Controversial dealer Johnson Chang to give away 100 art pieces
Entrepreneur accused of refusing to return mainland pieces displayed at Venice Biennale wants to donate eclectic collection to keep it intact
A prominent Hong Kong art dealer who has been embroiled in an art scandal on the mainland plans to donate 100 Chinese art works, including some from the early 20th century, to the city.
Mainland artists accused Johnson Chang Tsong-zung of taking 20 years to return artworks used in China's first participation at the Venice Biennale in 1993.
Chang, also a curator and guest professor at China Art Academy, said of the planned donations: "These artworks have been with me for decades. I don't want to put them on the market and see them end up scattered in different places. I hope they can stay together.
"So the best way is to donate them to an organisation which can extend the life of this collection," added Chang, who was appointed to the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority's museum committee last week.
The works are now on show in a two-part exhibition - Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies - curated by Chang at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wan Chai and Hanart Square in Kwai Chung to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Chang's Hanart TZ Gallery.
The 100 pieces include calligraphy dating back to 1917 by Kang Youwei, a Qing dynasty scholar and reformer who proposed the establishment of a constitutional monarchy.
There are also submissions of drawings for the design of the Monument to the People's Heroes from the 1950s, and Tang Xiaohe's 1971 depiction of Mao Zedong in Strive Forward in Wind and Tides during the Cultural Revolution.
There are also works by Chinese contemporary artists who command high prices at auctions today, such as Zeng Fanzhi and Zhang Xiaogang. Hong Kong works include "King of Kowloon" Tsang Tsou-choi's calligraphy.
Chang said he had not made a final decision as to who to donate the 100 works to.
Chang, who is a director of the board of Asia Art Archive, was ranked number 65 in Art Review's Power 100, a list of the art world's most powerful figures.
But last month, mainland artists Li Shan and Sun Liang accused him of keeping their artworks after they were displayed at the Venice Biennale in 1993.
Li and Sun said they only got their works back late last year after starting legal action.
The scandal was widely publicised on the mainland. It was reported that the works did not receive a government permit to be sent back to the mainland and were shipped to Hong Kong after the Venice show. Chang was asked to take care of the works temporarily.
"Chang wrote a letter in 1995 telling me the artworks were not there," Sun said from Shanghai. "But 20 years later the works are here. The explanation was not logical." He said he had no plans to pursue further action.
Chang dismissed allegations of any ill intention. He said that following the inquiries, he tracked down the works, which had been lost among his gallery stock. He found them while going through his collection in preparation for his new exhibition.