A pudgy, balding man of an older generation muses skyward, hands rested on his chin and fluffy angel wings spreading from his back. This figure, an optimistic hybrid of Chinese and Western traditions appearing in matte white, gold, pink, and candy-apple red, is emblematic of the "Angel Series" that Chinese husband-and-wife artist duo Xiang Jing and Qu Guangci create under the name X+Q Art.
The pair began working togther in 2010 as an experiment in creating accessible art after Guangci's Pop-inspired "Angel" series got widespread attention in China. Today, the couple runs a team of assistants to produce hundreds of angels, soldiers, and zodiac-inspired sculptures for their wildly popular Beijing store, which serves the hub for an operation reaching buyers around the world—including at New York's Guggenheim museum. This summer Xiang has a new solo exhibition at MoCA Taipei, on view until September 1. In an Artspace interview, Qu talks about the brand's beginnings, how he reconciles art and business, and what's in store for the rapidly expanding project.
Can you describe how you began X+Q Art?
I created a series of work with fat angels for the main wall of my 2010 solo exhibition about angels in Hong Kong. I wanted to convey the idea that they were “messengers of emotions.” After the opening, many visitors requested to buy these fat, colorful angels. The creative director of Lane Crawford Hong Kong then invited these angels to enter their home-and-lifestyle section, and more than 300 pieces were quickly sold. This number made me start thinking if there was more I could do with the series.
What inspired you to begin making these editions?
The art market stagnated for a period because of the recession in 2009, and we found that there was still a certain distance between Chinese art and our society. We felt we should express more through our works and do something to give back to society. I started thinking about the possibility of establishing an art brand—a brand built around the gift concept, since gifts express true affections. X+Q came from the initial letters of our surnames, and "XiQi" [pronounced "Chichi"] means "rare and wonderful" in Chinese. This meaning is very pertinent, and it's also pretty cool to pronounce it.
Was it a conscious decision to blend business and art together?
Art and business are not contradictory, as we have seen in American Pop art. To go from being artists to being businesspeople, the compromise we made was actually a self-challenging process, finding a way to combine art and business better. X+Q Art is an experimental art project but also a commercial one. It’s like we're running a public art project in a commercial business model. Contemporary art shouldn’t belong to only a certain circle of people, and China should be able to breed its own popular art brand. X+Q Art is a brand new model in which artists walk out of their original circle. We hope to realize this particular project on a business platform and make more people embrace art.
Do you see your art-business model as setting a trend in the art world, and, more specifically, in China?
The originality of X+Q Art is indeed hard to imitate. We are still learning it step by step through making it happen. But maybe X+Q art could provide a different train of thought on the art circulation and business model. When technology advances, traditional art changes and develops because of the effects of new mediums—it becomes the main subject of mass media. And people are interacting with art objects more and more in daily life.
How do you re-envision artworks as artistic gifts? Do you keep in mind a different aesthetic or mission? Some works, for example, are rather humorous.
Humor is a language perceived by wider range of people, and can overcome cultural border. It's an accepted international form in the commercial field: humor can be understood quickly, yet it contains cultural traditions at the same time.
Most of your works for X+Q are small sculptures. Why this format? Do you have plans to expand into other mediums for the project?
Sculpture is still the language that we can control best. On a fine-art level, I tend to consider X+Q Art as a long-term public art project. It is already something tough to achieve in this life. We are trying new mediums as well for sure, but they remain on the sideline so far.
How do you blend both of your visions together as a husband-and-wife team? What is your collaboration process like?
X+Q Art’s management and operation are run by a specific team currently, and we give our team suggestions and directions regularly. As an art couple with completely different styles and temperaments, we are able to create various products lines that elicit different feelings for our commercial platform.