Assets Speaker Interview: Dr. Chih-En Chen

Assets Speaker Interview:  Dr. Chih-En Chen

Monday, April 8, 2024 in News, Education, Conference

In anticipation of Dr Chih-En Chen’s upcoming lecture Trompe l’Oeil in Qing Times and Today at this year’s ISA conference, Asian art specialist Ashley Crawford (MA, ISA AM) sat down with Dr Chen to learn more about Montreal’s Asian art market.

Ashley Crawford: We are so excited to have you join us at Conference this year in Montreal! How long have you lived in Montreal and what has working there been like for you?

Dr Chih-En Chen: I’ve lived in Montreal for three years now. Before, I was in Toronto for many years. I arrived in 2013 to pursue my master’s degree in art history at the University of Toronto. After that, I did my internship with Christie’s Toronto office under the supervision of Mr. Brett Sherlock for one year. Then, I worked at Waddington’s as a cataloguer, an Asian art specialist and the head of department for four years, and I left to pursue my PhD in the UK. For my return to Canada, I decided to move to Montreal, mostly because my family is here. But I also find that there is a lot of art market activity going on in Montreal, which is very enjoyable. The museums are also quite good! I’m finding that more and more people here in Montreal are starting to collect Asian art. I actually know an art collector who moved from Toronto to Montreal mostly because they like the culture here. I’m currently working with the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington DC and the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. I work remotely, so most of my work is researching and writing about objects. I’m not in Montreal so much for my job, but because I love the city!

AC: Would you say Montreal is one of the big Asian art hubs in Canada, then?

CEC: Yeah! I worked in auction houses for many years, and even when I was based in Toronto, I had many clients who had objects in Montreal, so we needed to make a trip to Montreal every season to seek consignments. I think the momentum is still here in Montreal.

AC: That sounds really exciting. So, for our Asian art specialists and Asian art enthusiasts who are coming to Conference, which museums would you recommend visiting to see Asian art?

CEC: Of course, the best would be the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). They have a lot of really high quality ceramics and Chinese bronzes. Their curator Laura Vigo is also a SOAS alum and has been a really good friend and mentor of mine. The other museum is the Museum of Archaeology, which has some Asian art objects. What is particularly interesting about this museum is that compared with the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the objects in the Museum of Archaeology are mostly export items that were found here in Montreal from the 17th to 19th centuries. A lot of these export objects are from China and traveled all the way to England or France before finally arriving in Montreal, when English and French populations moved to Canada. These objects are mostly daily-use ceramics, bronzes, or even glass. You can still find these types of objects in the homes of clients here in Montreal; people still use them. You can buy loads of replicas in the museum as well, which I think is very interesting, The objects in the Museum of Archaeology are closer to those used in daily life, compared to the types objects in the Museum of Fine Art, which most people probably wouldn’t be able to afford or would have difficulty finding.

AC: That makes a lot of sense! It sounds like there are many great museum destinations in the city. Do you notice any particular trends in the Canadian Asian art market compared to other places you've lived, or is it similar?

CEC: Here in Montreal, it’s a bit different from Toronto. I think it's because of the language. Here, people speak French. A lot of people move here, either with a strong motivation to learn French or already knowing French from their home country. For example, we have many immigrants from Vietnam. This is very different from Toronto, where there are many immigrants from China and Taiwan. In Montreal, the Vietnamese community is one of the city’s biggest populations, and they like to collect art from Southeast Asia, such as Chinese export ceramics made for the Vietnamese market or Vietnamese blue-and-whites. I think that is a very important difference between Montreal’s art market and those of Toronto and Vancouver. Anything French or Sino-French is very popular here in Montreal. There are also 18th-century French imitations of Japanese ceramics, which you can find in museums and private collectors’ homes.

AC: Thank you for sharing your insights with us, Dr Chen, and we will see you soon at Conference!


  1. Conference
  2. Education
  3. News

From the ISA Now Blog

See all blog posts