Digital art entrepreneur May Xue tells us about her routines for success and the artists she thinks are ready to break through


Much of the art world revolves around questions of value, not just in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also the more fundamental question: what is even worth your time, your energy and attention?

What is the personal calculation you do to determine the meaning and value of something? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we ask individuals in the art world and beyond about the assessments they make on a personal level, in art and in life.

For May Xue, co-founder of the digital art platform Outland (she is also the artistic director for Asia) as well as the co-founder and managing director of Horizona Los Angeles-based residency for early- and mid-career artists from the United States and abroad — such questions boil down to an appreciation for exploring the unknown (and a practice routine rigid daily life).

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 director of education and institutional relations as well as general manager) at the association UCCA Contemporary Art Center (formerly known as Ullens Center for Contemporary Art; Xue served as CEO).

“I am proud to have contributed to the development of Chinese contemporary art, which has flourished in recent years,” she said. “Now I focus on patronizing 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 a light artist Leo Villareal, which will be available for purchase as NFTs later this year. Fresh from a preview event that projected Villareal’s vision into a 19th-century church, transforming it into an immersive LED installation, she graciously answered our questionnaire.

A wood and wicker "Desk" chair (circa 1955-1956) by Pierre Jeanneret.  © Patrick Séguin Gallery.

“Office” chair in wood and wicker (circa 1955-1956) by Pierre Jeanneret. © Patrick Séguin Gallery.

What’s the last thing you splurged on?

Gym clothes.

What are you saving 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 consists of waking up every morning at 5 a.m. and going to the gym. I train for one to two hours, then I start my day. It makes me feel full of energy.

What do you appreciate most in a work of art?

The spirit and sincerity of the creator. Every step an artist takes is an embodiment of their thinking and their challenges, and so it is important that they stick to their path rather than respond to market demands. Two works I always come back to are by Chinese artists Yang Zhenzhongit is I will die and Japanese artist About Kawarait is I’m still alive. Both demonstrate the 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 Yang Zhenzhong Studio.” width=”613″ height=”1024″ srcset=”×1024.jpg 613w ,×300.jpg 180w, 920×1536.jpg 920w,×2048.jpg 1226w, 10/iwdAllPrint-30×50.jpg 30w,×1920.jpg 1149w, upload/2022/10/iwdAllPrint-scaled.jpg 1533w” sizes=”(max-width: 613px) 100vw, 613px”/></p>
<p id=Yang Zhenzhong, I will die. Courtesy of Yang Zhenzhong Studio.

What’s not worth the hype?

While I think deep analysis and awareness of an artist is important, artists often gain attention due to hype that is unrelated to their creative practice. I hope to see attention return more prominently to an artist’s works and allow them to tell the story.

Which emerging artist would you bet on to succeed?

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 come by. Yet the importance of John has yet to be fully realized. His research on the integration of Chinese and Western art history and his depiction of a fantasy world offer so much to explore.

Who is an unknown artist who has not yet received his due?

As a darling of the Venice Biennale in 2019, Ian Cheng certainly attracted a lot of attention, but in my opinion, it was not enough! His works truly exist at the intersection of art and technology, and his latest NFT series, “3FACE”, has 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.” width=”1024″ height=”1024″ srcset=”×1024 .jpg 1024w,×300.jpg 300w, /3FACE_outland_preview_03-150×150.jpg 150w,×1536.jpg 1536w, /2022/10/3FACE_outland_preview_03-50×50.jpg 50w,×256.jpg 256w, /news-upload/2022/10/3FACE_outland_preview_03-434×434.jpg 434w,×96.jpg 96w, https://news.artnet .com/app/news-upload/2022/10/3FACE_outland_preview_03.jpg 1920w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/></p>
<p id=Ian Chen, 3FACE2022. Courtesy of the artist.

What do you think is the most overrated thing in the art world?

Exclusivity. There are so many unknown voices in the art world that can teach us so much, so we should do all we can to defend them.

What was your best investment?

My biggest investment has been my dedication to art from a young age. It has nurtured 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 the traditional art because it presented a new challenge to master.

What do you aspire to own one day?

Decisiveness. Particularly in the corporate world, and that of the web3, which is full of unknowns, it takes courage and bravery to make decisions.

What is your most valuable asset?

The young artists I meet through the Horizon and Outland collectors often teach me new things. Such knowledge and joy cannot be measured.

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