Double Hatting


Chen, P. (2019), Double Hatting, ArtAsiaPacific [print & online], Issue 114, July/ Aug 2019, pp. 47-48

Sharing a piece I wrote about Eugene Tan’s appointment and the art ecology in Singapore. As I was penning this, I came across a line:

“It’s the assumption everyone has made: because I dare to offer an opinion, I must be trying to burn the temple down. On the contrary, I’m trying to make sure it survives.”

Lord Altrincham, The Crown

This pretty much sums up the spirit of why this was written. I’m sure that too was the intention of those who opined on the issue. 🙏🙏🙏🙏

“In March, news broke that the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) had appointed Eugene Tan as its director-a position that he would hold concurrently with his directorship at the National Gallery Singapore (NGS),
making him the leader of the country’s two major public art institutions. The revelation was met with a placid public response, while in private, conversations on the subject exploded.

Shortly after the announcement, I connected with some 15 gallerists, collectors, magazine editors, art fair directors and curators at Art Basel Hong Kong. Without fail, every single one of them asked, “Why the same individual? Is there no one else from Singapore or elsewhere who could do this?” They were all quick to qualify that their reactions had nothing to do with the caliber of SAM’s new director; in fact, they found Tan to be “gentle,” “even-keeled,” and knowledgeable about contemporary art in Asia. But the matter extends beyond the merits of the individual.

“The appointment of Tan appears to substantiate that there isn’t anybody else within the region who has conveyed confidence and integrity to the decision makers,” as art historian TK Sabapathy pointed out. “Therefore, they asked someone who is a director of a huge establishment-which is just five years old-to take on yet another [institution], which I think is an immense ask of a single human being.” Tan isn’t the first person to simultaneously take on senior roles at two cultural institutions in Singapore. From 2009 to 2013, Benson Puah was CEO of both the National Arts Council and the performing arts complex, Esplanade: Theatres On the Bay.

Appointments like these suggest a serious talent crunch in cultural fields in Singapore, but it should not come as a surprise. Over the years, as Singapore expanded its museum facilities, little attention has been paid to talent development or educational needs. More than USD 400 million has been poured into the refurbishment of the NGS and SAM, with a further USD 65 million slated for the latter’s facelift. Yet, art history is offered as a minor elective at the Bachelor’s level at the city’s educational institutions; postgraduate degrees have only recently been added. Many individuals who want to pursue an in-depth knowledge in this field today do so at universities abroad.

While education may be part of the picture, it does not explain everything. Many people I spoke to saw Tan’s appointment as a “safe choice,” and thought that decision-makers could have been more open to other professionals in Singapore and the region. After Susie Lingham left the position of SAM’s director in March 2016, a closed search process was initiated and then halted. When I asked about the criteria for the post, Chong Siak Ching, head of the Visual Arts Cluster (VAC), the advisory board overseeing SAM, NGS, and the printing workshop and commercial gallery, STPI, would only say, “Leadership experience in a museum or arts institution is one of the key qualifications.” Coming from the real estate industry, Chong herself wears multiple hats; she is CEO of NGS and a board member at NGS and SAM.

Understandably, to the governance-centered boards of Singapore’s cultural institutions, which are filled mostly by business professionals and civil servants, the streamlining of leadership and corporate functions makes financial and administrative sense. After all, both SAM and NGS are corporatized nonprofit, public entities. “The three VAC entities have already been working on shared functions and communities of practice to facilitate best practices, cost efficiencies and draw synergies from each other,” said Chong, though she emphasized that Tan’s appointment does not constitute a merger.

“Would it lead to greater and admirable efficiency of administration, of resources? Is that what we want in the running of institutions of art? Do we not want to have variations, differences, alternatives, or do we want everything under one centralized authority and thereby mute them? I fear for this,” Sabapathy stated. His sentiments were echoed by the other art world figures, who cautioned that further centralization would strip away the very ingredient that the Singapore art scene desperately needs: diversity.

This need is tied to the realities of the country’s cultural ecology. In addition to a couple dozen active galleries and independent art spaces, there are only three public museums for modern and
contemporary art in Singapore: SAM, NGS, and the university-linked NUS museum. Thus Tan’s dual directorship effectively gives a single individual influence over two-thirds of the museum arena. “This appointment feels like a kind of cultural monopoly,” said Alain Servais, a collector from Brussels and an investment banker by profession, who is knowledgeable about different international art scenes. An art scene thrives on diversity and differences of viewpoints and the active participation of different artistic communities. This appointment signals consolidation. Art consultant Lindy Poh explained that the museums’ corporate accountabilities have a part to play: “The performance metrics for corporatized spaces are rarely concerned with shrinking of space for alternative views, or preserving room for dissent… The loss of this space is barely talked about, let alone mourned.”

