In January 2012, The Wall Street Journal interviewed Siu Li Tan, an assistant director and curator for the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), who talked about the importance of private collectors and their unique role in shaping the Asian art community.

Sheba Chhacchi, 'Winged Pilgrims II', 2006, mixed media. Part of "The Collectors Show: Chimera" exhibition of contemporary Asian art at the Singapore Art Museum. The exhibition will end on 25 March 2012.

From The Wall Street Journal,

I [Siu Li Tan] have been watching with interest the recent mushrooming of private museums and art foundations across Asia. Some of these have been established with very clear aims and ambitions in mind: Besides serving as an exhibition platform for new art forms, these private museums or foundations are also committed to nurturing an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art with their education and outreach initiatives.

At the same time, however, a number of other private museums exist purely to house their founders’  expansive collections, and are not exactly accessible to the public. This is where an institution like SAM can play a role in bringing together, in a single venue, important or interesting works of art drawn from these private collections.

It remains to be seen how this recent trend of private museums develops in this region, for it has enormous potential to shape the contemporary art scene, given the lack of public art institutions with the means and/or inclination to exhibit contemporary art. I can’t help but think about the FACE (Foundation of Arts for a Contemporary Europe) model, where an alliance of art foundations established by private collectors organises exhibitions which draw on works from their collections and which travel around the different country venues. Imagine what a similar model could do for contemporary art in Asia.

Tan goes on to comment that museums are largely priced out of contemporary art acquisitions, which greatly affects institutions in Asian countries where art philanthropy and donation are less common. However, collectors are adapting to this non-traditional situation and are finding ways to provide access to their collections and their wealth. In China, leading contemporary art collector Uli Sigg founded the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards to provide stronger institutional support for contemporary artists in the country, and Art Radar also noted the increase in private museums in Asia as part of our contemporary Asian art trends series.


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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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