A big-show handler 'delivers the goods' during the lockdown
When the local art community came to a halt due to the lockdown, "Art Zhou" was possibly the only "mobile supplier" for the community.
Zhou Hongrong, also known as "Xiao Zhou" among artists, gallerists, collectors and museum staff, has run an art logistics company called "Art Zhou" for the past two decades.
In fact, Zhou's growth took off at the same time when China's contemporary art market began to find a foothold.
In 2005, he took his first steps at M50, an art hub that houses galleries, artist studios and designers' workshops. Zhou assisted them in packing and installing artworks at the exhibition space; his tools being bubble wrap and a level ruler.
Later, the thriving Shanghai art scene, along with art fairs, exhibitions and private art museums, required logistic services ranging from packing, transporting, installing and storing, and Zhou had the experience to meet the demand. Today, he employs 60 people and operates 20 transportation vehicles.
Zhou and his team would have been fully occupied if it hadn't been for the COVID-19 resurgence in Shanghai this March, installing artworks for exhibitions at art museums and galleries in Shanghai or transporting art pieces to other cities in China.
"I thought the lockdown would only last five days, and I had work to do at the company," he said, explaining his decision to stay back at work on March 31, the last working day before the lockdown.
Instead, he and his staff ended up volunteering, distributing food packages to the neighborhood's medical workers while also sending various goods and items to local artists and friends in the art community.
"I didn't expect my company to function perfectly based on my years' social network among supermarkets, real estate agents and artists," he said, adding that "some of them donated the goods to me for those in need."
He and his team appear to have entered a "different spring."
"Actually, March, April and May are second only to the city's hectic art month in November. However, the harsh reality is that some exhibitions have been postponed, canceled, or are still pending," he said.
Just before the lockdown, "Art Zhou" had finished half of the architecture show at Power Station of Art and the installation for the French artist Bertrand Lavier's show at Fosun Foundation.
The anxiety and uncertainty bothered him – the expense of warehouse rental fees, salaries and social insurance for his employees, but he kept himself busy.
Zhou had rented an additional 5,600 square meters of warehouse last year, in addition to the existing 6,000sqm warehouse. The lockdown provided an ideal opportunity to complete the renovation work.
"I'm thinking about organizing an exhibition in this new warehouse after the lockdown," he said, smiling.
The joys of communal cooking
Q: Can you recall the first favor you were asked to do during the lockdown?
A: On March 31, one of my friends in Pudong asked me to deliver a printer because he wanted to print QR codes for the elderly in his neighborhood. But I failed to deliver because of the roadblock. Only then did I realize the gravity of the situation.
Q: Can you describe your main tasks over the last two months?
A: I obtained the vehicle pass, which was extremely helpful. So I posted a picture of the pass on WeChat and started my "free delivery" with 18 vehicles and 15 members right away. For the most part, we had to leave at 6 o'clock in the morning and return at midnight.
We delivered medicine to the elderly, food packages, daily necessities and oil paints to my art community friends. I even sent a food package to an artist's domestic helper because she was locked up somewhere with no food deliveries at first. We arranged for patients to be picked up from home to hospital or from hospital to home.
Basically, everything, including services and goods, is free.
Q: How were the artists and how did they deal with the lockdown?
A: They were pretty good. Some have been creating new works, while others have been working on their cooking skills. Artist Ding Yi has been with us in our new warehouse. Because he has two major exhibitions this year, he has been completely immersed in his painting. Ding and our team would have the same breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Q: How did you solve the food problem, especially feeding more than 17 people?
A: I only ate two bananas for two straight days at first, which was something I had never done before. When everyone went online to buy food and vegetables, I discovered a valuable vegetable field in the warehouse's backyard. We had more vegetable options besides the routine offerings like cabbage, carrots and potatoes. Some of our staff looked online for recipes and cuisines. Soon after, we "figured out" how to make dumplings.
Q: What was the thing that you wanted to do most after the lockdown?
A: Go back home and prepare some delicious food for my son and wife.