Cao Jixiang: "To me personally, I learn about the world through art." | Story of the Collection

Story of An Early Collection

Started Collecting in Doubt

We were fortunate to encounter such a work 

that made us feel its heart

The Cloud Collection is a private institution dedicated to contemporary art collection. It got its start in 2017. Before its founding, myself and several partners from different industries spent more than a year using our free time to visit art museums, art fairs, galleries, auctions, and studios. We saw various forms of contemporary art first-hand, talked with artists, and educated ourselves in Chinese and international art history. We would constantly ask ourselves questions when we saw new art: “Can we understand the piece? Do we like it? Does it make sense? Will it last?”


After a year of observing and studying art like this, we had no definitive answers to any of these questions. We started collecting in doubt, but also with a desire to experience and perceive more directly through this process. Fortunately, we found some answers early on. By collecting, our direction became clearer and our pace more firm.


“Dong Jinling,” named after the artist who created the piece, is a very important work that we collected early on. The work was part of a group exhibition titled A Separation, curated by Zhu Zhu at Gallery Yang, which explored the relationship between the individual and the other. Dong Jinling's work deeply attracted us. 

The work is derived from Dong Jinling’s personal life and emotional experience, but also contains a universal spirit. After the birth of her child, the artist decided to breastfeed only with the left breast, and not even let the child touch her right breast. Due to the clogged mammary gland, the right breast developed lumps and this led to an acute purulent infection of breast tissue. The artist relieved the pain only by squeezing her right breast and releasing the milk, and she recorded this process in a silent film.The sizes of the artist’s breasts became more and more different because of the over-growth of the mammary gland of the left breast. On the day she stopped breastfeeding, Dong Jinling  took a picture. It symbolizes a process of great mental and physical pain, and also shows the artist's most complex emotions and preoccupations: the joy and fear of fertility and the examination of self-identity. When she brings a new life into the world, can her original identity be retained in whole or in part? This is not a problem unique to Dong Jinling. It’s a dilemma we all face, as time is irreversible and there is no way to escape.


Dong Jinling

left: Dong Jinling 2-1, 2012

 Archival Inkjet Print | 100 × 80 cm | 3/6

right: Dong Jinling 2-2, 2011 

Video, coloured with sound | 3'09 | 3/6

Image courtesy of the artist and The Cloud Collection

In Dong Jinling's creation, we feel the artist's sincere and courageous expression. This is especially valuable in the scheme of Chinese contemporary art, which has been disturbed by various concepts or found itself locked in a limited personal system. In the artist’s own words, she hopes that her work can “uncover the surface to reveal the inside.” At that time, we were confused by a lot of bizarre contemporary art. We were fortunate to encounter such a work that made us feel its heart, allowing us a unique experience and sense of recognition in collecting.

Tips for New Collectors

We need to understand the subtle changes artists go through over a long period

their work is alive, rich, and growing

The following suggestions for collectors are based entirely on our own experiences collecting, so bear in mind that they might be personal rather than universal.

1. Collect works via artists' solo exhibitions

In comparison to the intense bidding that characterizes auctions or the rush of art fairs, visiting an artist’s solo exhibition is a quieter experience and will give you a more complete idea of their oeuvre – a whole picture of the artist’s creation from a certain period in proper context. Try to avoid the opening day so you can take your time and look at the works in peace. If you meet the artist, talk to them to learn more about the works.

We collected one of Na Buqi’s sculptures during her solo exhibition at a gallery. At first, I examined the round sculpture and thought it resembled the Colosseum in Rome; it didn’t give me strong feelings. However, when I sat on a bench beside some artists and saw it from a different angle, the space around me changed; I felt as if I was in a square and the sculpture and its surroundings were floating towards me. I think it may be the artist’s desire that her sculptures create a field that inspires new perceptions in the audience. Although it’s tough, if you can manage to fully immerse yourself in an exhibition, you’ll get strong emotions that will make you remember the moment for many years to come.


