The global star of stage and screen is also one of the world’s most exciting new collectors. He discusses his “mission” to make art accessible for new audiences
J ay Chou is a man who wears many hats, and now, having become a successful singer and musician, an actor and a film director, the Mando-pop megastar is getting ready to play a more prominent role in championing art appreciation and collecting.
This year, the 42-year-old is assuming the role of auction curator, saying, “I want to utilise my role as a curator to stage a very different auction preview, one that opens a new door to the world of art.”
Mandopop King Jay Chou on Why Art Has No Limits
The auction preview that Chou is referring to is the inaugural Contemporary Curated: Asia. It marks the first collaboration between the star and Sotheby’s, as well as his first appearance as a guest curator since his journey into collecting began. The auction will consist of two sales – one live as well as one conducted online – offering a total of more than 100 lots. Chou calls this show a “feast”, one that will appeal to not only seasoned collectors but also those who may find art unattainable.
“I want to stage a very different auction preview, one that opens a new door to the world of art”
“Our goal is to bring people closer to art... I hope that my collaboration with Sotheby’s demystifies art so that people can understand it better,” says Chou.
“I have explored multiple avenues during the conceptualisation process. The diverse and cross-cultural works are put together to form a coherent theme. In this presentation, one can find works by artists from both the east and west; there are works by emerging artists as well as established names,” the star continues. Chou is even offering a costume that he wore on his seventh world tour, The Invincible, with proceeds going to charity.
The collaboration with Sotheby’s stems from Chou’s long-time passion for art, one that could be traced all the way back to his early childhood — probably to the moment he was born. His mother Yeh Hui-mei was an art teacher. His immense love and respect for his mother — he named his fourth studio album, released in 2003, after her — has been well publicised throughout the course of his career. Growing up, Chou was very close to his mother and under her artistic influence, learned about art and music from a very young age.
“I suppose I did grow up surrounded by art,” Chou says. “Thanks to my mother, I was also reasonably familiar with art history. When I was little, I was always fascinated by how she engaged with different mediums in her art practice. To me she was the greatest artist.”
Yeh also told the young Chou stories about famous artists. “I still remember that she much preferred [Salvador] Dalí over [Pablo] Picasso… because Dalí was more loyal to his lover,” he quips.
This artistic upbringing has undoubtedly influenced Chou’s musical career, which is characterised by his unique blend of Chinese sensibility with a western musicality that is built upon a foundation of blues, R&B and rock’n’roll. The soulful grooves and melodies composed by Chou, together with the poetic lyrics penned by long-time collaborator Vincent Fang, have made Chou a singing sensation across Asia and the Chinese-speaking community around the world. Since the release of his 2000 debut album Jay, his music has left an important mark on generations of music lovers. To date, the “King of Mando-pop” has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide and performed eight world tours to more than 10 million people, with numerous music accolades under his belt.
Chou’s creative spirit is also expressed on screen: as an actor he has worked alongside some of the biggest names in Chinese-language cinema, including Chow Yun-fat and Gong Li in Zhang Yimou’s period epic Curse of the Golden Flower, 2006. Chou also directs music videos and films, among them his acclaimed 2007 directorial debut Secret, based on the script he co-wrote.
Whether it is being a singer, a musician, an actor, a director, or even a husband, a son and a father, Chou says he does the best he can in all his roles. Looking back at when he was cast to play the iconic character Kato in the 2011 Hollywood remake of The Green Hornet, directed by Michel Gondry, he says: “The movie was in English, and so I had to practice my lines with my coach every day… Don’t forget, it was Bruce Lee who played Kato in the original. Can you imagine the pressure that came with playing this role? It was not just the language barrier that was intimidating.”
“Art is not unattainable… It is a sensual experience that has much universal appeal”
The experience, however, laid a solid foundation for his next English-speaking film, Now You See Me 2, 2016, a film about magic. “It was a lot easier because magic has always been one of my great passions,” he says. Chou frequently performs magic tricks on his Netflix show J-Style Trip and his Instagram account (@jaychou): a standout trick on the programme involved him piecing back together a shattered porcelain work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris without appearing to touch it.
It was his determination to embrace challenges that eventually led Chou to art collecting. His journey began in the Le Marais neighbourhood of Paris, where he bought some artworks he liked. “But after I got home, my friends laughed at them and said they were mere tourists’ souvenirs,” he says. “I decided to start collecting seriously at that very moment. After much exploration in recent years, I have learned that the value of an artwork is not determined by its price tag. A work that makes you happy is invaluable.”
Chou never shies away from revealing his passion for collecting. His Instagram account, which has more than 6.4 million followers, is where he shares his love for art and is also a window into his collection. There is no lack of big names – from Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hockney to Peter Doig and Gerhard Richter – on his feeds. His love for art has also caught the media’s attention; he has been named as one of the world’s fastest-rising art collectors.
“Collecting is about sharing, and the more the merrier,” says Chou. “That’s why you often see me sharing my thoughts on art with my fans and friends on Instagram.” He also shares his love for art with his children, who “are all very creative” – “I discovered that my children are more into painting than playing the piano,” he adds.
On bringing his love for art into the public realm, Chou says: “I do this because I hope that through sharing, I can introduce different ways of understanding art to my followers.”
And this is Chou’s ultimate goal in collaborating with Sotheby’s. “I feel that I have a mission to share my feelings about art,” he says. “Art is not unattainable. Art lives around us, and it should be appreciated and taken further into our lives. Art is a sensual experience that has much universal appeal.”