In some ways, Yan Du personifies the glamorous side of art collecting. Born near the Chinese capital, Beijing, the Hong Kong resident can name-drop many celebrity artists in her large collection, is patron of numerous museums and institutions and appears in international “top collectors” lists. But the 40-year-old mother of two cringes at the stereotype of “young Chinese collectors”. “We are not just crazy rich Asians who buy everything galleries tell us to,” she says. The coronavirus pandemic has upended many people’s schedules, including those of Du and her banker husband, who planned to move to Europe in the summer of 2021. While they remain in Hong Kong with its tough restrictions on international travel, Du has spent the past year remotely launching the Asymmetry Art Foundation in London. Sure, I could set up my own private museum like other collectors, but what would that have accomplished other than showing the art I have? Yan Du It is a non-profit platform aimed at nurturing curators, which she believes is the most effective way of adding to the understanding of Chinese contemporary art. Curators are the opposite of glamorous unless they happen to be a star like Hans Ulrich Obrist. They select art and interpret it, often in a quiet, scholarly tone. But they are the ones who shape how we see art and plant ideas in our heads, and certainly deserve more support in these divisive times, Du says. Her first encounter with art was traditional and highly regimented. Millennials aim to change perceptions of contemporary Chinese art “Like many conservative parents in China, mine thought I had talent and sent me to a specialist secondary school for artists. I used to have to copy the same painting several hundreds time a day. It was awful. It was a travesty of creativity,” she says. Later, her parents would send her to London to study business in order to help run the family’s “multi-industry” company, she says. There she met her future husband, whose parents had moved to Germany when he was young, and she began her peripatetic lifestyle. “Having lived in many different cities in the West and in China, I think that people tend to have a very shallow understanding of each other,” she says. As someone who has accumulated over 400 works of art over 14 years of collecting, Du says she has gleaned a more nuanced understanding of the world through having personal relationships with artists and curators. With a focus on female artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keefe, Lee Krasner and the many young contemporary Chinese artists, she could have opened her own private museum – but she chose not to go down that well-trodden path. How rich millennials are shaking up China’s art market “Sure, I could set up my own private museum like other collectors, but what would that have accomplished other than showing the art I have?” she says. So she decided to set up the Asymmetry Art Foundation which, as the name suggests, sees itself as a force to disturb dominant narratives. “Asymmetry is my personal philosophy. Nothing is perfect. Beauty is something between perfect and imperfection. Whereas everyone is chasing 100 per cent, and believes in black and white, I think imbalance is just how the world is. That’s why I like art to be radical and challenging, not beautiful,” she says. I want to help Hong Kong continue to improve its cultural standing Michèle Ruo Yi Landolt, deputy director of the Asymmetry Art Foundation The foundation sets up scholarships for curators, serves as a networking hub with an archive of research material, and will soon have a permanent physical home in the British capital. It has just established two postdoctoral fellowships, a lecture series and an annual symposium at The Courtauld Institute of Art, a college of the University of London specialising in the study of the history of art and conservation. In a first for one of the top centres of art historical research in the world, there will be a dedicated programme for contemporary art in Chinese-speaking regions. Prior to that, Asymmetry had in the space of several months set up other research fellowships with Goldsmiths, University of London – a research institution whose remit includes the arts and design – Whitechapel Gallery, the Delfina Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to facilitating artistic exchange, and the Chisenhale Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery based in London’s East End. Michèle Ruo Yi Landolt, the foundation’s director based in London, says it aims to maintain long-term relationships with its fellows. “We are a mediator and we will recommend our fellows and help them find the next opportunity,” she says. The foundation’s main aim is to facilitate global exchanges, the two women say. “We see Chinese monetary power, we see many Chinese wanting to buy art. But we think about the gap of research, and we want to help fill that,” says Du. Despite Brexit, London remains a good location for that kind of exchange, adds Landolt, who is of mixed Chinese and Swiss heritage and grew up in Beijing. “It is international and has a very developed institutional landscape that we have latched on to,” she says. But the foundation will always have one foot planted in Asia, since it wants to see curatorial fellows use their knowledge there. “There is one Hong Kong curator who is joining our fellowship, and I want to help Hong Kong continue to improve its cultural standing,” Landolt says. Du says she didn’t choose London over Hong Kong as the base of the foundation because of the introduction of the National Security Law, which has curbed freedom of expression in Hong Kong. “That’s not the reason. Beijing, Hong Kong and London are all my homes. I want to contribute [to each one]. I have spent two years full time in Hong Kong without travelling and I have enjoyed my time so much with Hong Kong friends and institutions, and I am very grateful and happy.” Correction: A previous version of the story said there were two Hong Kong curators in the Asymmetry Fellowship programme. There is only one.