Nov 11 2020

Artist and Hotel Owner Struggle to Resolve Decade-Long Dispute

by Pamela Wong

GORDON CHEUNG, Dragon Dance No. 3, 2009, 230 x130 cm, financial newspaper, acrylic, ink and spray paint on canvas. Courtesy the artist.

After holding a dozen artworks by Gordon Cheung for a decade, the former Shanghai gallery owner and hotel developer Zheng Hao has offered to resolve their dispute, which spilled into the public when the artist began airing his grievances on social media last month. Zheng has now proposed to return eight paintings and four installations to Cheung, while compensating him RMB 50,000 (GBP 5,700; USD 7,600) in addition to covering the shipping costs. So far, in the latest round of negotations, the two parties have not reached an agreement.

Amid conflicting accounts from both sides in this dispute, Zheng Lei, the legal representative of the now defunct Other Gallery confirmed to ArtAsiaPacific that 11 paintings, four installations, and one video work by Cheung were kept in Shanghai after the 2011 exhibition “A Sleeper Awakes” at Other Gallery. The storage was supposed to be temporary, as the artist had agreed to an initial consignment period and then had asked the gallery to continue selling his works in mainland China, while postponing the return of the works due to the high cost of storage in London. After negotiations in 2012, Cheung agreed to sell the remaining 11 paintings to the Gallery at the price of GBP 65,450 (USD 86,900); the installations and video would continue to be consigned to Other Gallery. After the closure of the Gallery in 2013, Cheung’s works were moved to the warehouse of another, unspecified organization, while still in the possession of Zheng Hao, who is also the owner and developer of the How Art Museum in Shanghai. The How Art Museum previously told ArtAsiaPacific that it “has never worked with any artist called Zhang Yibin [the artist’s Chinese name] or Gordon Cheung.”

Zheng Lei acknowledged that in 2013, Other Gallery only paid one third (GBP 21,500, or USD 28,500) of the agreed upon price for the 11 paintings to Cheung. Zheng also acknowledged that after Other Gallery closed, Zheng sold three paintings by Cheung, even though he had not paid the artist in full for the works, nor did he obtain the artist’s approval for the sale, as Cheung maintains. According to Zheng Lei, based on the negotiations and the payment agreement signed by both parties in 2012, the Gallery “had the right to dispose these paintings with no need to obtain Gordon’s additional consent for it.” Zheng also disputed that Other Gallery had improperly held onto the artworks even after its closure, saying that the company and the artist had not agreed on a consignment period. One of the works, the video, has subsequently been lost. 

Furthermore, Zheng Lei attempted to explain that though the Gallery made efforts in recent years to settle the payment, there were difficulties in contacting the artist after the Gallery’s closure and, more recently, cash flow problems due to the pandemic. Zheng Lei denied that Cheung’s works were ever reproduced for Zheng Hao’s luxurious art hotel in Wenzhou or other business purposes, saying that the print works displayed in eight guest rooms at Zheng Hao’s hotel were “gifts to clients [at] the exhibition” and signed by Cheung.

Cheung has been informed by Zheng Lei that if his works are not removed by November 25 from the Shanghai warehouse where they have been kept, they will be “regarded as abandoned.” Lawyers for both sides continue to negotiate amid increasingly acrimonious conditions as the deadline for the works to be removed looms in two weeks. 

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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