Dealer put Chinese artists on world stage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 May, 2004, 12:00am

Gallery owner Manfred Schoeni 'like a patron' to struggling painters

For more than 20 years Manfred Schoeni, one of four victims found stabbed to death in the Philippines at the weekend, ran one of Hong Kong's most successful galleries representing Chinese artists - the Schoeni Gallery in Hollywood Road.

A regular on the social circuit, the Swiss-born Schoeni was warm, charming and well connected, and often gave free bottles of wine from his private South African vineyard, Ashanti, to clients and friends.

His exhibition openings were always well attended, and buyers from Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and North America spent from $10,000 to more than $300,000 on paintings.

Schoeni was instrumental in building a loyal international following for many artists he represented on the mainland.

They included Jiang Guo Fang, whose Forbidden City Series made him an international star, Wang Yidong, who painted portraits of young peasants with a hint of rustic realism, as well as members of the 'pop art' movement such as Yue Minjun.

When the mainland began to open up in the 1980s, Schoeni saw potential in many artists trained in Russian techniques of realism.

He made frequent visits to the mainland, choosing promising artists from art academies, and acted more like a patron than a dealer, giving artists living expenses and paying for materials so they could concentrate on painting.

By the early 1990s, Schoeni Gallery had become one of the most successful galleries specialising in Chinese artists in Hong Kong. Many of his artists, including Jiang, won prestigious awards.

Jiang, who knew Schoeni for many years, once described him as a responsible art dealer who often 'prepaid' artists for their works before they were sold, so they would not have to worry about their livelihood.

One former arts writer who knew Schoeni for several years commented on his sharp eye. When the China 'pop art' movement was in full swing in the 1990s, many of the artists were represented by Schoeni.

Some pieces were sold through auction houses, and buyers who could not afford the real thing snapped up limited edition lithographs of the works.

In recent years, in view of intense competition from other galleries and a wealth of Chinese artists on the market, Schoeni began representing artists from Europe and Southeast Asia. He also became involved with museums in Germany, acting as a consultant to exhibitions.

Married to a Chinese, Schoeni opened an antique furniture store in Hollywood Road. He also started the Ashanti Dome restaurant in Shanghai, which he recently sold.

A keen football fan, Schoeni helped bring a star-studded Bayern Munich team to Hong Kong for an exhibition visit in 1983.