Rain Lu is the Founder of RAINRAIN Gallery, an art advisor, and a freelance writer based in New York City. She often travels to Asia as part of her work. In 2011, she set up her gallery in China, focusing on supporting emerging Chinese artists. For six years, the gallery introduced new artists to Asian audiences and collectors.
After moving to NYC in 2017, the Gallery went through a rebranding under her leadership. This change underscored its commitment to emerging artists and diaspora communities. It transformed into an open, vibrant community that cherishes art and connects diverse cultural perspectives.
Rain’s insights into the art ecosystem/market and interviews have appeared in respected publications like Artnet, Artnews China, Harper’s Bazaar Art China, and more. Her expertise enriches art discussions, enhancing the gallery’s role in fostering cross-cultural understanding and art appreciation.
AF: Hi Rain! We are delighted to be chatting with you. To get us started, we want to know more about your upbringing. Where did you grow up and what are the arts communities like there?
RL: Thank you for having me here. I was born and raised in the city called Chengdu in China, a truly lovely place located in the southwest of the country.
My father is an art historian, an art critic, and curator. He began engaging with art and artists during his college years, shaping the environment I grew up in. As a result, I had the opportunity to meet artists from my father’s generation from a young age. This exposure made me quite accustomed to the artistic atmosphere and the diverse individuals it brings together. Observing these creative and independent thinkers has been a significant part of my life.
My dad is an avid reader and even translated historical and theoretical books related to art during his youth. In his generation, there were limited resources on Western art history and theory available, but he managed to acquire and translate them into Chinese for publication. Thus, my upbringing was steeped in this artistic environment. I began studying music at a young age, playing the piano. I continued to pursue music in high school, and music remained an essential and meaningful part of my life.
Since high school, I’ve been studying abroad, spending about six years in Australia for my high school, college, and graduate studies. This is where my journey into art and history truly began. I majored in history during my undergrad studies, which marked the official start of my exploration into the art world. During my time in Australia, I interned with local art institutes and organizations. This early exposure allowed me to gain valuable experience in the art field.
In my first year at Melbourne University, I had a remarkable experience at the Melbourne Art Fair. This event introduced me to a prominent gallery from Hong Kong, Hanart TZ Gallery. During the fair, I had the opportunity to assist in setting up the gallery’s booth, engage with visitors, and introduce them to artworks. The gallery represented important Chinese contemporary artists, further enriching my experience.
In retrospect, these early experiences not only enriched my understanding of art but also solidified my connection to the art world.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying at Melbourne University, where I pursued majors in art history and media & communication. These two fields of study required extensive reading, writing, critical thinking, and encouraged me to delve deeply into my studies. They also prompted me to consider various aspects related to journalism. I had the opportunity to choose areas of interest, conduct interviews, write articles, and incorporate them into my coursework.
Additionally, I engaged with subjects like cultural studies and cross-cultural communications, which were integral parts of my curriculum. These courses were particularly enjoyable for me. They highlighted my passion for connecting with individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. I found myself genuinely interested in exploring different viewpoints, examining things from various angles, and interacting with people from varied places. Discovering these differences and exchanging ideas brought me immense satisfaction, especially when they challenged my pre-existing notions and expanded my understanding beyond my own cultural perspective.
AF: What was your first ever job? What is an important lesson from it that has carried with you?
RL: Upon completing my graduate studies in international business at Sydney University, I returned to China. My intention was to find a job in either Beijing or Shanghai, within the realm of media or communication. That was at the beginning of 2010. This was a time of significant transition for traditional media outlets, such as newspapers and magazines. They were grappling with the challenges posed by new media and social media and undergoing a transformation from conventional platforms to innovative channels. Fortunately, I secured my first position at a prestigious magazine establishment in Beijing. This magazine was akin to Time Magazine, covering a wide range of subjects including social issues, politics, culture, art, critical thinking, and lifestyle. It was a weekly publication, and at that time, they were in the process of establishing a new media division. This division aimed to create a platform for the magazine to engage with younger readers. I was one member of the new media division, and this was my first job after completing my studies in Australia and returning to China.
