BLOG: How a Seattle scientist and Chinese artist make deals

By Assunta Ng

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It must have been a pretty funny joke told at a reception for Chinese artist Xiao Dong Feng, center, at the home of Leroy Hood, right, with the help of Dr. Qiang Tian, left, who translated. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Leroy Hood, a global award-winning biologist, and Xiao Dong Feng, a prominent Chinese artist, have forged a win-win solution, despite language barriers.

What Hood and Feng got is more than what they had expected. They both got what they wanted because they knew how to craft the art of negotiation.

At a reception honoring Feng, held at Lee’s condo in Belltown, Lee told the story of how he met Feng at Feng’s gallery in September 2013 in Suzhou, China. Lee was in China to give the keynote talk at one of Cold Spring Harbor’s Asia conferences.

His plan was to visit a museum. A change of plans brought him to Feng’s studio instead.

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“Qing Xu” by Xiao Dong Feng

It was love at first sight when Hood saw Feng’s painting of a gray mountain and clouds, and Hood said he would like to buy it. Recalling the incident, Feng said through a translator, “No, I can’t sell it to you.”

Feng couldn’t sell to Hood because Feng had a contract with a New York agent. Hood had to buy through the agent if he really wanted it. That meant a lot of hassles. The painting cost over $100,000.

The artist then said, “But I can give it to you.” And Feng named one condition: Hood was to buy Feng a business class ticket for him to visit Seattle.

“Deal!” said Hood.

Lee gave Feng one business class ticket (but has offered to give him a ticket to Seattle every year).

Today, Feng’s painting, which has influences from Lao Tze, hangs in the living room of Hood’s home. At the time, Hood didn’t know the meaning of Feng’s painting, although he fell in love with it. The painting’s implications of longevity is actually connected to Hood’s DNA and other scientific research in his company, Feng said. Hood’s Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), founded in 2000, has made many seminal discoveries in the fields of immunology, neurobiology, and biotechnology. Most recently, ISB has been a leader in the development of systems biology and its applications to cancer.

Before the reception, ISB organized a seminar for Feng, who presented a show of his art and music. Another part of the program focused on how to integrate art and science.

The public knows about Hood’s achievements as a scientist, but doesn’t know that he’s an ardent art collector. His condo is filled with many art pieces, including a massive sculpture at the entrance of his front door.

Hood said that when it comes to art, he’s weak, meaning that he is more inclined to say yes and yield to artists’ requests. That actually is a strength, not a weakness, when it comes to supporting artists and promoting art.

Feng will likely be back to ISB next year for another seminar. Since their initial buyer-seller relationship, Hood and Feng now behave like old friends. Whoever said that right-brain people cannot relate to left-brain folks was wrong! (end)

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