Who Are Singapore’s Top Art Collectors?

Art & Design

March 14, 2018 | BY Oliver Giles and Karishma Tulsidas

They are passionate about genres as varied as Peranakan art to Chinese contemporary art, and have an emotional connection the pieces they collect. Just don’t ask them to choose a favourite.

Jackson See
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Jackson See 

The curator has been collecting art for more than 25 years. Alongside Uli Sigg, Jackson was one of the first collectors to buy contemporary Chinese art.

What was the first piece of art you bought?
Jackson See (JS) It was a hyper-realistic portrait by Tu Tzi Wei.

Is your collection themed?
JS No. Other then most of my works being Asian modern contemporary pieces, I have not restricted myself to any particular theme.

If your house were burning down, which piece of art would you grab from the walls?
JS I might take a handful off the walls, but most of the artworks I own is in storage. 

Which artist’s work would you like to collect the future?
JS
 I don’t have any one particular artist I’d like to collect. Instead, I am always on the look out for artists who show excellent mastery of their craft. They must be detailed in their efforts, show innovation in their approach and use of media, and have continuously evolving ideas. I also try to support our local artists by buying the works of emerging artists.

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Who Are Singapore’s Top Art Collectors?
Lorenzo and Maria Elena Rudolf
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Lorenzo and Maria Elena Rudolf 

The couple are ardent art collectors who turned their passion into business when they established Art Stage in Singapore. The festival is now in its eighth edition, and has been staged around Asia, including in Jakarta.

What was the first piece of art you bought? 
Lorenzo Rudolf (LR) I am not 100 per cent sure because I bought two pieces at the same time in Switzerland—a drawing by Jean Tinguely and an edition of Méret Oppenheim.

(Related: Couples Who Work Together: Maria Elena and Lorenzo Rudolf)

Is your collection themed?
LR For me, a collector is somebody who has a very clear concept of what he or she is looking for. For that, you need a certain distance with the art. I am too much involved on a daily basis with art so I don’t consider myself as a real collector. I buy much more out of emotion and interest. Our home in Lugano has mainly contemporary photography from landscape artist Sir Richard Long to Anton Corbijn and his outstanding portrait of Keith Richards in his private library; while our home in Singapore is mainly equipped with Southeast Asian art and installations by emerging artists, from Aditya Novali’s Conversation Unknown, Zen Teh’s Mount Meru, to a special piece by Nasirun, who created a traditional wayang puppet after me.

Which piece in your collection do you consider your biggest indulgence?
LR For me, the price is not the most significant thing. I never buy an artwork solely based on its price, but rather, for the work itself and the content. How it speaks to me and how it inspires my interest and curiosity—those are the main reasons for buying an art work.

If your house were burning down, which piece of art would you grab from the walls? 
LR If my house was burning down, the first thing I would grab is my beloved wife, which means that my hands would be full and I would not have any space for any artwork!

Richard Hoon
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Richard Hoon 

Fintech whizz Richard Hoon owns more than 100 works of contemporary art, and counts surrealism as his favourite genre.

What was the first piece of art you bought?
Richard Hoon (RH) A Michael Heizer print in 1980

Is your collection themed?
RH My favourite genre is surrealism and some of my favourite artists in this genre are Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and TK Matta.

Which piece in your collection do you consider your biggest indulgence?
RH Internationally, it would be a Miro, locally, a Suee Hian and regionally, a Ronald Ventura. 

If your house were burning down, which piece of art would you grab from the walls?
RH A picture of my family.

Which artist’s work would you like to collect in future?
RH A Calder sculpture.

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Who Are Singapore’s Top Art Collectors?
Ryan Su (right) with artist Robert Zhao
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Ryan Su 

The founding director of the Ryan Foundation and lawyer started his journey by collecting the works of Andy Warhol, but don’t pigeon hole this prolific collector, as his interests are widely varied. He was awarded the Patron of the Arts Award in 2016 by the National Arts Council for his contributions towards the arts.

What was the first piece of art you bought? 
Ryan Su (RS): The first pieces I bought were Polaroid photographs taken by Andy Warhol. Most people do not know that Warhol was an amazing photographer, and that his famous silkscreen portraits were actually made from the Polaroid photographs that he took!

I have always liked Warhol’s work as he is, in my opinion, an expert colorist. His use of color is amazing, and he can make seemingly disparate colors match and look beautiful together—whether in his paintings, prints or collages. As the prices for his paintings were reaching stratospheric levels, I began to look at other works of his. It just so happened that I came to know of a gallery that was closing down which had several Warhol Polaroids. The rest is history.

(Related: Who Are The 50 Top Art Collectors In Asia?

Is your collection themed?
RS: Early on in my collecting journey, I was very attracted to abstract art, especially from the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York. It was not only the artwork that I was attracted to, but also the thought process behind it. I have always thought of collecting as an intellectual exercise and it is indeed very stimulating!

