinese art and culture. Being a trendsetter, whether in art or as a fashion icon, she wanted to stir the art world again when Lam opened her Hong Kong Pearl Lam Gallery.

This time, Pearl Lam dug into her past, a conversation with Gao Minglu in 2000. Professor Minglu is known as the first Chinese art scholar and curator who introduced contemporary Chinese art to America. However, Minglu’s failure to make the Western world understand the uniqueness of Chinese abstract art became Lam’s focus for disruption. Professor Gao told Ms Lam that the West has this notion that Chinese abstract art is a copy of Western abstract art. Pearl Lam had to change the notion.

The result was curating Chinese contemporary art done by local Chinese artists, not those born and bred in the Western world in her Hong Kong gallery. Pearl Lam made it her mission to make the West understand that Chinese abstract art, unlike Western art, is not rooted in modernism but originates from centuries of tradition, Chinese calligraphy, Confucianism, Buddhism, and other indigenous cultures.

Lam feels that the art world needs to be disrupted because the Western world has been pushing for domination, first with colonialism and then with culture, and it needs to change.

Getting Partners In Her Journey To Disrupt

Pearl Lam’s journey as a disruptor continues, and she is finding like-minded partners not only in the way of promoting them in the art world but showcasing them in her latest podcast. In the recent episode, Lam featured Alayo Akinkugbe, who curates the Instagram page Black History Of Art.