Cheng Ran Talks About His Experimental Art Group Martin Goya Business

By Bryan Grogan, December 18, 2019

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Stepping through the doors of the main Hall A at West Bund Art & Design this year, you either caught sight of Richard Long’s unorthodox stone installations, courtesy of Lisson Gallery, or the bizarre, colorful stylings of Martin Goya Business, on show courtesy of Japanese gallery Ota Fine Arts

Visitors gravitated towards the booth, attracted by neon lights, funky video game reproductions with jellyfish-legged cats as characters and an effusion of effervescently colored fur stuck to just about everything standing still. 

The sculptures and installations, a veritable potpourri of DIY art, represented what Martin Goya founder Cheng Ran says is a new step for the art collective. While the group now represents the idea of a fake gallery, it will bring together works by a fake artist, injecting much-needed humor into the Shanghai art scene with the enthusiasm and irony that one might only find from young partygoers and nightclub fiends. 

Image courtesy of Martin Goya Business

Talking about the name of the collective, Cheng says, “I like to call it a company or a business. I don’t think it is a business, but it’s kind of like the way there are many many things called art, but I don’t think they are really art.” 

That takes care of the business side of the name, Martin Goya, on the other hand, is partly taken from the name of a cat in the Melissa McCarthy-fronted comedy, Spy, and also alludes to a Spanish replica building that Cheng used to live in. 

Image courtesy of Martin Goya Business

That is not the only way in which the group plays around with cat imagery. Reference, for example, the collective’s new space in Hangzhou, called The fART. Located next door to the city’s center of all things experimental, night club Loopy, The fART is a window gallery, with a massive black cat mounted above the shop. 

That feels significant when we consider how purchases of cat food surpassed baby food on Singles’ Day for the first time this year. Symbolism is important, here. Martin Goya Business represents, it seems, a changing of the guard, a rebellion against the current art scene in Shanghai and the movement of art from one generation to the next, giving the onus to young professionals. What Martin Goya says has little to do with the idea of perfection, it represents the an injection of youth into what Cheng feels is a stale art market. 

Image courtesy of Martin Goya Business

“Before, I was always thinking about myself. Recently, for the past few years, I haven’t really seen good art. I think the art market has become very strong, artists have become rich, but I don’t really see new artists come into the scene,” he tells us. 

Cheng rose to prominence as a video artist after graduating from the China Academy of Art in 2004. The artist, initially from Inner Mongolia, but now based in Hangzhou, has worked with the likes of K11, Ota Fine Arts and Leo Xu Projects, creating fantastic video works like ‘Diary of a Madman’ and the nine-hour ‘In the Course of the Miraculous.’ Despite his claim that he has taken a step back from being concerned about his solo work, Cheng has continued to attract attention as he spearheads the emerging Martin Goya Business, winning a USD100,000 pot for the Nomura Emerging Artist Award earlier this year. 

His support for young artists coming through the experimental art circles in Hangzhou, via the China Academy of Art, allows for the collective to team up in prestigious and highly visible locations, such as at West Bund Art & Design. 

Image courtesy of Martin Goya Business

“Hangzhou is a very strange city in China. In Hangzhou there are almost no museums or galleries,” Cheng tells us about his home. “That’s a very strange situation, because everyone will come to Shanghai to buy art. For now we are focusing on a smaller part of China, that means Hangzhou, Shanghai, because there are so many artists in the world. I think Hangzhou is still a very important place for the future of Chinese art.”

He goes on to describe the ways in which his stature as an award-winning artist has allowed for collaborators with Martin Goya Business to flourish. 

“I have so many opportunities to work with galleries and museums and musicians and other artists, so I think it’s really good for me to share my opportunities with other artists, so that they can gain their own experiences.”

The group had previously teamed up with Ota Fine Arts through October for its first gallery exhibition, The Greasy Spoon. The group is spreading its influence to other parts of the country, with installation pieces now showing at K11 Wuhan, the latest collaboration between Cheng and fellow art renegade and revolutionary, Adrian Cheng. 

“We are not only focused on gallery spaces, we are very open, we’re mostly focused on on-the-ground space,” Cheng says, when we ask if he’d like the group to do more gallery exhibitions in the future. “Maybe we want to do something in a club, maybe in the future we will organize a big music festival, a visual festival. Everyday, so many exhibitions open, it’s not fresh anymore. It’s all business. I want to choose something different. Normally galleries have very white walls, it’s very simple. But, I want to show something fresh.”

[Cover image courtesy of Martin Goya Business]

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