Several people I spoke to argued that Tan, an experienced curator, should know that his acceptance of both roles would erode “genetic variations” of the Singapore art scene. In his own defense, Tan said: “I can see why people think I am some kind of a megalomaniac. But if you look internationally, you will see it is not uncommon to have a single director to multiple museums. I am the director of the two institutions, but the institutions are not just about me. I encourage curators I work with to come up with new ideas for acquisitions and exhibitions, so it is about me creating an environment for diversity.”

However, Singapore, being small, does not have the scale that other scenes have and even if a diversity of views could be engineered within an organization, the perceptions of the arts community and their behavioral responses to this centralized power can’t be controlled. “When so much power rests in the hands of one person, he or she tends to be surrounded by sycophants. The critical ones are pushed back,” Servais speculated. Perhaps this explains why 12 out of the 15 respondents that I spoke to asked for anonymity, even though they wanted their opinions to be collectively noted. Their fear was that their employment, business or project prospects would be hurt by outspoken criticism.

Singapore is the only art scene in Southeast Asia where the government pours generous amounts of public money into its arts infrastructure via grants for artwork production, programming and acquisitions. In 2018 alone, the government distributed around USD 200 million in arts funding, including for NGS and SAM. This creates a highly dependent relationship: the local arts community either works for the government or relies on it for project funding or acquisitions. Furthermore, with institutional acquisitions of contemporary and modern art spanning nine countries in Southeast Asia, museums in Singapore are important clients to gallerists and a significant source of validation for regional artists. Therefore, from the perspective of the stakeholders interviewed, the institutions are “un-offendable.” However, Tan disagreed: “That thinking assumes that I am small-minded.” But such reservations are inevitable in a space with few players. In observing the muted public response, Sabapathy lamented, “It is a terrible shame that a greater fuss was not made about this appointment … unfortunately, it came out matter-of-factly, and dismissively. Those who made these decisions could have been a little bit more upfront about them. Don’t just say two sentences. Take 20 minutes to talk about this and invite others to express their opinions, their grievances, their disappointments. Is this not what cultural activity is all about? We should be worried that nobody worries about this.”

We are now in a situation where ownership of the art world is at stake and public response is vital. Yet deliberations remain in the hands of a few; and we wonder why the Singapore art scene cannot be freed from its top-down dependency.”

The Micro Intiator

Chen, P. (2020), The Micro Intiator, ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 120, July/Aug 2020

“I developed a pet peeve during the first months of Covid-19: articles about art collectors. Would such rhetoric, so detached from the realities and needs of this ailing and quickly deteriorating world, matter? It got me thinking: so how can an art patron be relevant in the time of Covid-19? This was the question I had in mind when I spoke to Rachel Teo, the founder of a nonprofit organization called The Private Museum (TPM) in Singapore.

Started ten years ago, TPM functions more like an art space than a typical private museum. Located in a 121-square-meter space on the second floor of a repurposed, historic Catholic School in the Bras Basah area at the heart of the Civic District, TPM has a pool of 35 artworks donated by artists. By size or stature, it would be difficult for this independent, collector-led platform to be on first recall alongside swanky private museums in China, South Korea, or Indonesia. But the compelling factor about this modest initiative has nothing to do with its scale, architecture, holdings, or curators, but its cause. TPM was set up to encourage collectors in Singapore to share their collections and to realize proposals from artists and curators. 

Teo and her parents have their individual collections, but their artworks have not defined TPM’s programs. Unlike so many private museums, where the spotlight is directed inwards on their founder’s personal collections, agendas, and projects, TPM’s attention has been directed outwards. In fact, the Teo’s have been so low-key that of the more than 50 shows that the space has hosted since its establishment, only one originated from the family.

Quiet and reticent, Teo has an understated, elegant charm in person. With two of her siblings, she runs a family business in property, eldercare, and “active-ageing” and she also co-founded Fraxtor, a real estate investment start-up that uses blockchain technology. An advisory board member of the Asian Civilisations Museum, Teo is also a collector attracted to contemporary landscape and portraiture, as well as to works that explore materiality. In her collection are works by the the Singaporean-Australian installation and performance artist Suzanne Victor; Polish sculptor Marcin Dudek; the architects Doug and Mike Starn; Charwei Tsai, whose paintings and videos explore spirituality; and a recent addition by Ashley Yeo, an emerging Singaporean artist who works with paper. 

