As the Asian art market goes from strength to strength, three experts sat down at Art Basel Hong Kong to share their views on collecting in Asia-Pacific.

On 25 May 2013, the panel discussion “Collectors Focus: The Asia Pacific Region” took place at the inaugural edition of Art Basel Hong Kong (23 – 26 May 2013). Three prominent art collectors reflected on their personal collections and the role that collectors play in supporting arts communities.

Watch the complete Conversation on below

Art collecting’s “three young pioneers”

Art is long but life is short

As ArtAsiaPacific Editor Elaine W. Ng says in her introduction to the panel discussion, “In the world of collecting, the past is the father of the future: art is long, but life is short.” With the importance of historical context in mind, she asks the three collectors to reflect on how they started out on their journeys to becoming contemporary art collectors.

Manila-based Marcel Crespo started collecting art seriously eight years ago, but his journey really began long before that when he was in his early 20s. He had just bought his first home in Miami and wanted something to hang on the walls, but he could trace the urge to collect back even further than his Miami days. He explains to the Art Basel Hong Kong audience,

Collecting has always been something that is part of my life. Even when I was younger, I would collect things like coins, stamps, or even knives. The transition to collecting art was somewhat seamless. It was an easy transition. I think I have a collecting bug if you would call it that.

Crespo’s collection today comprises both Filipino and western art, a reflection of his multicultural upbringing in the Philippines and the United States. Discussing his shifting taste in art, Crespo jokes, “I realized I must have ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] or something, my taste has changed so much.” He charts his collecting journey following a trajectory from figurative to abstract works, as he set out buying the likes of Ronald Ventura and is today interested by the abstract, process-based works of artists such as Maria Taniguchi.

Dawn Ng, 'Mamashop', 2012, archival inkjet, print collage, 120 x 161 cm, edition of 3 + 1 AP. Image courtesy Chan Hampe Gallery and the artist.

Dawn Ng, ‘Mamashop’, 2012, archival inkjet, print collage, 120 x 161 cm, edition of 3 + 1 AP. Image courtesy Chan Hampe Gallery and the artist.

Building a collection, the Lau way

In much the same way as Crespo, Alan Lau started collecting eight years ago with the simple idea of finding something to hang on his wall. Seeking art with a distinctively “Hong Kong” stamp, the first piece he acquired was a work by local graffiti artist The King of Kowloon. “I’m fascinated by text and language, not just because the power of words but their impact and how text can translate into graphic as well,” Lau elaborates.

In addition to works by text-based artists, Lau is also interested in new media art and technology, as well as art that documents urbanisation and its social and political impact. As a collector of contemporary Chinese and western art, Lau reflects on how his position as a member of the Tate Britain’s Asia Pacific Acquisition Committee has influenced his collecting.

I learned a lot from the Tate and how they build their collection They never say they are a UK institute. They are a global institute and want to have a global collection but they always stand in London and they look at the world that way. And I think that’s very much how I see my collection. I’ll always sit in Hong Kong and I look at the world that way.

Tatzu Nishi, 'Denken Sie sich einmal an meine Stelle', 2013, (project 2002), c-print, 180 x 120 cm. Image courtesy Arataniurano gallery and the artist.

Tatzu Nishi, ‘Denken Sie sich einmal an meine Stelle’, 2013, (project 2002), c-print, 180 x 120 cm. Image courtesy Arataniurano gallery and the artist.

Relevance, resonance … and being completely mad

“I must say that I was genetically bred to collect art. I come from a family of completely mad collectors. As a kid, I started collecting stamps and coins but very soon the disease took over,” says Dr Dick Quan. It was at an exhibition called “Futurism and Futurisms”, held at the Palazzo Grassi for the 1986 Venice Biennale, that he had an awakening and decided he was going to be an art collector. Since then Quan has emphasised “relevance and resonance” in his collection, buying art which believes has cross-cultural relevance and will resonate with people across the world.

Quan’s interest in how western art relates to Asian cultures is reflected in his vast collection encompassing work by artists from both the West and the Pacific Rim, including art groups such as BirdHead, Made In Company, Elmgreen and Dragset, AES+F and Team Lab: “I like these groups because to me, multiple minds are better than one mind,” says Quan. He speaks about a recent fascination with Indonesian contemporary art, particularly that of the Post-Reformasi artists:

I think good art always comes from struggle. I’m interested in the moment that art changes. The moment when the art becomes socially and culturally relevant to more people.

Kang Kang-Hoon, 'Modern Lady Unable to cry', 2012, oil on canvas, 194 x 230 cm. Image courtesy Park Ryu Sook Gallery and the artist.

Kang Kang-Hoon, ‘Modern Lady Unable to Cry’, 2012, oil on canvas, 194 x 230 cm.
Image courtesy Park Ryu Sook Gallery and the artist.

Collecting for the art community 

All three speakers agree that being an art collector brings with it a certain degree of social responsibility. Collectors can contribute to society in many ways, from making part of their collection open to the public to supporting their local arts community. They also argue that governments worldwide can and should do more to fund creative projects, because public institutions play a vital role in arts infrastructure. Quan states,

I always believe I never truly own a piece of art. I buy it but I think it should be given to the next generation or to someone else, but of course I see value in it and this is again the relevance and the resonance. So if I can’t buy a work, I would like to see the institutions where people could see it get the work.

Remarking on the lack of a giving culture in Hong Kong’s contemporary art field, Lau hopes that the increase in institutions such as M+, the museum for visual culture in West Kowloon Cultural District, would encourage private collectors to donate more works to the public domain. Lau himself recently donated Guards Kissing by British-German artist Tino Sehgal to the then yet-to-open M+. He hopes the performance work, which features a pair of museum guards of interchangeable gender kissing each other when a visitor enters an exhibition space, will challenge people’s ideas about art and politics.

Muhamad Irfan, 'Strong', 2012, mixed media on canvas, 225 x 300 cm. Image courtesy the Sin Sin Fine Art and the artist.

Muhamad Irfan, ‘Strong’, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 225 x 300 cm. Image courtesy Sin Sin Fine Art and the artist.

Invest in art, don’t just buy it

In the absence of sufficient public infrastructure in developing countries like the Philippines, collectors can make a real difference to the development of an art scene, Crespo says.

I think that’s where collectors in general have to get involved somehow, to try to support the local infrastructure and community. If we’re going to wait for the government to do something to help the local community, they will do what they can but it’s never going to be enough. So it’s about community building and doing what you can as a collector.

Supporting the arts does not mean building mammoth museums or donating your entire collection to an institution, clarifies Crespo. It means enabling people to come together as a group and form communities. “If you love art you should invest in it in more ways than just buying art,” he says. Quan agrees, concluding,

As a supporter of the arts, you give back. Art has given you incredible pleasure and you can pay for education but you can also give back to the cultural infrastructure of your community. And I think it’s an important responsibility.



Related Topics: art investment, collectors, lectures and talks

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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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