First, the facts: Michael Xufu Huang of Beijing is a 22-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is pursuing degrees in art history and marketing and is an active brother in the Zeta Psi fraternity. He’s also a co-founder of the nonprofit private art museum M WOODS, located in Beijing’s flowering (and rapidly gentrifying) factory complex-cum-creative center 798 Art District. Since its inception in 2014, M Woods has hosted exhibitions featuring a mix of Chinese and international artists, from giants like Ai Weiwei and Tracey Emin to up-and-comers like Petra Cortright and Yu Hongli. It’s a self-consciously hip and dynamic museum that reflects the continually evolving Chinese art market, which Huang himself may exemplify. He's young, hungry, luxury-obsessed, and unstoppable.
A collector from age 16, Huang is in good company with the other founders of M Woods, Wanwan Leiand her husband Lin Han. Before the museum, Lei modeled for the Chinese painter Liu Ye and ran her own roving exhibition platform in addition to being an active collector and fashion icon. Han made waves in 2013 when, at the ripe old age of 26, he made his first-ever art purchase: a million-dollar Zeng Fanzhi mask painting, selected right off the cover of Sotheby’s40th anniversary day-sale catalogue. The three have been on a collecting frenzy ever since, and M WOODS (financed by Han with the help of his investor parents) is the early result of their thirst for art and knack for both acquisition and presentation.
In person, Huang is soft-spoken, amiable, and impeccably clothed. A fashion trendsetter like Lei, he has worked as a stylist and regularly turns heads with his distinctive, edgy ensembles that he broadcasts through his popular Instagram feed (where he's invariably seen posing with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gucci savior Alessandro Michele, or other cultural luminaries). He's also disarmingly earnest, still very much the ambitious college junior—albeit one who is on the New Museum’s International Leadership Council, hobnobs with other precocious collectors like Tiffany Zabludowicz at exclusive art events around the world, and regularly flies off to Beijing or London to close deals and hunt for new talent.
In this interview with Dylan Kerr, conducted in Artspace’s New York office during one of Huang’s weekly trip to the city, the collector opens up about the pros and cons of his young age, his confidence in the lasting impact of Post-Internetart, and his plans to make M WOODS “the MoMA of China.”
Let’s start with the story of M WOODS. How does a 22-year-old find himself co-founding a contemporary art institution?