Digital Art Entrepreneur May Xue Tells Us About Her Routines for Success and the Artists She Thinks Are Set to Break Big

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So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in term of appraisals and price tags, but also the more fundamental question: What is even worthy of your time, energy, and attention at all?

What is the personal math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level, in art and in life.

For May Xue—the founder of the digital art platform Outland (she is also its artistic director for Asia) as well as the co-founder and chief executive director of Horizon, a Los Angeles-based residency focused on artists of color from the U.S. and abroad—such questions come down to an appreciation for exploring the unknown (and a rigid daily workout routine).

A view of the Outland x Leo Villareal installation at Stone Nest, London. Courtesy of Outland and Rowben Lantion.

A view of the Outland x Leo Villareal installation at Stone Nest, London. Courtesy of Outland and Rowben Lantion.

Xue has spent more than a decade shaping major art institutions in China and Hong Kong, from K11 Art Foundation (where she worked as the director of education and institutional relations as well as general manager) to the non-profit UCCA Center for Contemporary Art (formerly known as Ullens Center for Contemporary Art; Xue served as its CEO).

“I’m proud to have contributed to the development of Chinese contemporary art, which has flourished in recent years,” she said. “Now, I’m focusing on patronage of young artists and working with artists to explore new potentials within their creative practice.”

Xue was in London to unveil Outland’s latest project at Frieze London, a suite of newly commissioned works by light artist Leo Villareal, which will be available to purchase as NFTs later this year. Fresh from a preview event that projected Villareal’s vision in a 19th-century church, transforming it into an immersive LED installation, she graciously responded to our questionnaire.

A wood-and-wicker "Office" chair (ca. 1955–1956) by Pierre Jeanneret. © Galerie Patrick Seguin.

A wood-and-wicker “Office” chair (ca. 1955–1956) by Pierre Jeanneret. © Galerie Patrick Seguin.

What is the last thing that you splurged on?

Gym clothes.

What is something that you’re saving up for?

A Pierre Jeanneret chair.

What would you buy if you found $100?

I would save it for a rainy day.

What makes you feel like a million bucks?

Currently, my routine: It involves waking up every morning by 5 a.m. and going to the gym. I work out for one to two hours and then start my day. This makes me feel full of energy.

What do you most value in a work of art?

The spirit and the sincerity of the creator. Every step an artist makes is an embodiment of their thinking and their challenges, and so it is important that they stick to their path rather than catering to market demands. Two works I always return to are Chinese artist Yang Zhenzhong’s and Japanese artist On Kawara’s . Both show courage to face life and death while provoking thought, which is the power of contemporary art.

Yang Zhenzhong, <i>I Will Die</i>. Courtesy of the artist.

Yang Zhenzhong, I Will Die. Courtesy of the artist.

What’s not worth the hype?

While I believe in-depth analysis and awareness of an artist is important, often artists garner attention due to hype that is not related to their creative practice. I hope to see attention return more prominently to an artist’s works and allow these to tell the story.

Who is an emerging artist you’d bet on making it big?

I think James Jean will be an indelible name in the future history of contemporary art. His works are sought after by many—including Takashi Murakami and actor Daniel Wu—and his paintings are hard to acquire. Still, Jean’s significance has not yet been truly realized. His research on the integration of Chinese and Western art history and his representation of a fantastical world offer so much to explore.

Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?

As a darling of the Venice Biennale in 2019, Ian Cheng certainly attracted a lot of attention, but in my opinion, it has not been nearly enough! His works truly exist at the intersection of art and technology, and his latest NFT series, “3FACE,” pushed the boundaries of generative art and image-based NFTs. Outland commissioned this work as we want to be part of sharing his practice with audiences around the world.

Ian Cheng, <i>3FACE</i>, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

Ian Cheng, 3FACE, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?

Exclusivity. There are so many unheard voices in the art world that can teach us so much, so we should be doing all we can to champion these.

What’s been your best investment?

My greatest investment has been my dedication to art from a young age. It has nourished me throughout these years and given me new perspectives on many aspects of life, beyond art.

Also, a passion for exploration. I turned to the world of web3 from traditional art as it presented a new challenge to master.

What do you aspire to own someday?

Decisiveness. Particularly in the business world, and that of web3, which is full of unknowns, courage and bravery are required when making decisions.

What is your most treasured possession?

The young artists I encounter through Horizon and Outland’s collectors often teach me new things. Such knowledge and joy can’t be measured.

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