About 12 years ago Teo first mooted the idea of a private museum to her father, Daniel Teo, a collector, former gallerist, and the chairman of the real-estate conglomerate Tong Eng Group. He seeded the initiative with about USD 290,000 in support in the first five years until TPM was established as an Institute of Public Character with charitable status to receive tax-deductible donations in 2015. Since then, TPM has solicited donations from foundations, corporations, and other patrons, funneling these resources into the arts by presenting exhibitions and running artist residencies. 

Over the years, TPM has hosted solo and group exhibitions of works by emerging artists from Singapore such as conceptual artist Fyerool Darma, abstract painter Genevieve Chua, multimedia artists Kray Chen and Khairullah Rahim as well as leading Cambodian artist specializing in rattan and bamboo Sopheap Pich, and Thai conceptual painter Natee Utarit. Modernists like Anthony Poon, Teng Nee Cheong, and Chua Ek Kay have likewise been featured at TPM. A two-part exhibition of canvases by the 20th-century painter Khoo Sui Hoe, from Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat’s collection, was particularly memorable for Teo because it subsequently led to the National Gallery Singapore’s acquisition of Khoo’s vibrant, abstracted oil-on-canvas work, Children under the Sun (1965). 

Teo’s idea of offering TPM’s platform for shows of private collections serves Singapore’s need for spaces outside government-funded museums. She believes that independent organizations allow for alternative voices and histories to be heard, especially in Singapore where the state, as Teo said to me, has a “looming presence over the arts.” In other countries, private museums would have stepped into this space. But in this tiny nation state, “art collectors are really shy and some do not wish to be known,” she remarked. While not many have set up their own museums, with encouragement, a few have been willing to share their works at TPM, some under the condition of anonymity. 

Teo’s observation about the importance of having independent spaces was echoed by collector Victor Chia and gallerist Richard Koh, whose collections were shown in separate exhibitions at TPM in the last two years. Chia appreciated what he described as TPM’s “open-minded approach of allowing works by younger artists, which may not be in collections of public museums, to be exposed to the general public.” Koh pointed out that TPM does not come with the hype normally associated with private museums in Singapore and the region: “Most institutions and galleries here gravitate towards blockbusters and the usual industry-backed artist and curator names. TPM bucks that trend. They are open to showing collections and artists that are under the radar.” Its flexibility and nimbleness also augurs well for the pandemic age as it allows more young artists and new collectors to benefit from its program. That makes TPM important in a place like Singapore, they both concurred. 

In that regard, TPM’s mission is perfectly on point, except that more may need to be done in a pandemic. Teo explained that it is important for collectors to see that that they are part of an art ecology that requires sustenance, and she has encouraged them to step up their acquisitions. Corporations should also contribute, she feels. “We welcome patrons, collectors, and artists to work with us—it’s an open invitation!” she added.

To keep TPM going, Teo has aimed to raise around USD 360,000 annually, though she admitted that Covid-19 has changed things. TPM had originally planned to launch a film fund to support local  independent films but that may need to be postponed: “It is going to be a difficult year because sponsors will also have their own challenges. It’s still work-in-progress.” 

Also on the horizon, TPM’s lease for its current space will expire by early next year and it will have to relocate. Teo is convinced that having a physical space in the post-Covid-19 era will be just as vital as before. “Experiencing art in person, whether a video work or installation, is simply a unique experience that no digital methods can replace or replicate,” she believes. 

Teo’s example shows that being small in size and big by heart, as well as being intentional about contributing to systemic needs, can make a difference in this difficult time where needs abound. The pandemic will continue to heighten society’s demand on individuals with private resources, and art patrons will have to pitch in to make their existence not just known, but societally relevant. We can only hope their resources can be directed at communities that need support and worlds that we wish to see expanded when the pandemic is over, because their existence cannot be assured. This is the time the designation of an art patron is truly earned.”

Of Dreams and Contemplation

Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh

Chen, P. (2019), Of Dreams and Contemplation: Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh, exhibition catalogue, 2019. The Private Museum, Singapore.

This essay was done in conjunction with an exhibition of the collection of Richard Koh, a gallerist from Malaysia. A conversation with Richard was also published in the said catalogue.

An excerpt :

Around April last year, I received a call from Richard Koh asking if I would
be interested to have a look at his collection with a view to develop a conversation with him for a show of his personal collection at a public venue, The Private Museum in Singapore. I promptly took up the invitation, not only because of my on-going research interest in viewing and discussing collections of art, but because access to personal collections of gallerists does not happen often.

