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Art Collectors Share Their Curating Process

Four art connoisseurs give The Peak a rare look into their prized collections and share their approach to the curating process.

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The Quintessential Human Touch
An art collection is as personal as it gets. When it comes to adding to his $5-million collection, Hady Ang is not one to settle for what’s readily available in the market.

To fulfil his vision of an art collection that reflects his interest in the subjects of politics, immortality and gods, the 62-year-old does not usually buy old masterpieces, preferring instead to commission South-east Asian contemporary artists like Filipino Anton Del Castillo and Indonesian Agus Suwage.

Ang, who works at a statutory board and has been collecting contemporary art since 2007, says: “I have often pondered men’s supremacy and the civilisations that have been created by men.”

He recently held his first private exhibition at Tanjong Pagar Distripark along Keppel Road. His latest acquisition is a specially commissioned piece titled Man Created God by Castillo.

Ang says: “I already had works on resurrection and the apocalypse. Certain religions dictate blind faith, while others worship only one God. I thought, what if your religion were humanity?”

The piece Man Created God was the elusive answer. Layered with gold paint using the Estofado technique, the triptych depicts mankind’s need to put order to chaos, and how the concept of a supreme being was born.

Even though new mediums like computer-generation have since popped up, Ang still prefers the human touch in art. “For me, art is about an artist’s hand and brush creating a moment of magic in a moment of time, in a moment of his life where he paints freely about his life, his country and his perception of what he sees. No technology can replace this.”

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The Convert
For someone who holds the position of regional director (Indonesia) of Art Stage Singapore, it’s difficult to believe that Tom Tandio did not use to like art.

“At Maris Stella High (where I studied), we had to learn calligraphy. I didn’t get it! I used to skip museums and gardens when I was on holiday,” says Indonesian-born Tandio, who studied in Singapore for 15 years.

But his outlook changed in 2007, when a friend who owned a gallery in Jakarta invited him for a visit. After turning down the invitation several times, Tandio relented and ended up buying a piece of art by a Chinese contemporary artist just to support his friend.

Further readings on this artist, whom he declined to name, sparked his curiosity. The rest, as they say, is history. Tandio, 35, currently has a few hundred pieces in his collection.

The young owner of an automotive business began by feeling his way around the art scene and credits two mentors. “One collector told me that if I wanted to learn about art, I should learn from the experts – curators. So I did. I talked to curators and learnt from them,” says Tandio.

“At the same time, another mentor would gather us young collectors together to talk and share ideas. These sessions and such exchanges taught me how to appreciate art more.”

Today, the art convert courts other collectors for a piece that he covets. “Most collectors don’t let go of a piece just because you offer a high price. You need to show them how much you want it,” says Tandio.

Recalling the process of acquiring a sculpture installation by Indonesian contemporary artist Eko Nugroho, he says: “It was one of Eko’s first few pieces, and had been displayed in museums in Amsterdam and the United States.

“For me, it was akin to going on a treasure hunt to locate this piece. I found out who the owner was, arranged to meet him, had drinks and just talked about art.

“Two very long years later, he was finally convinced of my sincerity.” Tandio proudly calls that piece his own today.

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Arresting Imagery
Be warned. Don’t be shocked to find yourself confronted by a nude figure with female genitalia and a male’s behind if you visit the US deputy chief of mission Blair Hall’s residence in Singapore.

Standing proud at the bottom of the stairs, this steel-mesh piece (left) titled Back To Front by Scottish artist David Begbie is one of Hall’s favourite pieces.

The 59-year-old shares: “The woven metal has a strong physicality and, at the same time, the piece is an interesting play of light and shadows. You don’t pick the art – it speaks to you.”

That is the mantra for Hall and his wife, Valerie Brandt. The pair, who started collecting art 30 years ago, are particularly drawn to the lines and shapes of contemporary art. “The human form interests us too,” adds Hall, who was posted from New Delhi to Singapore in July 2013. Their collection spans paintings, prints, lithographs, sculptures and photographs, with 20 pieces in Singapore and the rest placed in storage back in the US.

One piece that is of particular significance to Brandt is a 109cm by 200cm print titled To The Future by Japanese artist Toko Shinoda, which they purchased in 1987 in Tokyo where Hall was working. Known for his strong brush strokes, Shinoda is now 101 years old and no longer produces such large works. Brandt says: “We were looking at it for a long time, and it became available just before we were transferred from Tokyo. I rushed to frame it and got it ready to be shipped off to our next assignment in Washington, DC.”

This year, Hall has his eye on works by Singaporean photographer Fong Qi Wei, whom he came across while surfing local art blogs which he reads regularly to keep up with the discipline. He shares: “(The photographer produces) arresting work that adds the dimension of time to two-dimensional images.”

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Artistic Advancement
Amid the tranquillity of Nanjing’s Baijia Lake Garden in China lies an art museum with some of the most precious pieces by the world’s greatest maestros.

Founded by Chinese magnate Yan Lugen, the space, which is open to the public, houses over 1,000 pieces from his personal art collection, including Chinese calligrapher Wang Chong’s writings that date back to the Ming dynasty more than 400 years ago. Another piece one will find at the museum is a 20-million-yuan (S$4- million) oil painting by Chinese artist Chen Yifei, who is one of China’s most renowned contemporary artists. Yan, who is a Singapore PR and keeps home at Sentosa, shares that his entire art collection is currently valued at more than 10 billion yuan.

The 59-year-old, who chairs Nanjing-based Lek-Yuen Real Estate Development Limited Company, started collecting art in 1998 purely for its aesthetic appeal.

Since 2011, however, he has been using his hobby as another means of diversifying his investments and expanding his business. While Yan used to collect works by master artists like Picasso and Monet – the most expensive piece he owns is Woman In A Green Hat by Picasso – he is looking to change the direction of his collection. “I decided last year that I won’t just collect art by big names anymore. I want to create and promote new artists to help them gain global recognition,” Yan says in Mandarin. His current project, the Nanjing International Exhibition of Fine Arts, does just that, by introducing modern Chinese ink paintings. The travelling showcase recently visited Singapore and presented pieces at MAD Museum of Art & Design last November.

“Art brings all nationalities together,” he says. “It shouldn’t matter whether the artist is from the East or West, because art is not bounded by geography. Otherwise, how could (Chinese modern ink artist) Qin Feng’s work be hanging in US President Barack Obama’s office?” That, Yan believes, is the universal beauty of art.