TTo say that Michael Chow knows a thing or two about art and culture might just be the biggest understatement ever made. The renowned art collector and former actor is the force behind the upscale Chinese food chain Mr. Chow. Here, the restaurateur and admitted Hermès enthusiast discusses his most important possessions, his latest role as one of twelve board members at Eli Broad’s Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Los Angeles and why bringing his business to Malibu may have been one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
Where do you love to shop in LA?
I like Hermés a lot.
What do you think defines ‘luxury’?
There is no luxury without fantasy — it speaks for itself. In other words, luxury has to do with dreams and poetry on a high level. On a more universal scale, you have physical luxury all kinds. For luxury of the highest form, you need fantasy for realization. For example, when I was very young I always wanted to be like Picasso and live in a castle.
Why the decision to open in Malibu?
LA is such a fantastic city, but in Malibu, there is water. Everyone goes there to look at the water. To have a restaurant there is a lovely thing.
What is your most important possession?
A painting by Qi Baishi, the greatest Chinese artist of the 20th century, is my most important possession. His painting sold two years ago for $65 million. Some years ago, he made me a painting to celebrate my father’s 50 years on stage. My father [Chinese Peking Opera Grand Master Zhou Xinfang] was a national treasure of China. The painting is iconic.
Are you proud of one piece of artwork in particular from your collection?
I love them all. I just bought a Phillip King, one of the great artists of the ‘60s from England. It’s very unique. His most iconic masterpiece is called Genghis Khan; I recently bought it at Christie’s.
You’re such an innovator. What’s next for you?
I’ve been an artist all my life. I have abandoned films, and now I just paint.
What is the best compliment you’ve ever been paid and by whom?
I read something on a blog by someone I don’t know, who basically stated that I am always promoting China and that everything Chinese is great. I’m very happy to have read that.
How did you come to be a board member of ‘The Broad’?
Someone whispered to Eli Broad that I know a little bit about art. I played hard to get for about four months, we negotiated with all our lawyers for roughly nine months, and then I eventually consented to become a board member.
Who do you think should fill Jeffrey Deitch’s shoes at MOCA? Would you be interested in the position?
No one on this planet can fill that job after Jeffery, even I. He did such a great job that it’s difficult to fill.
Where will you be expanding the Mr. Chow brand to next?
Dubai, maybe in a year, maybe a little longer.
Who makes your iconic eyeglasses?
Cutler and Gross in London. It’s in Knightsbridge next to the restaurant, and it’s the greatest glasses shop in the world. They call my glasses Mr. Chow glasses now.
Have you been approached to turn your life story into a film or a book?
Many times. When I’m dead they can do it.
What would most people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m so modest, and I want to state that to everyone. Sometimes I’m serious and sometimes it’s ‘LOL’ and you have to work it out. I’m complicated.
How would you describe yourself?
You’ll have to ask my future psychiatrist.