My interest was piqued because l imagined, in a gallerist, we are looking at a person whose professional life revolves around looking at art, one who is a familiar fixture at art fairs and artists’ studios, a tastemaker who always has his finger on the pulse. And indeed, in the last ten years or so, I have met Richard at various art fairs in Asia, from New Delhi to Hong Kong to Bangkok. He is one of the most active and gutsy members of the Southeast Asian gallery scene, an art world maverick. I am also curious because much of the art we see circulating in the art world is built on representations, and gallerists are a part of that system; they thrive on the publicness of that structure. I wanted to see if and how access to that vista, of the latest and the best, translates and distils into what gets collected on a personal level. The invitation to exhibit in The Private Museum, I understand, stems from interests along similar veins.

Of Dreams and Contemplation – Selections from the collection of Richard Koh brings together thirty-three artworks that Richard Koh has curated as he intends for them to be seen together for the first time in public. In putting them together, Richard has not set out with specific curatorial aims. To him, this selection, culled from his collection of about two hundred works and assembled according to similarities in “moods”, is nothing more than an attempt to provide glimpses into his personal interests in art.”

More information on the show can be found here:

Screening of both films @AsiaNow, Paris

“CoBo Social will also present a double bill screening of two documentaries on collectors of Asian art, “The 24 Hour Art Practice” and “Uli Sigg: China’s Art Missionary”, by renowned Singaporean documentarist Patricia Chen. “The 24-Hour Art Practice” traces the journey of Dr. Oei (OHD), a whimsical Indonesian art collector who amassed one of the most significant collections of modern Indonesian art. “Uli Sigg: China’s Art Missionary”, followed the footpath of Swiss art collector, Uli Sigg, into the heart of the Chinese cultural space, as a preserver and custodian of cultural assets which is not his own, while challenging ethical thresholds and navigating cross-cultural boundaries. The documentary director Patricia Chen will be present during the screening for a “Meet the Director” post-screening event.”

The publicness of private art museums in the art world

Chen, P. (2018), The publicness of private art museums in the art world [Unpublished manuscript].

An excerpt

“The public-ness of one or the privacy of the other is a genuine oppositional viewpoint and again, when something that is private becomes public, especially in the art world, it’s unsettled here. Can anyone point to another incident which can be used as a precedent? You can’t. Because it is such an unsettled and new thing, it is completely new… So, you can express your disquiet, your dissatisfaction, but I don’t think you can wring, squeeze, great profundity out of this. For that to happen, you have to let a hundred lives live themselves out before you can sift through the different players. I think we are far too impatient to look for significance when significance take some time to accumulate.
T K Sabapathy (1)

Today, MACAN is one of at least three private museums of modern and contemporary art that are open to the public in Indonesia, the other two being the OHD Museum in Magelang, and the Ciputra Artpreneur Museum in Jakarta that were opened in 2012 and 2013 respectively.  With its opening in November 2017, MACAN joins private museums that have sprouted at a frenzied pace in various parts of China, India and Southeast Asia in the past decade or so: the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi, the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Musem in Chiang Mai, the Pinto Art Museum in Manila, among many others. These are more than private display galleries of art; they have, in their own ways, entered the public domain and openly signalled their ambitions to engage the public by opening their doors, charging entrance fees (although some do not), running educational programmes, staging exhibitions and publishing catalogues. Recently, the Chinese-Indonesian collector and founder of the Yuz Museum, Budi Tek, has upped the ante by announcing his plan to donate his collection to a foundation in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to preserve his legacy ‘for the benefit of the world’.

In the absence of cultural infrastructure and national collections in some of these places, private museums have grown to play a pivotal role in their respective local art scenes and become a ‘must-stop’ for local and international visitors who wish to be inducted into the high-art experience offered in whatever city they find themselves in. Though the quality of presentations has been uneven, quite a few seminal, risk-taking and thought-provoking exhibitions have come from these spaces.  It is without doubt that the presence of private museums in the public domain has increased the vitality of their respective art scenes and lifted the visibility of artists. But as a subject of discussion, the publicness of private enterprises in the art world, while prevalent, has not been met with a corresponding expansion in documentation, academic research or critical debate.”

[1]     Patricia Chen, The 24-Hour Art Practice [film] (Singapore: Sekel Media Asia. T.K., 2014). Sabapathy made this comment in response to a question asked about the issue of private museums when interviewed for the documentary on the Indonesian collector, Dr. Oei Hong Djien, on the inauguration of the OHD Museum in Magelang, Indonesia.

Two of a Kind

Chen, P. (2017), John Chia and Cheryl Loh: Two of a Kind,  ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 106, Nov/Dec 2017, pp. 64-65 

Chen, P. (2017). John Chia and Cheryl Loh, [Video file]. YouTube.

