As CEO of online fashion store Uptown Girl (UTG), Hee Jae Kang has been communicating her straightforward sense of fashion with people and sharing tips on her lifestyle for a long time. Meanwhile, she has demonstrated her love for art by collecting a variety of artworks over the years while photos of her on UTG are often with artworks or at art fairs or exhibitions. She is presenting her unique collection at Art Busan 2019 at the end of the month.
LARRY’S LIST reveals the collecting journey of Hee Jae Kang, how a Louise Bourgeois may make her write a cheque without any consideration, why an early painting by Starsky Brines is her most treasured artwork, as well as what is special about her latest purchase of two paintings by Gideon Rubin.
What made you want to start collecting art?
I have been operating my business in the fashion industry for the past 15 years and thankfully had many opportunities to interact with interesting artists, their artworks and various art professionals. The real collecting began for me when I moved into my current home, as I could start imagining myself to hang these artworks in the right space. When I decided to move into this place 9 years ago, I was primarily focused on creating a gallery-like home.
What is the main motivation behind your collecting?
My motivation for art collecting is quite simple and straightforward. Art, in whichever form, itself is a strong motivation for me. It provides me with energy, comfort and also a great source of happiness.
When did you fall in love with a piece of art? What was it?
During my trip to Tokyo 15 years ago, I stopped by a small gallery on the first floor of the hotel I was staying at. At this gallery, whose name I cannot even remember anymore, I fell in love with a small print of a cat and had to buy it right away. This became the very first piece of my collection.
What is your focus regarding the artists in your collection? Are you more interested in emerging or renowned artists?
I try to focus more on young and emerging artists rather than the artists who are already superstars or labelled as blue-chip. What I really value is to find new ideas, inspiring work philosophy and refinedness of an artwork.
Is there any particular type of art that has consistently attracted you, or anything that unites all the works you have acquired?
My collection is mostly contemporary art, and when viewed together, the artworks have cheerful and bright characteristics. They vary greatly from detailed portraiture to abstract painting, but many friends told me that my collection matches my personality. How I am feeling or my interests and concerns can also affect what I collect. Lately, I am interested in female artists whose works are based on the theme of feminism, which naturally corresponds to my interest.
What were the first and the latest artworks you purchased?
The very first artwork I purchased was a print by an unknown Japanese artist, as I mentioned above. The most recent artworks would be the two paintings by Israeli artist Gideon Rubin. To be honest, I thought the empty faces without a nose, mouth and ears was scary at first. Then, I felt that Rubin’s paintings resemble me and ever since I just had to go see the exhibition several times again. One painting resembled me so much as if it was a commissioned work, and the other painting reminded me of my partner at that time.
How many artworks do you own? Where do you display your collection?
So far I have 50-55 artworks in my collection, and I display them in my house, office and showroom. Depending on my mood and season, I change the display and locations of artworks occasionally.
Have you presented your art collection publicly?
I had the opportunity to show my collection at a local gallery in Seoul, as I was renewing the interior design of my house. It was a rewarding and fun experience. I am also very excited to prepare a special exhibition at Art Busan this May that focuses on my art lifestyle with the title “Hee Jae Kang:The Cheerful Life of a Collection.” It is now the most exciting art fair in Korea that takes place in the beloved coastal city of Busan.
What considerations guide you to make a purchase?
An artwork itself has to attract me, whether it makes my heart tremble or brings me happiness. Having a balance amongst various types of artworks is also an important factor. How much of investment value an artwork will be worth is not really a concern for me. I tend to be more cautious rather than spontaneous. I prefer purchasing an artwork of an artist whom I am already familiar with for some time.
Is there any kind of artwork that can make you write a cheque without any consideration?
A perfect masterpiece like one by Louise Bourgeois. I was impressed by her exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong in March. Or it could be from a young, talented Korean artist whose works I hope to see for many years.
What is your most treasured artwork?
An early painting by Starsky Brines that is hung in my bedroom. I look at it when I wake up in the morning for more than 10 years now, and it still gives me new inspiration every time.
How important is it for you to meet the artists who created the artwork?
Interacting with an artwork at an exhibition can be compared to watching a 2D movie, whereas meeting the artist in person and exchanging a conversation would add an extra dimension to this experience.
Why has art become important in your life? Is it a passion or an obsession or both?
It is a mixture of passion and obsession. The more I look at an artwork that I am attracted to, I have a strong desire inside me to purchase it. I can’t really describe the joy I feel from collecting such artworks. I consider art collecting as the most valuable way of consuming.
What is your advice to young and fresh collectors?
An advice from professionals can of course be helpful, but I think it is more important to trust your own intuition. This will require time and experience, but it is crucial to grow and be aware of your own taste in art. It is a fun habit to start searching for an interesting exhibition or art fair in the region whenever you have free time or are planning a holiday.
Can you name three emerging artists who should be on our radar?
Christina Quarles, Robert William Moreland, Madsaki
What are you especially excited about in regard to art in the next 12 months?
I am most excited about this month of May. Lee Bul, who marked the highlight of Art Basel Hong Kong, and Suki Seokyeong Kang will be participating at Venice Biennale. I am also looking forward to visiting Art Busan beginning on May 30, as Busan happens to be one of my favorite to-go destinations for weekends and holidays. It is amazing to witness how Busan’s art and cultural scene is developing and internationalizing together with Art Busan.