Art Basel

Trust your instincts: Collectors reveal how shows like Art Basel inspire them

Show is a key opportunity to enhance art acquisitions, writes Tracey Furniss

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 9:28am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 9:28am

Very few people start by saying "I want to be a collector", says Hong Kong-based art collector Alan Lau. "For me, I wanted something for my office wall. But with more reading, exposure and reflection, collecting rapidly grew into an obsession."

He started collecting local and mainland artists. His first acquisition was by the local graffiti artist King of Kowloon. "You collect what you can relate to," Lau says. "But my collection rapidly grew to include Asian names, and also anything that fits in the few themes that I focus on, which are: text, urbanisation, technology, music."

Lau approached his collection as a private collector and as an advocate for further development of the local art scene. As a board member of Para/Site Art Space and a member of the Tate Asia-Pacific Acquisition Committee, Lau became the first local patron of M+, when he donated a performance piece, Two Guards Kissing by Tino Sehgal.

Another ardent art collector and fan of works by local artists is architect and installation artist William Lim. "I love looking at other people's work," he says. "I have been collecting since 2004.

"I always wanted to be an artist, but focused on architecture," says Lim, who is known for incorporating artistic elements into his architectural and design pieces.

He was able to indulge in his passion later on and has produced some larger-than-life public installations around Hong Kong in recent years, such as the 37-metre-long giant fish lantern made out of small Chinese lanterns at Victoria Park as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival's Lantern Wonderland 2011 and last year's West Kowloon pop-up traditional bamboo theatre.

"I never look at collecting art so much as an investment - some are not easy to resell - but I enjoy collecting works that tell a story," Lim says. "[Art pieces] can tell a story about yourself; it can represent a place, an event. Art documents a collector's life or a certain group of artists."

One story that fascinates him is that of emerging local artist Tang Kwok-hin. "He has a fascinating story," Lim says. "He is from Kam Tin, and he had never been to the city until he was 18 years old. He had a protected rural life. He loved to draw on everything. His parents supported him in his passion."

Tang's works can be seen at Gallery Exit's booth at Hall 1 1B20 at Art Basel.

Lim has collected more than 200 pieces by local artists. "Local artists have a distinct style," he says. "And shows such as Art Basel Hong Kong have changed the careers of local artists, as they have more exposure."

Gallery owner Pascal de Sarthe agrees. "Art Basel Hong Kong is an essential destination for collectors from the Asian region. Most of the collectors come to these events with the intention of making a discovery and purchasing a work of art; however, it all depends on if what they will see at the fair will fit with their collections."

De Sarthe adds that Chinese artists have impacted the art world. "China has become a dominant player on the world stage, and this has impacted international collectors' focus. In terms of contemporary art, we are at a turning point in art history - the younger generation of Chinese artists has witnessed a dynamic change in quotidian living in their home country. The art produced by these Chinese artists has been impacted by these great social, economic and environmental changes. These artists are now active participants in the international forum of contemporary art."

"The art world is very global, as all other markets are today," says Rachel Lehmann, founding partner of Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong. Lehmann sees Art Basel Hong Kong as a unique opportunity for collectors to view a balance of Asian and Western art.

"Collectors in Asia might buy at New York and London fairs, and Western collectors might buy preferably in Asia. Art Basel Hong Kong is a unique opportunity to see 50 per cent of Asian and Western art at the same time.

"Art by artists in Asia is very well received by collectors, both in the East and West," she adds. "We have staged New York shows by artists Liu Wei, MR and Do Ho Suh, and have just opened Lee Bul's fourth exhibition with the gallery, all to enormous success. Collecting trends in Asia have been developing quickly. The Asian market wants to be knowledgeable and to better understand other trends and markets. There is real curiosity and interest in understanding different cultures as well."

Collectors now enjoy the conveniences of technology, with many making purchases via digital images viewed online.

"I probably bought 80 per cent of my works in the past year having looked at only digital images, either from galleries or online auction catalogues," Lau says. "Obviously, that's also because I know the galleries, the artists and probably the series of work already, so I have the confidence to go ahead with the purchase. In these cases, the trust is already there, which is the key. The internet is great for the hyperactive, curious, info-hungry collectors. Companies like are also innovating by bringing together curated shows online. I have bought from them already."

For collectors who are just starting out, Lim says: "Trust your instincts - don't rely solely on galleries. Research what an artist has done already and if a good international show has given their stamp of approval."