NEW YORK - Sotheby’s came to Hong Kong in 1973 and became the first Western company to regularly conduct auctions in Asia. From these pioneering roots, the company’s Asian operation has grown tremendously, while the market for Chinese ceramics and paintings—not to mention wine, watches and jewellery—has seen explosive growth. In October, Sotheby’s celebrates its 40th anniversary in Asia with a lavishly produced book featuring 65 profiles of the most important collectors, dealers and specialists in the region. Together, they tell a lively, comprehensive and deeply personal story of Asia’s swift rise to the heights of the art market. They also reveal the singular passions that motivate these collectors, whether they were at the centre of this fascinating world from the beginning, or have only recently joined it. This portfolio samples some of the insights and stories shared through this very special publication.
Businessman, Taipei Collector of Asian and Western Contemporary Art
“Collecting is a form of creative art, but I am not going to call myself an artist. You need to find the kind of art that fits your life and not collect works only to put them in storage. When I buy I first have to like the art, and then I have to want to live with it. This Andreas Gursky photograph, that Gerhard Richter painting and the Antony Gormley sculptures in the garden—they’re in your life, not in your mind. I don’t collect by country or by artist. I only collect what I like. When I get an auction catalogue and find something interesting, I mark the page and put it away for a week. When I come back to it, I want to be sure that my choice is true to my heart and not something that just caught my eye for the moment.”
Sir David Tang
Founder of Shanghai Tang and Owner of the China Club, Hong Kong Collector of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art
Born in Hong Kong and educated in England, Sir David Tang is perhaps best known for founding the internationally renowned lifestyle brand Shanghai Tang. “Taste is something innate in a person it is something which I believe is genetic,” he says. “Either you have it or you don’t.” When it comes to collecting, “The only question that I ask is: when I wake up and get out of bed, would I want to see it? You have to like the picture. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than someone wanting to buy a painting for their fireplace or to fit a certain space. The moment you ask where you’re going to hang it, you’re asking the wrong question.”
Dealer, Hong Kong Collector of Chinese Ceramics, Jade and Paintings
At 87, Robert Chang retains the complexion of a man a third of his age. Forever young at heart, for the past half century he has been widely revered as a key figure in the Hong Kong art market. “I arrived in Hong Kong in 1948. Life was difficult for the next ten years. At one time I had four shops, but then I closed them 30 or 40 years ago to travel to New York and London. I bought and sold works at auction, travelling back and forth. I did so much business with Sotheby’s that they gave me auction paddle ‘Number One,’ which I still use today.”
Baron Guy Ullens
Philanthropist, Founder of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing Collector of Contemporary Chinese Art
Baron Guy Ullens and his wife Myriam are not only patrons of the arts in Asia, but also major collectors and philanthropists. “There were no important collectors of Chinese contemporary art before 2002. My original intention had been to systematically build a huge collection of classical and contemporary art. My feeling was that government institutions would not be collecting the art produced between 1975—when we saw the beginning of an independent art move- ment—and the present . . . I think the most successful thing I have done in my life is collecting. I make my own choices, and am very particular in that I buy what I love.
Actor and Television Host, Beijing Collector of Chinese Ceramics
Wang Gang, one of the most popular television stars in China, is currently the host of “Tianxia Shoucang” (“The World of Collecting”), a weekly show on Beijing Satellite Television in which a panel of experts examine and pass judgment on the authenticity and monetary value of works of art brought to the studio by the audience. An estimated 100 million viewers watch the show every week. “Collecting Chinese art brings you into intimate contact with the country’s history, which every Chinese person needs to understand,” he says. “You can reach out and touch it, even kiss it! Without this passion, this total fascination, you can never be a real collector.”
Retired Banker and Former Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia Collector of Chinese Furniture and Art
“I do not buy for display. I buy art because I want to live with it. People introduced me to zitan, then huanghuali, so I filled my home with Chinese furniture. Then I graduated to Chinese painting . . . I find that, in the last five years, people have come to the realisation that Chinese art is spot-on, investment-wise. Remember the sale of the British Rail Pension Fund about 25 years ago; they made a fortune investing in Chinese art and that seemed like a one- of-a-kind opportunity. When I moved in 2007, I disposed of some things, including a Chinese calligraphic fan that I had bought for HK$20,000, which then sold for HK$200,000. I thought that was a peak, but now there seems to be another.”
Dealer, Chinese Ceramics and Antiquities, Lo Collector of Impressionist Art
Born into a Sephardic family in Istanbul in 1939, Giuseppe Eskenazi was drawn into the orbit of the family business when his father opened a gallery in London in 1960. But Giuseppe’s approach was different from his father’s. He believed in buying what he—rather than the clients—liked, and spending whatever was necessary to acquire the best. Eskenazi is now one of the most revered dealers in the world. In March 2013, he was the successful bidder at Sotheby’s New York for a Ding bowl from the Song Dynasty, which had been bought for US$3 at a garage sale. “I saw the piece when it first arrived in New York at Sotheby’s. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The decorative carving is so fluid, and the plants, flowers and tendrils are just magnificent; the condition and colour all make it an absolutely perfect piece.” He ultimately paid US$2.2 million for it.
Poppy h. Setiawan
Art Patron, Jakarta Collector of Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art
Poppy Setiawan, the doyenne of the Indonesian art-collecting community, has been amassing Modern Indo-European paintings for 25 years, with holdings that capture the historical period of early 20th-century Indonesia. A few years ago, she bought her first contemporary painting, at Sotheby’s. Poppy acknowledges she started looking at contemporary works when the prices were already high. “I couldn’t understand contemporary art, so I only started buying when the market was booming.” Now, she is particularly fond of Ay Tjoe Christine. In a recent Sotheby’s auction she was the underbidder for one of Ay Tjoe’s paintings. When Poppy heard that the work went to a collector in the United States, she felt no regret about losing it. As a mother figure to Ay Tjoe she has often told the artist, “Not only feed the Indonesian market, but send your work abroad where you can make your name.”