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[Homes]: Art Collector Raffaella Gallo's Hongqiao House

A new series where we invite ourselves in for a chat and get people to tell us all about their fantastic, unique homes. First one first!
Jun 14, 2019 | 12:37 Fri
Photos: Brandon McGhee
Homes: Homes is where we peek behind the doors of neighbors, looking for insight into how other people are living their lives and building a home in this massive city.
Raffaella Gallo turned her home into a personal gallery, and her gallery into a monthly salon. The Italian engineer and art connoisseur lives in a quiet gated community in Hongqiao with her family. She moved in two years ago with one husband, two kids and 355 boxes. After living in Beijing and then Dalian, she moved to Shanghai in 2015. This three-floor wooden house is their second rental in the city. Its modern interior is a hybrid of Ming-style furniture and Ikea minimalism, with an impressive collection of contemporary art.


Start At The Beginning


"I was drawn towards art from an early age by my art teacher. I bought my first piece when I was 16 years old. Learning about it has been a never-ending occupation. I research a lot before I buy. I’m not buying for investment. My motivation is about “us” — me and the art. Art historian Sheila Greenspan says, and I agree, “art is not in the piece, it is not in the viewer, it is in the space between."

The Neighborhood

"I live at the Cedar Villa community, in Changing area, close to the Shanghai Zoo. It is more convenient than it seems to do things by foot around here; there is a friendly restaurant called Geneva only 10 minutes away from my home, and the subway station is only 15 minutes. Yet, I buy most of my groceries online, from epermarket or Biofarm. The fruits I order by phone from a wet market near Hongmei Lu — they deliver in 10 minutes to my door!


We chose this area because it is close to our kid's school, and because it’s very green and quiet, so they can play outside. There are a lot of other expat families living here, but recently I’ve noticed that Chinese families are also moving in. On weekends we like to spend time with our friends, meeting for lunch or dinner in a nice place where the kids can play. We also love to see exhibitions together as a family."


The First Thing I Do When I Move Into a New Place

"First I set up the art. It makes me feel at home. This time, I made the foyer colorful, with pieces from Italian artists with a set of traditional Asian baskets. In the living room, where most of the art is, everything is more achromatic. The art and the furniture both have a strong Chinese theme. Some of the pieces came from antique shops, many came from warehouses that I spent hours digging through, and some came from flea markets."


"The rest of the furniture in the house is mostly Ikea. We move frequently, so it wouldn’t be wise to invest in expensive furniture. But when it comes to art, the same philosophy doesn’t apply. I never think about where the art is going before buying it. That’s for after. It’s getting tougher with time, but I still enjoy it. Above all, art has to look comfortable and confident in my house. It can’t be loud. It has to reflect me."

The Pieces

"Mao’s Collar, above the fireplace, is a large photo by my late friend Susetta Bozzi. It is a simple and clever piece; from afar, it looks like a painting. Up close, you see that it’s a photo of the painting of Mao’s collar from his portrait at Tiananmen Square. It’s not political — it’s about the symbology of the suit, and about Chinese people and what they believe in."


"I choose most of the art, but my husband, Andrea, helps now and then. I proposed buying a piece by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf and gave him some options; he chose this one. This comes from a sold-out series. It’s one out of seven and this is the biggest of three sizes. I think Andrea is more into art than he realizes.


Our first Chinese piece is a painting by Zhang Dali from his AK47 series. It shows the face of a young Chinese man with several markings of the rifle. This piece is a reference to the high levels of violence that society has achieved. Zhang Dali is collected by major institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City."

The Rest of the House

"The entire ground floor is open plan with the airiness of a loft; the living room leads to a simple dining room and open kitchen. We often invite people over to cook — it’s part of the Italian tradition of eating and socializing. There are big windows everywhere which look onto the community garden. I liked this place, at least while the kids are small, because of the open-air areas, even if they are absolutely not allowed to play on the first floor!


But they have the entire third floor, which is their playroom. On the second floor, there are three bedrooms and our suite. I usually look at at least 60 houses before I sign a contract but this one was a pleasant surprise: there was nothing to change except the blinds."


Art Caffe, The Monthly Gathering

"One Friday of every month, I turn my living room into a salon for people to enjoy and learn about art. It’s called Art Caffé (Instagram: artcaffe_byraffaellagallo), and I invite an artist to talk to a group of 30-40 people. The first Art Caffé was in Dalian, where there were less cultural events, so it was more like an eight-hour potluck. I’m an engineer so I plan it out strictly: 10:30am one hour talk, questions at the end, coffee and cake. In Dalian, I had 10 events. In Shanghai, it’s been 36. The last one had 37 people from 21 different countries."

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