“Art collectors from Singapore are a rare breed. Rarer yet are those who are young, articulate and collect thought-driven contemporary art. Of this ilk are John Chia and Cheryl Loh, a Singaporean couple in their early forties known only to the art scene’s inner circuit as they are infrequently seen at gallery openings. On the occasions when they do appear, they are happy to not stand out; Chia usually sports a humble outfit, wearing Bata shoes and a Swatch watch, and Loh exudes a girl-next-door glow. Over a 20-year process, the pair have skillfully detached socializing from collecting.

This introversion seems to have worked in their favor. Their collection today comprises around 300 contemporary works encompassing installation, video, performance and conceptual art from all over Asia. The artists behind these works include Tang Da Wu, Ho Rui An, Jeremy Sharma, Chun Kai Feng, Cheo Chai Hiang, Suzann Victor, Green Zeng, FX Harsono, Dow Wasiksiri, Manit Sriwanichpoom, Qiu Zhijie and teamLab. Acquired over the last six years or so, the majority of these works, together with their collections of vintage maps of Southeast Asia and Japanese Ukiyo-e prints from the Edo, Meiji and postwar Shinhanga periods, are stored in a unit above a shophouse built in 1939 on Joo Chiat Road- a colorful heritage town in the eastern area of Singapore. Upon entering the shophouse, one sees Angki Purbandono’s lightbox print, Kitchen Knife (2013), and Jason Lim’s performance photo, Duet with Light (2012), that line the dark, narrow flight of steps leading up to the living area, which is filled wall-to-wall with canvases, drawings, ceramics, maps and installations. Here, Heman Chong’s aluminum placard This Pavilion is Strictly for Community Bonding Activities Only (2015), a replica of the signage found in communal areas in Singapore’s public housing estates, asserts itself among its neighbors, including an ink painting by Chua Ek Kay completed two years before his death in 2008. Other notable works were Zai Kuning’s creature-like, hand-knotted rattan installation, a photo collage of archival images from Ye I-Lann’s” “Picturing Power” series (2013) and a smattering of ceramic works by Iskandar Jalil and Jason Lim.

Although an oncologist and a psychiatrist, respectively, Chia and Loh are neither diagnostic nor prescriptive in their decisions when collecting. Through art, they inhabit a universe opposite to their professional lives, and are enthused by work that stirs multiple questions and discussions with no answers, and art that perpetuate the “uncomfortable state of having no internal resolution.” Singaporean conceptual artist Cheo Chai Hiang calls the duo “thinking art collectors.” Once my conversation with them began, it was easy to understand why. Discussions on art inadvertently drifted into topics such as cave paintings at Altamira, Confucianism, Marx’s social theory and Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, before finding its way back to Lee Wen’s 2008 revisions of historically important performance works by Yves Klein. Chia also enjoys spirited debates around the rather cryptic question, “Is a lecture on art the same as art?” inspired by Ho Rui An’s video installation Screen Green (2015), in which changes in society and the individual over successive generations are seen through the color green in Singapore’s landscape.

The lot of contemporary art and the knowledge that comes with it marks a huge evolution for the couple, who started their journey with realistically rendered paintings of the Singapore River that they bought in the touristy area of Clarke Quay in 1998. A while later, long conversations with gallerists eventually led to the acquisition of works by ink painters such as Chua Ek Kay and Hong Ling. However, it was only during their stints in Houston and London in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when they spent much of their time visiting collections and museums, that the duo honed their interest in cutting-edge, contemporary art and permanently changed the course of their collecting. Chia and Loh are quick to admit they had not planned to build a collection of works predominantly from Singapore and Southeast Asia. The collection naturally veered that way as they began to engage with works that resonated with their own realities and pushed the boundary on their thinking about art. When asked to unravel some of these realities in Singapore, Chia explained that social regulation in the country is probably inevitable, given that there are “five million people on this small little rock.” For example, the crushing density means that people need to drive in the same direction and navigate within very narrow margins to avoid bumping into someone else. The tremendous fear that the country has no strategic advantage and is hence vulnerable has also been drilled into its citizens, so much so that most people are willing to make a trade-off for freedom just to live in the city.

This affects the art, Loh said. “No matter what one sees from the outside, artists from Singapore work under certain censorship and financial constraints, which come from living in a very expensive country and having a government that is very willing to fund you, but with conditions- all funding has conditions. You need government funding, you need curators, you need gallerists and the system to back you so that it is a viable career. Chia added: “As an artist, how do you do this? Are you not complicit? There are real social trade-offs to be made.”

The couple added that this is a reality not just for artists, but for all Singaporeans. However, in their view, looking to systems of human rights and democracy in Western society does not necessarily engender progressive art either. “A Singaporean straddles the economic and social ideals of Western democracy, and Singapore’s more socially driven system. If an artist can articulate some of these contradictions, tensions and dilemmas, sometimes it will come out nicely,” Loh continued.

