Creating A Home for Art to Grow — Echo Yu He
NAME Echo Yu He
ROLE Founder of Fou Gallery
BIRTH CITY Chengdu
CITIES LIVED IN New York, Amsterdam, Beijing, Deyang, Chengdu
Why did you move to New York? And what lead you to establish the Fou Gallery?
I came to the city in 2011, to further pursue my dream of art. I used to be a business school student, working at the finest consulting firms in the world. After spending seven years studying business, I finally decided to reflect on my true passion in life and fortunately found the path of art. I worked for a year at Pace Gallery in Beijing, figured out that I really liked it, and decided to come to the US to study Visual Arts Administration at New York University. Soon after graduating, Pace gave me a full-time job in New York as a researcher, alongside which I co-founded Fou Gallery with a friend.
Working in a top gallery, I saw a lot of money coming in and out every day. Some collectors I work with think of art mainly as an investment.
With Fou Gallery, we wanted to experiment with creating a home-like environment which feels intimate, and operated in a business model different from the mainstream commercial galleries. We wanted to break down the distinction between art and other creative forms of expression. I am so happy to have had found this space as it added to the character of the apartment gallery we had envisioned. Currently, the first floor is part gallery, part kitchen, the second floor is the main gallery and the top floor is my apartment.
The interiors with its ornate fixtures and high ceilings give a feel of a French salon from the 1930s. Since the gallery’s opening, we’ve had many events and workshops that break traditional boundaries and bring different disciplines together.
What does ‘Fou’ mean?
The gallery opened in December 2013, and until two weeks prior we didn’t have a formal name. We wanted to call it “Not a Gallery,” as our initial idea was to run an apartment gallery that was not a commercially positioned gallery. But we were disheartened to learn the name was already taken. We continued thinking of other options along the lines of the “Not a Gallery” concept. One morning I woke up and the character Fou came to me.
Fou in Chinese has two pronunciations and two different meanings. One is “fou” as in 否定(Fou Ding) which means “Denial” and “Negative,” and another is “pi” as in 否极泰来(Pi Ji Tai Lai) which is one of the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching book. “Pi” means unfortunate, but it can also be a turning point to fortune. Both meanings of the word sound negative but they have a positive force behind them. The character that forms the word Fou is one of oldest characters in the Chinese language, and though it’s a negative symbol, it’s a turning point to the positive. "Fou" can also be found in French and Scottish. In French it means crazy and in Scottish it means drunk. I fell in love with the name and continued with it.
How did you discover the concept of an apartment gallery?
I came to the art world from a totally different background, so initially my understanding of art was a little bit naïve. I didn’t realize the struggles artists had to go through to achieve success. I imagined everyone working collaboratively, just for the love of it and not worrying if his or her work turned into a career. It still makes me sad when young artists create art just as a way to gain fame or make quick money and do not want to follow their heart. After gaining insight into this situation and the commercial complexities of art, I felt motivated to create an atmosphere of community and support for artists. And so, we decided to launch Fou.
We work together with artists so that it doesn’t feel like it’s a business deal they’re making with a gallery.
We want them to feel as if we are a family working towards a common goal. We jointly participate in setting up the exhibition and designing the event. Additionally, being a family is having dinner together. Food has a way to bind people and therefore, we wanted to have a kitchen, which would allow us to spend time together beyond the exhibition.
Art is pure, spiritual, intellectual and sharing food adds a touch of life we want them to experience. It is a place where young artists can seek compassion, comfort and feel encouraged. I consider this gallery as my biggest challenge and I try to seek balance through it.
There are quite a few new businesses starting up, especially in the Bedford–Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, which are setup in homes. My hairdresser has her salon in her apartment with everything that she would need to run it successfully. My landlord also runs a gallery in one of her buildings. I recently visited a Jazz bar that was in a building where six generations of the family had lived in. Being a part of this trend, we all have a common understanding for one another and respect each other’s unique backgrounds.
What does home mean to you?
My interpretation of home has been different at different stages of life. While I was young, my home was my parents’ home. Then at the age of seventeen when I left that home to study in Beijing, I felt like I didn’t have a home for a while. It’s only when I started working, I built a small home for myself.
However, these personal journeys have made me realize that home is something you carry with you. It’s a safe harbor, a place you go to and get healed when you feel disappointed by the larger world. It’s your own perspective combined with others’ perspectives that you carry with you. It’s also a part of you that you want to share with the world. Home is portable and shareable.
We have come to this world alone and we have to leave this world alone. So the biggest question in this life is to figure out how you’d like to live with yourself and the relationship with oneself. People come and go but eventually you need to find the most comfortable place within yourself.