The Australian Collector Shift

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Australians are actively participating and engaging in art on an international level compared to before, and this is probably recognised on a global scale.

You started collecting art in 2001. What were the reasons for you to start an art collection?
I was completing my PhD in Medicine and was bored out of my mind. I have always had an interest in art but the boredom drove me to google art online and visit galleries. I collect because looking and collecting art stimulates my heart, mind and emotions. It gives me a new perspective on life, the world, politics, people etc. Art opens doors allowing me to engage with interesting like-minded people who share my passion.

Did the way you collect change since you started?
I started collecting Australian art, more than 10 years ago. However, in the last 5 years I have been collecting predominantly international art. It was a matter of seeing, reading, engaging and having access to more fabulous international contemporary art through travel, art fairs, biennales, galleries, contacts and the internet.

You stated once that you want to begin to buy Chinese contemporary art. Have you put this statement into practice? Why are you interested in Chinese contemporary art?
Being Chinese but born in Malaysia, I did have an interest in collecting Chinese art, but I feel as though I may have missed the boat, given the heat of the Chinese market. I have MadeIn/Xu Zhen in my collection, but I am selective about which Chinese works I collect. I will continue looking at Chinese art.

Many Western collectors are not buying Chinese contemporary art and are not even interested in it. Do you think this will change during the next years?
Perhaps. The Chinese art market is overheated. There is good art with great potential growth in many other parts of Asia. However, I believe Western collectors will collect Chinese art once there is enough exposure in shows, biennales, publications, auction rooms as well as seeing works in the collection of fellow collectors. Previously, Chinese artists could only be found in books on Chinese art. In the last few years, Chinese art is now integrated in Western art publications. Good art is good art and the distinction is artificial.

Compared to other markets, we noticed that Australian collectors are rather focused on collecting Australian artists. Do you agree? Why is there such a strong focus on local artists in Australia?
Yes, I agree. Australian collectors are rather parochial. However, this is changing with the ease of travel, art fairs and Australian museums e.g. GOMA in Brisbane who are collecting international works in a big way. Australians are more actively participating and engaging in art on an international level compared to before and this is probably recognised on a global scale.

How would you describe the Australian collector landscape? Is it still in developmental stages or is there an established community?
There is a well-established collector landscape, however given the size of the population, the Australian art world is also relatively modest in size. As the director of ArtMonth Sydney, one of my roles is to encourage Australians to engage and collect art, particularly the younger generation.

Do you work with art advisers? What are your sources for getting information, building your expertise, deciding on artists?
No I generally do not use advisers. I am rather independent in nature and decide who I collect independently. I read a lot of art books and magazines, do research on the net, visit galleries, fairs, biennales, attend talks, listen and discuss art as much as I can. This helps me choose what I collect with a certain degree of confidence. Looking at what other collectors collect can also be an inspiration.

Today many collectors commission artworks to set their own unique characteristics to the art world. Have you ever commissioned an artwork? If yes, how was it working together with an artist as a collector?
I have considered doing so but no I don’t recall commissioning a work.

Have you ever presented your collection to the public through an exhibition or in a museum?
Yes at my art space, CASSydney (Contemporary Art Space Sydney). CASSydney hosted a group show in 2012 where I was one of the collectors who had a very small part of my Australian art works shown to the public. However I would be thrilled if my collection were to be exhibited and shared with others in a museum one day.

Also many collectors started presenting their collection on the internet. Do you think that in the future the presentation of art on the internet will be a standard?
There are pros and cons of doing so. It is human nature to want to share one’s collection. I think it will be quite common practice even if it is only a small aspect of one’s collection.

Which art collection do you admire the most besides your own?
In Australia, David Walsh’s MONA collection and John Kaldor’s collection. Among the museums in Australia, I admire the contemporary collection at Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane and Art Gallery of South Australia under the direction of Nick Mitzevich. Internationally, I have always enjoyed viewing the Pinault collection and look forward to seeing more of the Eli Broad collection.

Feature Photo: Courtesy of Clinton Ng.