Da Integrating Limited founder and chief designer Chinman Ngai and art gallerist Kenna Xu discuss the relevance of the gallery today, how to create harmonious interiors for art and the impact of technology on such spaces.

The completion of an excellent project depends on the cooperation of both the client and designers. It is the close collaboration between Xu and Ngai that allows Shenzhen’s KennaXu Gallery to strike a balance between art, spatial design and curation, providing visitors with a holistic experience. For the gallery’s debut exhibition, artist Shuqing Ma has created a series of experimental works.  

Kenna Xu.

Chinman Ngai.

Different from other international galleries which are set in art parks or high-end public buildings, KennaXu Gallery is situated in a residential building constructed in the 1990s. It’s located in an old community in Shenzhen’s Futian district, which is hidden behind the shades of green trees and is accessible through a small path. Why did you choose this area for the gallery? 

KENNA XU: The gallery is located at my personal residence, which helped save on rent costs. I selected the site because I see its potential to support the long-term, steady operation of the gallery. I have visited many famous galleries around the world and found that most of the owners operated the spaces on their own properties. I think that generally it needs to take about 30 years to run a gallery well – with the stable location, I can focus on investing in curating more quality exhibitions instead of seeking quick profits in a short period. I think art should be forward-looking, and not confined to trend-following, and this space reflects the philosophy of my operation. 

How did you approach the design of the gallery?

CHINMAN NGAI: Unlike commercial spaces, paintings are the core of this interior. The artworks exhibited in the gallery are all contemporary works but have different styles and convey varied emotions. What we needed to think about was how to display and design the user experience, so as to let the space support art.  When we started approaching the design of the gallery, we paid most attention to the requirements for the space, like how to let the light help present the colours of the exhibited paintings, and what kind of atmosphere had to be created. 

A good art space should be dominated by art, which means that artworks rather than design should be the protagonist in the space. The exhibits will be weakened if the design style is too prominent. Therefore, we took ‘emptiness’ as the design concept to conceive the space for artworks. Considering the nature of the gallery, our primary consideration was its integrity and inclusiveness. Eventually, we created a minimalist interior, which enables different artworks to show varying charm with the change of weather, environment and details. 

There are many societal shifts and developments happening today. What impact does this have on galleries and the art field?

The rapid development of technology brings convenience, but also some problems. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 is speeding up the changes of the world. Both indicate that we are entering a new era, which will inspire artists to create great works. Against this backdrop, galleries are, to some degree, also an important driving force for the development of art. From a commercial point of view, galleries may hardly influence production, but their impact lies in the exhibition and recording of influential artworks. In a sense, art is a way for me to make a mark in the world – operating a gallery gives me a sense of satisfaction.

How can art and spatial design feed into each other?

Art inspires us and stimulates the spirit of exploration and subversion. Artists’ exploration of creativity can be unrestricted, but this may not always be suitable for spatial design. Nevertheless, I hope that each project can be a process of exploration and perfection.