VOICE FOR MY FATHER
MICHAEL CHOW AKA ZHOU YINGHUA
UCCA, BEIJING, 2015
POWER STATION OF ART, SHANGHAI, 2016
THE ANDY WARHOL MUSEUM, PITTSBURGH, 2016
The story of Michael Chow (b. 1939, Shanghai) is that of an improbable icon, a global cultural actor decades before globalization became the norm. Chow is the son of Zhou Xinfang, celebrated Beijing opera master and founder of the Qi School of performance. Frustrated in his youthful ambitions to either follow in his father’s footsteps or carve out a space for himself within the London contemporary art scene, dreams cultivated in equal parts by his schooling at the Saint Martin’s School of Art and his father’s theatrical tutelage, Chow opened the first of his chic Chinese restaurants in London in 1968. Today, MR CHOW operates in six locations around the world and has become synonymous with both high-end Chinese cuisine and the diverse set of artists and cultural luminaries for whom the restaurant was (and remains) a social hub. Returning to fine art practice after a forty-six-year hiatus, Chow adopts a style as dynamic and eclectic as his history—one that embodies, physically and symbolically, a distinctly Chinese twentieth-century cosmopolitanism.
The exhibition comprises three sections. Twelve of Michael Chow’s paintings are dispersed throughout the Lobby, Nave, and Long Gallery. Chow’s style reflects the visual traditions of Chinese art, Western abstract expressionism, and, perhaps most significantly, the bold gestures of Qi School Beijing opera. Composed of household paint, precious metals, and kitchen errata, this “Qi School Expressionism” evokes a visceral sense of movement and object while conveying the artist’s passion for his father and his native culture. Linking the artist’s practice to his longstanding engagement with the contemporary art communities of New York and LA, the exhibition also contains several works from Chow’s portrait collection. These works, hainging in the Long Gallery, includes pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Urs Fischer, and many others, bearing witness to his friendship with and support of these artists from the 1960s onward. Also occupying the Long Gallery are more than one hundred archival photos of Zhou Xinfang and his performances. The Qi School of Beijing opera that he conceived has become a way of life for Michael Chow. Seen as both an artistic institution and a microcosm for a larger movement, the evolution of the Qi School reflects the complex history and cultural memory of modern China.
The UCCA presentation of “Michael Chow: Voice for My Father” coincided with the 120th anniversary of Zhou Xinfang’s birth. The show traveled to the Power Station of Art, Shanghai, in April, 2015, and to the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, in 2016.