Style Q&A: CCAD's Jo-ey Tang

Sherry Beck Paprocki
Columbus Monthly
CCAD's Jo-ey Tang suggests that personal style can become a trap. “I try to free myself from the notion of style as much as I can,” he says.

Jo-ey Tang is director of exhibitions at Columbus College of Art & Design’s Beeler Gallery. Prior to arriving in Columbus in August 2017, he was in France for nearly six years. During his last six months, or so, he left Paris and served as a research fellow in the south of France. “Believe it or not, the south of France, away from the cultural center of Paris, was a nice transition to the rhythm and space of Columbus,” he says.

Tang was born in Hong Kong and moved to Oakland, California, with his family at age 12. “Fortunate for me,” he says, “Oakland’s important role in the civil rights movement mobilizes the way I move about in the world ever since.”

Since 2013, he has worked collaboratively with friend and Paris-based painter Thomas Fougeirol. At Lyles & King, a gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, their ongoing collaboration takes place every three years and is next scheduled for February 2020.

Over 1,000 prints of one of their other projects, based on the photographic darkroom process of photogram, just entered the collection of the Pompidou Center in Paris. “This past summer, I was able to invite over 20 Columbus-based artists [including] many CCAD faculty, students and alums to take part,” he says. “I am looking forward to bringing this project from the Pompidou to Beeler Gallery in 2021.”

As a visual artist, what do you think defines someone’s personal style?

Style is a relational social tool that allows an individual to exist in a collective world. I guess that means there’s no such thing as a personal style, as it’s all relative. On the other hand, in my own work as a visual artist, I think style could often become a trap, limiting me to prescribed ideas. I try to free myself from the notion of style as much as I can. Though it seems we can never really quite get away from ourselves, can we?

You have a global brand, having worked in Paris and having visited the studios of emerging artists in many countries, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Myanmar, Singapore, France and Germany, to name a few.

I am fortunate to have lived in Asia, North America, and Europe and obviously have a few more continents to experience. Visiting artist studios is one of life’s joys. I am a bit known for conducting studio visits that last for hours on end and that go from day to night. I visited over 100 artist studios in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the span of a few months, as part of my research for Palais de Tokyo, the Parisian contemporary art center where I was a curator. This varied experience informed me to approach and reinvent Beeler Gallery’s programming structure, to one that is fluid and ever-changing. Each season is dedicated to a specific theme or groups of artists, and there are no static and conventional exhibitions. Rather, artworks stay for different durations, punctuated by conversations, screenings, performances and more. With that, we might get closer to how living in this particular moment in time feels like.

In Myanmar, in 2015, foreign cellphones did not work, and it was very expensive for foreigners to buy SIM cards there, so artists would call each other for me or bring me personally to my next meeting. I found out quickly that most of the artists didn’t have and couldn’t afford studios, so impromptu “studio visits” were conducted in homes, bakeries, restaurants, through looking at images on the computer and even documentation in photo albums. A guiding principle for me is that studio visits do not have to lead to any immediate collaboration or exhibition, and that the span of a few hours could lead to lifelong connections.

What have you learned about people in your travels around the world?

I learned that artists are soul-moving critical thinkers, and that the most fascinating people are often just around the corner, right in one’s own city.