Picture of contentment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2011, 12:00am


Lawyer Meg Meggio walked away from a steady, safe and well-remunerated corporate career to start her own business in the fast-growing, loosely-structured, financially unpredictable world of contemporary Chinese art.

And she has not, for one instant, regretted the decision to pursue her personal passion, rather than slog along until retirement in a handsomely paid, but ultimately unexciting, job. Maggio sunk her life savings into founding P?kin Fine Arts, a gallery on the outskirts of Beijing that showcases work by new artists, as well as more established names.

Later this year, the gallery will open a Hong Kong branch, on the top floor of a warehouse in Wong Chuk Hang. As well as mainland artists, Maggio will also be showcasing Hong Kong talent such as Movana Chen and Tsang Kin-Wah.

Few people know the China art scene as well as the American, who bought her first piece more than two decades ago while studying in the country. During a subsequent career as a lawyer, Maggio kept a weather eye on the art market, ultimately deciding to take the entrepreneurial plunge and set up as a dealer.

She says: 'I have been accused of taking too much financial risk, but my business is my own, I have much, much more freedom now. Many of my friends and family thought I was insane but it is my money, and my work, and my decision so if anyone gets hurt it is me. I think now my friends respect that I started the gallery. There are so many entrepreneurial opportunities here in China; sometimes you can get too caught up in the negativity.'

The P?kin Fine Arts gallery is located in Caochangdi, a spillover area from the main 798 art zone, which attracts a higher proportion of serious browsers rather than tourists and day-trippers. Works by new artists can be picked up for as little as HK$20,000, with more established names selling for six-figure sums.

The owner makes the annual rounds of world art fairs with a portfolio of cutting-edge China art and also selects less experimental works for corporate buyers. Maggio says company bean counters have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the decoration on the walls can also turn out to be a well-performing asset.

'Some have done well,' she says. 'Supplying art for the corporate world involves very formal procedures, sometimes they have to get board approval, it is not just some guy in the office who goes on a shopping spree, but that happens too!

'As corporations become more successful, they are investing in art more and more for lobby and public areas.

'If you look at Asia then landscapes are a recurring theme. They are in other parts of the world, too, but especially here. It is almost an obsession because it was emphasised in traditional culture and education. They don't care about the medium they just want good art, whether it is painting or sculpture, work on paper, work on canvas.

'We have never had a bidding war but it is funny that they do tend to like similar things. I do have clients who have asked for the same artists for their offices.

'In China and Asia there is always this attempt to bridge, and make the connection, between traditional and contemporary.'

Maggio herself is also something of a cultural intermediary, giving Chinese artists a platform in China and the world outside. Her fluent Putonghua allows clear and colloquial communication with her roster of Chinese artists such as Chen Shaoxiong, Aniwar, Cai Longfei and Liu Di.

She adds: 'The way artists are trained here, they can work across different mediums ... sketching, drawing, painting, video photography and sculpture. My personal preference is for works that are more psychologically driven, they are the artists I like and respect.'