When did you start collecting huanghuali furniture?
Lu Haiyan: In about the late 1990s. Huanghuali was first used for wooden furniture around the middle of the Ming dynasty [1368-1644]. It became the number-one material for Ming furniture on account of its beauty, unusual colour, shimmering surface and texture, and because it represents a simple connection between human beings and nature. Today, there are no more wild huanghuali forests, which means it is a non-renewable resource. So naturally, it has become very precious. And of all styles of Chinese furniture, Ming furniture has had the greatest influence internationally. It has generated a lot of interest at Western auctions since the 1920s and 1930s, and broken a number of bidding records.
Why did you create the Huanghuali Art Museum?
Ming and Qing dynasty furniture is usually popular with older people. Most young people have neither the knowledge nor the interest in traditional culture. The museum will not only enable more people to learn about classical Chinese furniture, it will also help to preserve it. It is creating a cultural legacy that will be part of the collective memory of the Chinese nation. When young people come here and see the furniture in situ, they start to like it and think more highly of Chinese traditional culture. The late collector Mr Wang Shixiang spoke about his desire to display classical Chinese furniture as it was actually used in the past. This museum has taken that one step further by letting people see, touch, and experience it. I hope the museum can be kept as an educational and non- profit organisation forever.
The subtle but harmonious interaction between scenery and objects is all part of the sentimental nature of Chinese life
How do you judge whether a piece of artwork is worth collecting?
The aim of the museum is to present a traditional Chinese residential environment and living culture. Apart from considerations such as the rarity and artistic and historical value of the objects, I have to think about where pieces should go in the museum. I collect for the museum.
How do you decide where pieces should go in the museum?
Books and paintings are a useful reference guide because they describe how people used their furniture in the past. And there are, of course, my personal aesthetic preferences and tastes. The entire museum — from the buildings to the gardens, the interior design of the 283 rooms to the placement of the furniture — was designed by me alone. For example, a narrow door opening looks onto green bamboo and rocks outside. On the coldest days of Beijing winter, this glimpse of life and green is joyful and unexpected. I have placed a table in front of this door, so people can see the garden while admiring the traditional furniture and sipping tea. The subtle but harmonious interaction between scenery and objects is all part of the sentimental nature of Chinese life.
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