A large number of the works in the collection have to do with nature. I have always loved nature, especially plants and birds, and the works in the collection, whether abstract or figurative, usually have natural elements or depictions in them. Besides art, I also have collections of exotic plants and tropical parrots!

Which artist’s work would you like to collect in future?
RS: This question is very hard for me because I know so many good artists who produce great artworks. Then again, I do not collect “broadly” but “deeply”, which means that I do not collect a large number of artists, but rather, go very in-depth into each artist and looking at all aspects of their career. As it is a huge undertaking and I invest a tremendous of time and effort in my research, I need to be circumspect in selecting who I am collecting next!

Alvin Yapp
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Alvin Yapp 

Advertising maestro Alvin Yapp is obsessed with Peranakan culture, the traditions and art of the descendants of Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. He now owns more than 5,000 individual pieces of Peranakan art.

What was the first piece of Peranakan art you bought? Why did you start collecting such artworks?
Alvin Yapp (AY) I started collection Peranakan material art as a way of learning about my own culture. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, there wasn't much talk about culture and heritage in schools or in the family. There were also very little resources such as books, museums, and definitely no internet. I ended up learning about Peranakan culture by collecting the extensive material culture left by the Peranakans. These would include works such as hand-painted porcelain to intricate beadwork that allowed the maker and/or his client to express their artistic interpretation of this unique culture comprising of Chinese, Malay and European elements

The first piece I brought home from a garage sale was humble planter's chair in 1988, the year I got my driving license. I was told it was Peranakan, but later found out it was not of Peranakan origins but often used in Peranakan homes. I was thrilled to learn that my grandfather had one and would lie on it fondly during the day. I quickly learnt how the planter's chair was indeed a work of art. 

I remember the first  "Peranakan" furniture I acquired 10 years later in 1998. It was a brown and gold teak two-door wardrobe with an ornate carved crown. The carvings were gold leafed, featuring Peranakan auspicious elements such as the peony, phoenixes and lion dog. The cost was $6000, a hefty sum in the late 1990s. Today some collectors pay up to $15,000 for such a piece. 

What is the provenance of Peranakan works? 
AY I collect Peranakan Material Culture. Meaning, these objects were either made by the Peranakans, or made for the Peranakans. Generally, they would be made in places like China (for porcelain and furnitures), Eastern Europe (for enamelware) and Indonesia (for textiles).  More importantly, they would have been used locally in Peranakan communities that existed in Singapore, parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.  While I use to source for pieces locally, today, I find pieces from far away places such as America and Australia, where either Peranakans themselves had brought these pieces with them when they migrated or antique dealers who manage to acquire them overseas. 

Which piece in your collection do you consider your biggest indulgence?
AY I have bought pieces for hefty sums and they end up being less their their value due to imperfections or market demand.  Yet at the same time, I have pieces which I didn't pay very much for and ended up being one of my prized possessions. 

A good example would be the batik altar clothes that I collected over a period of 10 years. Batik altar clothes were used for mainly frontal ancestral and as their name suggested, designed and waxed by traditional batik makers. Batik makers had the freehand to design and create one of kind religious works of arts for the clients. Some featured European lions while others told the story of the Romance of the Three kingdoms. As batik altar clothes were largely ignored by major batik collectors, the cost of these pieces were decently more affordable than batik sarongs. The museum curators caught wind of the collection, and after much persuasion and cajoling, the priceless collection is now in the hands of The Peranakan Museum. After a year long special exhibition, four pieces from the collection will be displayed at the museum every six months. 

If your house were burning down, which piece of art would you grab? 
AY It would definitely be a pair of beaded slippers that my grandmother had sewn for my mum. Money can buy everything else, but not heirlooms. 

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Who Are Singapore’s Top Art Collectors?
Daniel Teo with his daughter Rachel Teo
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Daniel Teo

With more than 1,000 works in his private collection, Daniel Teo might be the most prolific art collector in Singapore. He operates The Private Museum, as an independent arts space to showcase not just his extensive collection of art, but also collections by other private collectors.  

What was the first piece of art you bought? 
Daniel Teo (DT) There are quite a few of them actually. Those are pieces from artists including Lim Tze Peng, Chua Ek Kay, Kumari Nahappan and Cai Heng, etc. 

Is your collection themed?
DT No, there's no specific themed for my art collection. I collect what's appealing to me, like sculptures, oil and ink, and even photographic prints and stamps. 

If your house were burning down, which piece of art would you grab from the walls?
DT (Laughs) Touch wood! Such a thought has never crossed my mind! As a trained architect and developer, I hope this will never happen and I will ensure my house is fireproof. 

Which artist’s work would you like to collect in future?
DT There are too many artists’ works to name. However, I do fancy emerging artists, ink on paper and pop art. 

(Related: The Ultimate Van Gogh Exhibition Opens Next Year)

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