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3 art collectors in Singapore have turned their homes into beautiful galleries

Integrating art into homes have created some distinctly unique moods.

01: ART FOR THE SENSES

Most people buy a state-of-the-art television to enjoy shows in high-definition. Not Jim Amberson, 55, a Minneapolis-born executive who moved to Singapore in 1998. He has been collecting art – mostly antiques and contemporary works – for over 20 years. His first thought was that a TV screen and console would make a good barrier to deter guests from touching an installation work by Indian artist Asim Waqif, which has copper spikes sticking out of it. The goggle-box served its purpose. Amberson admits he has yet to fix up the television cables, though.

But guests at his three-storey terrace home in Changi need not worry about entertainment. Each room features a conversation piece. One on the third floor is dedicated to contemporary Filipina artist Geraldine Javier, whose blown-up photograph of a dead chicken is hung next to the four-poster bed.

“I find Geraldine’s works very engaging and thought-provoking,” says Amberson with a chuckle. “I also joke with friends that I put her art up in the guest room so my visitors won’t be tempted to stay very long.”

Downstairs, in the living area, art is meant to invoke a singular sense: touch.

“I wanted everything on the first floor to be very tactile,” says Amberson. “If you look at the art work by (Singapore-born artist) Suzann Victor hanging next to the Waqif, you can see it’s incredibly physical. It makes you want to reach out and touch everything.”

(RELATED: Why Japanese Billionaire Soichiro Fukutake Created Art Shrines on Four Different Islands.)

On one side, Waqif’s work challenges the concept of photography as a two-dimensional medium by printing the photo on metal, then using lasers to cut the work from behind before pulling it apart with his hands. On the adjacent wall, one sees how Victor’s moving hands and feet have left their marks on the canvas.

“(Victor’s) physicality mirrors the (Waqif’s) idea of tearing something apart with our bare hands,” says Amberson, who will be presenting two works from his private collection at Collectors’ Stage, part of Art Stage Singapore 2017. One of these works will be another piece by Waqif.

“Its physicality mirrors the idea of tearing something apart with our hands.”
– Jim Amberson, on why he placed works by Suzann Victor and Asim Waqif side by side.

“I change the art in my home once a year,” says Amberson, who shares that each switch can take up to three days, depending on the movers’ schedule. Once, he even painted an entire wall red to create the perfect backdrop for a Buddha sculpture by Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. “If I had to pick one art piece from my collection that is most significant to me, it would be this, because it was never supposed to go to a private collector in the first place,” shares Amberson. He had been able to acquire it because the gallery made a mistake. The sculpture is currently on loan to a museum in Minneapolis.

“This is actually a piece I want to hold on to and not loan to museums. But it’s also my role to make sure as many people as possible can see it.”

02: IF YOU’VE BOUGHT IT, SHOW IT

Tina Cheong does not believe in stowing away art. “Art has to be enjoyed, not kept in bondage,” says the 50-something former advertising professional.

Though she and her husband come from different art backgrounds – Cheong exposed to Western styles, her husband to the East – the works they display share the common theme of nature.

“We bought this plot of land (in the Bukit Timah area) because of the lush greenery surrounding it,” says Cheong, who moved in with her husband and two children eight years ago. “We’ve also tried to bring nature into our home by taking amber and green colours into our interiors.”

Take Dakusya (Cloud Of Sand) by Japanese modern artist Kazuo Shiraga. The metre-tall artwork was chosen to be the centrepiece of the pavilion where the couple entertains.

“To me, the Shiraga is a lively piece that represents the interesting dinner conversations we share with friends. So the dining area was the best spot for it,” says Cheong. Opposite this work is a wooden carving by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming. “Wood as a material is so dense. I chose drapes that would let in some sunlight to soften the look,” says Cheong.

“I’m not a museum to showcase art. The focus is to create a setting that is enjoyable.”
– Tina Cheong

As Cheong wanted to draw guests’ attention to the art displayed, she picked a silk wallpaper with a horizontal grain. She hung two works on this: 19.06.97 by Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki, for its abstract landscape, and Blue Rhythm by Singapore artist Cheong Soo Pieng. Both works have horizontal lines running through their middle, drawing the viewer’s eye across the paintings and over to the middle of the room where a sculpture – Relatives by Tony Cragg – has been elevated to eye level.

“I read an article after I was done decorating on how you shouldn’t match your art and your walls,” says Cheong. “But I refuse to change what I put up. I’m not a museum to showcase art. The focus is to create a setting that is enjoyable.”

03: LOCAL PRIDE

Jackson See’s three-storey apartment in Pasir Panjang is a veritable showcase of Asian art. The 56-year-old, who works in the oil trading industry, has been collecting art for over 25 years. He prides himself on identifying local artists who have gone on to be successes.

Observes See: “When you’re young, you are filled with passion and very serious; this is when artists will want to do their best.” Referring to Cultural Medallion recipient Iskandar Jalil, he says: “I started collecting Iskandar over 20 years ago, when his works were priced from just S$50 to $200.” The ceramicist’s works are today housed in a wall-spanning display cabinet – though one, “She”, is currently on loan to National Gallery Singapore for a Iskandar Jalil exhibition – alongside pieces from Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming.

“I used to put up a lot of paintings but their condition deteriorated quickly in our weather, so I put up sturdier pieces in the living room instead,” says See. He displays the works of another favourite local artist upstairs, in the protective shade of a corridor leading to his bedroom. His choice of art is apt – Jane Lee’s vibrant artworks, one of which is from her 2008 fabric series – stand out in the shadowy walkway.

It’s the attention to detail that is important. The more you notice this, the more you discover new things.”
– Jackson See

It’s all about fitting art into the architecture of one’s home, as See demonstrated when he had a crane hoist a 160kg bronze statue by Chinese artist Li Zhen into his house, through the fourth-floor bedroom window. Says See: “Let’s say I won’t be getting it out anytime soon.”

(RELATED: How Master Potter Iskandar Jalil’s Works Elevate A Craft Into Art.)

See is creative in his placement choices, which enhance the artworks. His third-floor window, which looks out to a water feature, provides a frame for a self-made 3-D work: Clay fish by local artist Ng Eng Teng hang from the window, appearing superimposed on the water feature when the viewer looks out. “It’s the attention to detail that is important,” says See. “The more you notice this, the more you discover new things.”

PHOTOGRAPHY Vee Chin ART DIRECTION Jean Yap