Exit interview: Daphné Mallet

Time Out talks to Jiali Gallery owner about what she's learned in Beijing

Daphné Mallet arrived in Beijing as a language student in 2005, and promptly gained a foothold in the art world here by landing a job at Cheng Xindong gallery in 798. She’s been a fixture in the city’s underground art scene from that time on, and since 2012 has operated Jiali Gallery, a hutong courtyard gallery space so named because it is also her home.


Jiali Gallery has served as an important node in an active and diverse network of hutong galleries that have opened over the last several years, showcasing some of the most daring and original work from artists based in Beijing today.


After 12 years in the city, Mallet will now break away from Beijing as her permanent residence, returning to France to launch Jiali-Paris and to open a flow of work and dialogue between art circles in the two cities. Ahead of her departure, we ask Mallet a few questions about how she’s seen Beijing’s art world change over the last decade and what her plans are moving forward.


When you arrived in Beijing you immediately started working at Cheng Xindong gallery, back when 798 was much less commercial than today. What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in 798?

It’s crowded. When I first started to work there in 2005, the taxi drivers didn’t know where 798 was! Today everybody knows about it, and it’s always packed.


What do you think are some of the most interesting galleries in 798 today?

Even if 798 has changed a lot over the past ten years, it’s still, in my opinion, one of the most important places to see contemporary art in Beijing. Lately, some galleries have even moved back to 798 [after leaving], like Platform China and Boers-Li. You still have very good galleries in 798, like Continua, Tang Contemporary, Long March, Beijing Commune and Magician Space. You also have some foundations like Faurschou, who always have amazing shows, or cultural institutions like Goethe-Institut or the Danish Cultural Centre. There is a lot happening in 798 – just don’t go during the weekend!


How have you been able to make ends meet with Jiali Gallery?

It’s a difficult time for young galleries like Jiali at the moment in China, but also all over the world. We are not in a time when people want to take risks to buy work by emerging artists, especially in China, where they mostly collect art as an investment. Jiali is working almost exclusively with emerging artists. From my experience, it’s working a bit better abroad, where you still have collectors who buy because they like art.


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Pig Foot installation at Jiali Gallery


What are some of your personal favourite exhibitions at Jiali?

Of course I’ve liked all of the exhibitions that we did in Jiali. Maybe I can talk about the most challenging exhibitions, like the installation EIKASIA by Alessandro Rolandi. We used eight or nine projectors and speakers to create a big video and sound Installation. Or Zhu Yu’s solo exhibition, From Desire to Desire – she brought kilos of broken glass into the gallery, and I had to hang pig trotters and chicken feet every day for the installation. When you know that Jiali is also my home, you realise that was quite a challenge.


Since opening Jiali Gallery, quite a few alternative or non-commercial art spaces have opened up in the hutongs. Do you think there’s potential for long-term growth of such alternative spaces in Beijing?

Sure, but as you noticed, all those spaces are non-commercial art spaces, and most of them are supported by their country and run an art residency programme. Of course, I will encourage anyone to move here in the hutongs, as I did for I: Project Space two years ago. I recommend first having the financial support before opening a space, and a good curatorial line of course. It’s difficult to attract collectors to the hutong, as they can’t park their cars! [Laughs.]


What are your personal plans now? Will you continue to work closely with Chinese art and artists? What are the future plans for Jiali Gallery?

For the moment Jiali-Beijing is going to take a little break, until spring I would say. I’m keeping the space, but I will go to France to develop Jiali-Paris. I’m hoping to come back with great new projects for Beijing in 2017!

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