George Wong is not afraid to call himself the “black sheep” of the hotel industry. Neither does the executive chairman of Hong Kong’s Parkview Group shy away from confessing he spends far more time pursuing his love for art than actually working on his property developments.
“When I am working on a development, I always look at a different angle. I never follow the rules. I’m the black sheep of the industry. It’s almost like the language of contemporary art. I try not to repeat what others have done and try to make a revolution,” he says.
The eldest son of property tycoon C. S. Hwang and one of Hong Kong’s richest men, Wong, who’s in his 60s, owns a sprawling art collection that includes the largest Salvador Dali collection outside of Spain, works by Western masters, imperial Chinese stone Buddhist carvings and over 10,000 contemporary Chinese artworks.
Many of his collections can be viewed across Parkview Group’s diverse properties and museums. The first of the latter, Parkview Green Museum, opened in Beijing in 2014. Recently in town to launch the group’s second museum, Parkview Museum at Parkview Square, he shows up for this interview wearing his heart for art on his sleeve, donning a conspicuously neon green vest in support of the museum’s environmentally themed exhibition, On Sharks And Humanity. “I will build museums wherever I go. All my properties will have a museum. It’s like smoking; I got to have one,” he says animatedly.
“I don’t go overboard. I did before, now I behave.”
– George Wong, on his art purchases
Wong, who is worth an estimated US$1.09 billion (S$1.5 billion) according to Forbes, reckons he spends almost 90 per cent of his time today on art – working with artists, organising exhibitions and selecting art for his properties. “I’m bad for the public company,” he says with a laugh. “I spend so much to enjoy myself that I forget how to make money for somebody else.”
Yet, it’s clear that his properties have carved out a niche. Hotel Eclat, Beijing, one of Wong’s recent hotels, features museum-quality pieces by Dali and Andy Warhol and was recently voted the No. 1 hotel in China at the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice 2017.
“People ask me, ‘Why Dali? Why buy so many?’ Dali is probably one of the cheapest and the best you can get on the market. He has so much controversy. (Dali’s artwork) helps me in my buildings. That’s why I put Dali everywhere,” says Wong, on his art purchases.
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But for the man who also owns restaurants and a wine collection numbering over 100,000 bottles, placing his artwork within his buildings has been a form of social contribution as well. “All my exhibitions are free. I don’t intend to take any money out of the exhibitions. I want the public to see what I can offer,” he says.
Currently on his plate are several developments in China. “There’s one in Guangzhou, which is an art project. The minute you see the building, you’ll freak out. There are artworks everywhere,” says Wong with a grin. “I’d also like to do a hotel in Singapore. I’m nosing around now,” he hints. But he has learnt not to overindulge. “I don’t go overboard. I did before, now I behave,” he says cheekily.
In the meantime, it’s clear Wong will continue making his own revolution in art. “I don’t have a 10-year plan. I don’t even have 10 years, I must say. In my very limited time, I want to stretch myself and do everything within my ability.”
PHOTOGRAPHY Frenchescar Lim
ART DIRECTION Fazlie Hashim