The couple steered clear of answering my question of who their favorite artists are, but it became evident as the conversation continued that they enjoy work that embraces this “Singaporean-ness in art.” They follow artists who have considered issues of censorship, freedom and the  state in thorough yet nuanced ways. This includes Lee Wen, Cheo Chai Hiang, Tang Da Wu, Jason Lim and Chua Ek Kay. “These artists have not let the limitations of the cultural landscape hold back their imagination. Their artistic eyes see beyond the difficulties. They can be angry and not be controlled by anger; they still celebrate human experiences. To the collectors, this is a sign of maturity and one reason for these artists’ longevity.

In the corner of the couple’s living room sat a tiny projector. Chia showed me Cheo Chai-Hiang’s iconic conceptual work 5′ x 5 Singapore River (1972)-a projection of a blank screen with half of the image on the wall and the other half on the floor. “This is the Singapore River, ‘ he announced enthusiastically. “We like it because it is radical and challenges all notions of figuration, abstraction and conceptual art. And, it is older than us!” For a couple whose collecting roots go back to Singapore’s most pictured river, they have come full circle this time, rich with conceptual possessions, and with fewer answers and more questions.

The 24-Hour Art Practice premieres in The Hague

Hartelijke groet, Milko | Organiser, Authentication in Art Congress

“The Authentication in Art Congress found Patricia’s film necessary to be shown at the Authentication in Art Congress in May 2016. There were some 160 experts who were present, some with the practice of collecting [art] this way. Personally, I found the documentary not only enlightening from a professional point of view, but very strong because Patricia ‘grows’ with the turn that also overtook her during the duration of the project. This open-mindedness makes it a strong masterpiece that transcends cultures and time periods.”

Marc-Jan Trapman

“The 24-Hour Art Practice by Patricia Chen.  For some time I have sought for a contact with IDFA, to re-introduce this documentary, after I saw it at the “Authentication in Art” conference, this year in May.  The movie made a deep impression, not only on me, but on the complete group of nearly 100 international experts on the topic of ‘authentication’ and provenance in Art.  The topic is about a private art collector in Indonesia, whose rather famous collection was being re-framed within the western discourse on ‘authentication and value’ and thus became a focus of controversy.  Patricia Chen, in my opinion, was able to document this rather tragic process because she is not only a very interesting director, but also familiar with both Western and Asian ways of dealing with works that we consider to be art. Her movie is essential in two ways: not only is it an outsider’s view that enables us to reconsider the tragic way that we have fallen into traps that the art-market presents today, it has also brought Patricia Chen, as the messenger in peril herself; she has had to accept that her documentary was banned from its intended première in Singapore.”

In both ways, I think, the representation of this documentary could be important for our reflection on the state of the current discourse on art in our own world, the discourse  is perverted, degenerated, and even poisonous as Patricia Chen shows us by her case study.”

Special screening cum discussion in Hong Kong


“The 24 Hour Art Practice is an intimate, revealing look at the Oei Hong Djien (OHD) Museum in Magelang.Suggestive without being accusatory, Chen’s film pointedly highlights the issue of how far public standards of accountability ought to be imposed on what are ostensibly “private” collections built up by wealthy individuals who may not always see eye to eye with the self-appointed guardians of a nation’s cultural heritage.

It prompts the beginnings of a wider discussion on how private museums need to engage with the question of their public profile, and perceived role as an arbiter of academic and art historical value, in a region where the state has not yet adequately filled these roles.”

 Darryl Wee, Head of Visual Arts, Asia,


I’m thankful to the Hong Kong Arts Centre for reiterating their strong support and desire to proceed with a special screening to the art world during the Art Basel period and to ArtAsiaPacific for moderating the post-screening discussion relating to private museums in Asia. I’m looking forward to the discourse in Hong Kong.

Thanks also to Singapore Tourism Board for their unstinting support throughout the entire process. Hope to be able to publicly screen it in Singapore soon.

It has been one hell of a ride, but I have discovered gems in the art world along the way. Thank you all for your support !! The show will go on. The interview I did with Darryl Wee from Art Info aptly describes the journey of filmmaking.

Special art world screening-cum-discussion
March 15, 4pm, Hong Kong Arts Centre
Strictly by registration only
(online registration will be available shortly)

Patricia Chen

Director & Producer, The 24-Hour Art Practice

World Premiere @Singapore Art Museum cancelled

The 24 Hour Art Practice

For more information :

The cancellation and postponement of public screenings in Singapore (Jan 23) and Indonesia (Feb 3) have been interesting episodes in the journey of this documentary film, The 24-Hour Art Practice. The circumstances that led to their cancellation/postponement very much reflect the state of interdependency of relationships and reveal the various dynamics that are at work within the Asian art scene — both visible and invisible.  This incidental “side show” says as much about Asia and its relationship with art than any film can illustrate.