I remained in this role for one year, after which I returned to my hometown Chengdu for the subsequent year. Reflecting on my time in that position, I realized that working in new media was a unique experience for everyone involved. The new media division was a fresh venture within the magazine, and the team, comprised mainly of young individuals, was dedicated to experimenting with new ideas. We were constantly trying out different approaches and strategies, adapting them as needed. Despite the magazine’s decades-long history, the environment emphasized the inevitability of change. Flexibility was key, enabling us to respond swiftly and strategically to any shifts that arose. This was one of the fundamental lessons I took away from my time there.
AF: You are the founder and director of RAINRAIN, a gallery formerly known as L-Art Gallery. Tell us about how RAINRAIN came to be and what inspired you to open a gallery!
RL: It is kind of a long story. I will try to keep it short.
As I mentioned earlier, I returned to my hometown after a year of experiences in Beijing. Once back, a great opportunity presented itself. There was a great space adjacent to a newly constructed art museum in the south part of the city. The local government expressed keen interest in fostering art and culture in that area. As a result, they actively encouraged individuals in the arts to transform the space into either an art or culturally oriented organization. This location was particularly advantageous, being situated next to a museum, and it even came with rent incentives for the initial three years.
Interestingly, the idea to establish my own gallery originated from my father. He proposed the idea of leasing the space to start our own gallery. Simultaneously, upon returning to Chengdu, I swiftly joined a team engaged in an exhibition project overseas led by my Dad. Although I lacked prior knowledge of running an art gallery, I saw this as a significant opportunity to embark on a personal venture. This is how the journey began, even though it wasn’t originally part of my plan. The unexpected turned into an opportunity, prompting the start of this exciting endeavor.
The gallery opened its doors in the summer of 2011. I took on the role of managing the gallery, working closely with artists primarily from my own generation. Most artists I worked with at that time lived and worked in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. This collaborative journey allowed me to travel extensively, enriching my experiences. From the third year onwards, the gallery started to participat in various art fairs. We explored cities such as Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Paris, Hong Kong and even Istanbul, participating in these dynamic fairs.
As time swiftly passed, I found myself in the summer of 2017. This marked the year when I made the decision to close the gallery space. A mere two months later, I was in New York.
I arrived in New York on a student visa and pursued a year of studies at Christie’s Education. Following that, I engaged in several internships at galleries, foundations, and advisory roles. These experiences aimed to provide me with a comprehensive understanding of the art world here in New York, which was my primary objective for coming to the city. Initially, I had planned to stay for a year, intending to observe how things operated in this environment. However, I managed to secure a different visa that allowed me to extend my stay.
The pandemic marked a significant period, during which I spent the entire pandemic period in New York due to travel restrictions. Only towards the end of last year, I could finally return to China and visit my family. This unusual time provided ample opportunity for reflection on my career and involvement in the art world. Amidst various options, two key determinations emerged. Firstly, I aspired to continue residing in New York, maintaining the ability to travel freely between the US and Asia. Secondly, I held a strong desire to keep working with artists. The most rewarding aspect of running a gallery, to me, is collaborating with artists.
When restrictions eased slightly in NYC during the pandemic, I initiated studio visits while simultaneously thinking about the idea of continuing or even commencing a gallery in New York. The pandemic underscored the importance of physical interaction, affirming that for me, online projects are an addition but not a replacement for the vitality of a physical gallery space. Conversations with different individuals and extensive planning followed. It’s been a lengthy process, and it began last summer when I started to space searching. I reached out to some real estate brokers in hopes of finding a suitable space for my gallery. Simultaneously, I rebuilt the gallery website, renaming it as “RAINRAIN” and initiating online projects with various artists.
A year passed, encompassing visits to Asia, conversations with colleagues back in Asia , family visits, and catching up with artists back home. Returning to New York, I continued the search for a space, leading to my excited signing of a lease in July. It was a big moment for me.
