Singaporean Art Collectors Chong Huai Seng and Ning Chong on Nurturing Interest in Art
To get an idea on the kind of art that Chong Huai Seng collects, one can look at the works in Of Human Bondage, a new show of nudes the art collector personally curated at The Culture Story, the gallery he co-founded with his daughter Ning Chong.
While the display of 38 works by 22 artists from Singapore and Southeast Asia, China, the UK and the US, among others, represents only one part of his collecting interest, it reflects the breadth of his art collection, which includes drawings, mixed media, Chinese ink on paper, oil on canvas and sculptures, painstakingly put together over more than three decades.
Many of the artworks are being shown for the first time, including the early works of Singapore’s senior artists such as Lim Yew Kuan and Chua Mia Tee. Chong also shares how he acquired the works. “I like to share stories of my collecting journey,” enthuses the private investor. “With every acquisition, my dad can remember what he did and how he was feeling at that time, so it’s interesting to hear the stories,” Ning explains.
This is exactly what the father-daughter duo sought to do when they first established The Culture Story in 2017. “As collectors, we want to try and fill in the gaps by providing an alternative platform where people who enjoy art, who want to find out more about art and meet people who are also interested art, to come together,” shares Chong. Some recent exhibitions presented by The Culture Story include Constellation by American contemporary street artist Futura, Flesh Matters by Singaporean painter Wong Keen, and Genesis: God’s Terrarium by Singaporean pop artist Jahan Loh.
Chong first became interested in collecting art in the 1980s and ’90s, from his frequent business trips to London, where he spent many a weekend exploring the museums and galleries. His early acquisitions included European contemporary artists such as Sydney Harpley and Sergei Chepik. He later moved from figurative to abstract art, and was interested in Chinese contemporary ink throughout the 2000s. In recent years, he also began collecting art from Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Ning, meanwhile, considers herself “an accidental collector”. She says, “I have a little collection but quite a lot of them are gifts from artists. Dad and I have bought art together—we agree on the works or artists that we want to collect—but it’s part of his collection.” While Ning and her two brothers grew up with art around the house, and spent many weekends at the galleries of old at the Paragon shopping centre (“The truth is my dad would drag us there.”), it wasn’t until she graduated from university that she discovered her passion for art and seriously considered it as a career.
One thing’s for sure, when it comes to collecting, the duo buys what they like. “But we do ask ourselves: does it fit into the themes that we already have? We also want it to be coherent and the collection to be more robust,” explains Ning. A new collecting category that they are jointly invested in is street art and they recently acquired a diptych by American graffiti artist Timothy Curtis.
With every acquisition, my dad can remember what he did and how he was feeling at that time, so it’s interesting to hear the stories.
— Ning Chong
So what have they discovered about each other through this shared passion? On his daughter, Chong says, “Ning has the ability and the capacity to organise and see through a project in a very systematic and disciplined way. She’s a big planner and able to execute very complicated and multifaceted projects.”
For Ning, “My dad is very young at heart and open‑minded. I’m a little more conservative. He’s always the ‘Let’s do it. Let’s buy it. Let’s go for it’. And I’m always the ‘Are you sure? Wait, is this the right price? Is this the right thing to do? Is this the right time?’ I don’t know why but I’m always a little bit more hesitant. He would either gradually bring me around or understand why I have my concerns. He’s quite gung-ho and typically very optimistic. But I’m always assessing the downside—that’s how we sort of balance each other.”
(Related: How German Artist Marc Jung Uses Graffiti As A Response To Social Issues Of Today)
Of Human Bondage runs until June 2021 at The Culture Story. By private appointments only.
- Photography Benny Loh/Food and Shelter
- Art Direction Jana Tan
- Hair Zoel Tee
- Make-Up Zoel Tee
- Grooming Zoel Tee