Na Buqi 

The doubtful site (engulfing and radiating shapes), 2018

aluminum, resin, sand

350×350×40cm ed. 2/3

Image courtesy of the artist and The Cloud Collection

2. Understanding is better than praise

Visiting an artist's studio is an almost daily activity for collectors. Most artists are just as eager for understanding and sincere communication as ordinary people. However, we seldom praise an artist to their face, even if they are famous. A hasty compliment is as worthless as direct criticism, unless we know the artist very well. For example, I once visited Gao Lei's studio in Songjiang, and we had a very pleasant chat. We talked about each work in his studio, and the artist was willing to satisfy my curiosity. “Enzyme of Trial” is an installation of ceramic insulators connected to high-voltage wires and ancient curved wooden strips. Gao Lei has a creed about the use of ready-made objects: try to keep the original appearance of the ready-made. With less change and less decoration, it’s more pure and likely to have the power to channel his ideas. A combination of pole wood and ceramic insulators from a flea market, laid out with a certain ritual aesthetic on a soft carpet, evolves into a trapping device for latent power. This work was later exhibited in a solo exhibition at Alario Gallery Seoul, where we collected it based on a consistent understanding of the artist's idea and presentation.


Gao Lei

Enzyme of Trial , 2017

Wood, case, iron


Image courtesy of the artist and The Cloud Collection

3. Be alert to market behavior

Perhaps collectors often see or hear the market’s interpretation of artists’ styles or various labels, asserting that certain types of works are better, that works of an “unimportant” period are not valuable, and that a sudden stylistic change is a red flag. From the perspective of the market, these are understandable credos, even for some specific artists. But we must always stay away from such reckless judgments – otherwise collecting will be very boring. We need to understand the subtle changes artists go through over a long period  – their work is alive, rich, and growing. At the same time, there are artists who achieve perfection in single medium, and there are also many artists who are trying various media. They may all have consistent thinking and expression, and you can’t label the artists in this way. The work we’ve collected by Zang Kunkun is a good illustration. Many of his works seem to have a strong sense of realism in terms of their reference points, critiques, or manner of construction, but his art form refuses to be pinned down and embodies an imagination and desire to adventure beyond reality.


Zang Kunkun

Container, symbiosis , 2017

Acrylic on wood, leather

245×225×20cm (96 1/2×88 5/8×7 7/8 in.)

Image courtesy of the artist and The Cloud Collection

4. Build long-term mutual trust with art consultants

In the age of information and networking the art ecosystem is extremely developed. Gallery owners, professional dealers, curators, art critics, and artists will give you information and advice, and it may be difficult for you to not listen to them as the elders have warned. The point here is the importance of establishing a sincere, long-term and mutually trusting relationship with your art consultants. A reliable and professional consultant will give you advice from his or her personal experience, but also continue to discuss problems, directions, and even intentions with you with a systematic perspective. Conflicts are inevitable, but an understanding based on mutual trust will help you move forward and make decisions. We often say that great collecting means making the collection itself become one’s own work. This does not mean that collection is a matter of personal preference, but rather the brainchild of many professionals.

5. Aesthetic pleasure is more valuable than return on investment

Needless to say, collection is a kind of investment, but this is not the priority of The Cloud Collection. No matter how many times we hear about the myths of art investment and no matter how many professional and wonderful systematic collections we see, we always believe that collecting art is about aesthetic pleasure, although many people do not agree that contemporary art has such a function. What I mean is that you don’t have to care too much about how much you have spent today or your future returns in order to demonstrate your insight. Todd Levin, an art consultant in New York, says that collectors should presuppose the depreciation of a work: if a $5,000 work will be worth nothing five years later, its depreciation or “cost” is equivalent to $3 per day. Can this piece bring you happiness worth $3 every day? If it can, then it is worth the money. This is the point of buying art. Levin's statement is a bit extreme, but it’s speaking to the same point that I am – , that is, we have to appreciate the value of the work.

Personally, I understand the world through art. When I look in silence at my collection of works in the space around me, I seem to have more strength to face the day in all of its fragmentation, dejection, discord, and absurdity.