AF: You have a new space opening this fall in New York! Tell us more about the space, and the process of transforming it into RAINRAIN.
RL: I’m really looking forward to the upcoming fall when I’ll be able to open the gallery’s doors to visitors. The gallery is conveniently located at the border between Chinatown and Tribeca. It’s a smaller space on the second floor of a building. While the renovations and planning haven’t been overly complex due to its size, this experience of renting and renovating a commercial space in New York is entirely new for me. I’m gradually learning a lot from navigating through this process, and I expect there’s more learning ahead.
Anticipating the days to come, I’m excited about the chance to invite everyone to visit my gallery space. Your presence and support mean a lot, and I can’t wait to share this space with you all.
AF: This summer, RAINRAIN introduced its Summer Playlist, a compilation of 9 artists’ music recommendations, along with their recent works and summer inspirations. What inspired you to create this unique project, and what artists/songs made the playlist?
RL: The summer playlist project? Oh, I’m glad you caught that. I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to listen to it, but it’s quite a unique playlist. Nine different artist, each recommending a song, and I put them together as playlist on spotify. As I mentioned earlier, I’m quite passionate about music. To me, it’s an integral part of daily life.. Listening to music feels like a conversation with the music itself and even a way to connect with your own thoughts.
Sharing a variety of music with fellow enthusiasts who have a genuine appreciation for different genres is something I find incredibly fulfilling. Using RAINRAIN as a platform, I aimed to extend this appreciation to both art and music. The summer season, with its vacation vibe and laid-back atmosphere, felt like the perfect time to engage with people in a light-hearted way. I approached artists and asked them if they’d be interested in sharing their favorite songs for the season and how they’re spending their summers. We compiled these responses into a playlist, which we shared on Instagram. It’s a simple yet effective way to connect with others.
I truly hope those who came across this project enjoyed the playlist we put together. Looking forward, I’m considering doing a winter playlist later this year. The plan is to invite more artists to share not only their musical preferences but also their thoughts on art. It’s a journey of creative expression that I’m excited to continue exploring.
AF: Who are some emerging artists that you are excited about right now? Who should people keep an eye on?
RL: Certainly, New York is a hub for artists and a myriad of experiences that set it apart from other cities. The diversity isn’t just about where artists come from; it’s also reflected in the wide range of art forms flourishing here. It’s a vibrant mix that’s quite unique.
While I can spot some artists, especially in galleries that focus on up-and-coming artists, I’d say it’s important to stay open-minded. Maintaining an open heart to embrace the unexpected, the different, and the unconventional is crucial. Art often has a way of defying ordinary conventions and interpretations.
Now, in terms of specific recommendations, I’d encourage you to mark your calendar for RAINRAIN’S inaugural show coming up in the fall. You will discover some new names and great works!
AF: Do you have any personal goals for this year?
RL: My goal for this year is to set up the space, organize exhibitions, create great shows, and invite old and new friends to come and visit, share great art, great time with great people. A good start matters, and these are my main focuses for the year.
AF: As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
RL: A good piece of advice is to start by honestly asking yourself if a career in art is truly what you want. There are many options out there, and while I’m not saying the alternatives are easier, working in art isn’t a walk in the park either. Take a moment to really think about it and listen to your own instincts. If you’re sure about choosing an art career, here are suggestions: be open, be kind, be generous, be connected, be humble, be certain, be confident, be flexible, be persistent, and be yourself.
AF: Well thank you, Rain, for participating in Frank Talks, it has been a delight to chat with you! To finish off, we want to ask you our classic final question: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection?
RL: Still, I find it a bit challenging to pinpoint specific artists, but I’m drawn to exploring themes related to nature, ecosystems, the environment, and the concept of diaspora and diasporic experiences. Additionally, I’m interested in works that experiment with diverse materials, and art engage with social issues. It’s important to me that the work truly captures the essence of our time and also resonates on a personal level, and at the same time, while maintaining its true artistic form or language. I’m consistently excited to discover new artists.