Preface to 1st edition (2014)

Uli Sigg In Conversation with Patricia Chen : Collecting Chinese Contemporary Art

PublisherSekel Media Asia LLP, 2014
ISBN9810794428, 9789810794422
Length174 pages


Art collectors are vital players and powerful forces in the art world today; we do not need to look further than the number of collectors that fill the Power Lists of Art Review and Art & Auction. In the world of art fairs, exhibitions or auctions, collectors are kings, they power the art market and lubricate the art economy. Collectors from Asian art have also joined in the jamboree in the last decade or so. Thanks to the media, they have been almost exclusively fronted by the monetary value of their auction bids.

This series of printed and digital publications and short films is a modest attempt to take one beyond the threshold of auction paddles to access a collective ‘insider survey’  of the art collectors’ view of Asian art and the state of affairs in the world of art today.

Why Art Collectors?

Think about it, art collectors are like the Global Positioning System (GPS) of the art world. They stand at the interstices of constant exchange with artists, gallerists, dealers, art fair directors, auctioneers and museum professionals; these privileged access to different relationships must yield advantageous vantage points from which to provide informed opinions, alternative and critical perspectives on the state of affairs concerning contemporary and modern art in Asia and its circulation in the art world. These are important because decisions in the art world are a function of the positions and assumptions taken. If information is power, then in Asia, this is even more pertinent because intelligence is often relationship and language-reliant and knowledge, location and context-specific. Following what goes on in Asia is something like watching 26 simultaneously flashing television channels playing in a myriad of languages and dialects — the shifts of tectonic plates in the art continents unfolds instantaneously and heterogeneously at breakneck speed.

But there is another more significant factor why a window into patronage In Asia[i] can be insightful — collectors in Asia offer more than bearing, they offer cultural custody. Most of the AAA works are in private hands.  Due to its varied and tumultuous political histories, public institutions in Asia are latecomers to the scene compared to their Western counterparts. Many have been and are still playing catch-up in cultural preservation; even those who have embraced it and pushed aggressively ahead, the results are still patchy and paltry.

For example, China’s push for culture in recent years, for example, has led to the establishment of some 4000 museums[ii] and counting; they look good in numbers but many of them are empty without collections or filled with only histories the leadership wish to remember. India’s state-mandated National Gallery of Modern Art was set up in 1954 and today is said to be very much holed-up in the modern era and have been criticised for not responding to the rapidly moving art scene[iii]. Promising new initiatives has been proposed and delayed by funding concerns[iv]. With the exception of Japan, Korea[v] and perhaps Taiwan and Singapore, whose state-funded fine arts institutions only came on stream in 1980’s and 1990’s, there is an absolute void of public institutions that systematically exhibit and collect modern and contemporary art in other parts of Asia.  In their absence, collectives of art lovers with the passion and the means have stepped up. This is not unlike the beginnings of many of the museums in the West.

For the very few who have chosen to studiously follow the development of a scene through their collections, from its beginnings to today, they have become the de-facto cultural institution and a rich treasure trove of knowledge. Their collections have today become peerless : they do not just tell the art story, the works narrate the story of the journey of a society, pictorially. It is no longer possible to amass collections of equivalent significance from scratch today.  

These are the protagonists in this series.  

They are the people who stood at the time of great change in the Asia and who, in turn, became change agents. Propelled by the conviction that they were located right at the epicentre of a “revolution” that might never again repeat itself, they went about the systematic collection of art at the turn of the contemporary wherever they appeared, from the 70’s through to the 80’s or retroactively in the 90’s. They champion the artist’s cause, as a friend, patron, promoter and advisor and proactively make these works visible to people who wish to connect to that historical narrative. They promote them to the movers and shakers of the international art world that have the ability to circulate them. These have been done entirely with private resources.

It is the observations of this group of patrons that we wish to tap into to help us construct an alternative perspective of the what’s happening in Asia – through the lens of art collecting. But patronage in itself is an exclusive fare, it is enabled by economic well-being and affluence; hence the window is only relevant and possible in sites where there are some art market activities, the view will not be even across all of Asia. From that perspective, what these conversations reveal is a series of snapshots, but in a way that would still allow parallels and contrasts to be drawn on the plurality and multiplicity of Asia and its artistic representations.

The Protagonist

When I first proposed the project to Uli Sigg in August of 2011, I did not know about the impending donation. His approach to historically trace artistic footprints as they occurred seemed to fit the scope of my enquiry very well.

Over time, Uli Sigg emerged as a fitting choice to inaugurate the series : it is helped by the dominance of Chinese contemporary art in his collection. His knowledge came from approaching art works as research materials on the Chinese culture and dealing with Chinese artists over the course of more than 20 years — as a businessman, diplomat and collector. These allow him to speak deeply about the scene. Uli is not only a forerunner who started following before there was an art market, he has also been an evangelist of Chinese art in the international art world, the one who brought Chinese art to the attention of many international galleries and curators. The capstone of course was when he donated more than 60% of his collection, amounting to USD 163 million, to the M+ museum in Hong Kong in June 2012[vi]. These attributes resonated with the values of the project[vii].

The Format

In thinking about the scheme of this publication, deliberate considerations have been made to ensure that the format has a friendly[viii] and comparative structure. The questions are structured in a straight talk format to allow patrons the widest platform possible to present himself to the world — clearly, succinctly and without another intervening voice, so that readers can get to point as quickly as possible. The tone and tenor of answers are intentionally kept conversational, so that the patron’s personality can be gleaned through his delivery.

This format has its advantages and disadvantages. In order not to diminish the directness and the breadth of the response, occasions that could allow certain views to be further challenged to push a personal point of view were restrained and editorial interventions were restricted only to instances where it would aid readability and clarity.

This is the first time the subject of Asian art patronage is featured simultaneously across multiple platforms: in print, e-book publication and film. While it allows for richer engagements across multiple mediums, the process was extremely demanding on the interviewees –the film medium looks for sound bites and succinct answers. But such is difficult to come by with the large number of questions shot in a compressed timeline. It relies on the patron’s fingertips knowledge.  As such, selective collaborative edits were made to update the content for timeliness and for a clearer reading experience.

The fact that these collectors started out at about the same time period, had similar visions of assembling historical works arising from specific circumstances particular to their localities and ended with such visually distinctive results makes it all the more compelling. It is not their agreements but the discrepancies and sometimes, conflicting approaches and views that are fascinating. That is where the real conversation lies – between art patrons. The narrative will get richer and the plot thicker with each progressive introduction. It is in these that I hope many more Asias will be opened within the Asia readers already know, from the mouths of its most ardent champions.

Patricia Chen

February 2014

End Notes

[i]      Here, the scope of the project is kept to collectors of Asian Art. Asia is confined to South, Southeast and East Asia. Central and West Asia are excluded from the study.

[ii]     Concise article about the museum scene in China. Anonymous. (2013). Mad about Museums [Online]. The Economist, Dec 21. [Accessed Feb 28, 2014]

[iii]     Also see Singh, K. (2014). A History of Now. ART India XVIII, Issue II, Quarter II, for a snapshot of India’s attempt at cultural modernisation.

[iv]    Exciting new initiatives have been discussed and tabled – the KMOMA in for example. Its realisation has been delayed by funding concerns. See

[v]     There is an excellently illustrated map of the museum landscape in Asia, (China, Japan and Korea) vs Europe and America. Errera, A. (2014). How China is Quietly Changing the Balance of Power in the Artworld [Online].  Forbes, 27 Feb. [Accessed 28 Feb 2014]

[vi]     The donation of artworks to M+, a museum of visual culture slated to be opened in 2017 in Hong Kong, was made in the context of a part donation/ part sale scheme. In all,1,463 works by 350 artists from 1970s to the present were donated. M+ also acquired an additional 47 works for the sum of CHF 22 million (HKD 177 million). Detailed lists of works that were donated and sold can be found at :

[vii]    Core attributes of patrons who would be suitable for the project are as follows:

  1. Those who are forerunners of the art scene and preferably collected before the start of the art market;
  2. Those who have a predominantly Asian collection, preferably from a single scene;
  3. Those have been there preferably at the turn of the contemporary;
  4. Those whose collections have social values — their collections follow the historical development of the scene; better still if they can be accessible to the public.
  5. Those who are still active in supporting artists and defending the healthy development of the art scene today either by organised activities and/or by implied attitudes of their actions or non-actions.

These are very ambitious criteria. In reality, these values may or may not always reside in one individual patron.

[viii]    I recall a popular story of how Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, a book on cosmology and science came to be on Sunday Times bestseller list for 237 weeks : his publisher told him readership would be cut by half with each equation. In the end, he included one : E = mc².  A publication is measured by its ability to convey ideas simply and succinctly.

Copyright © 2014 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved. No part of this film may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including printing, recording or information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission in writing from the copyright owner.