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Chong Huai Seng on The Culture Story, Art Collecting and the Art Industry

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Chong Huai Seng on The Culture Story, Art Collecting and the Art Industry
Mr. Chong Huai Seng, Image courtesy of The Culture Story

Mr. Chong Huai Seng founded The Culture Story with his daughter, Ning, as a platform that aims to promote art appreciation for art collectors, connoisseurs, and enthusiasts in Singapore. As a stockbroker in the early 1980s, Mr. Chong's love of art began upon venturing into the museums and galleries during his business trips to London and Europe. He then started his art collection with paintings and sculptures by modern and contemporary European artists. In the early 2000s, his regular trips to China sparked an interest in Chinese art, particularly Chinese contemporary ink. This led him to start establish The China Art Foundation, which promotes Chinese contemporary ink artists. Over the years, his experience with art and collecting developed, discovering different forms and styles of art from around the world. 

The Artling speaks to Mr. Chong on The Culture Story, his journey of art collecting over the last 40 years, and the future of the art industry. 

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

Tell us about The Culture Story and what role you play within it. How did the idea come about?

The Culture Story was founded by my daughter Ning Chong and myself in June 2017. We wanted a private space to show our collection and to also provide an alternative platform for art people like artists, curators, collectors, specialists, and enthusiasts to meet regularly and informally. To this end, our intention was to hold regular art talks and conversations, very often with overseas experts, to help cultivate and deepen our knowledge and understanding of the arts. Each year, we organize at least one major show for an important artist we collect, so far we have had Jahan Loh and Wong Keen in 2018, and Futura and Peng Yong in 2019. We had to cancel the show in 2020 because of covid-19.
 
While Ning is the person driving the entire operation, my role is that of an advisor and banker.

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

Could you tell us about your most interesting and memorable talk or event that The Culture Story has hosted?

We have had many interesting talks and book launch events since our inception. The most memorable was the most recent, held in January 2020 (just before the covid-19 pandemic), when the octogenarian doyen of art collecting in Malaysia, Pak Zain, came to give a talk, sharing his 60 years journey as a collector and amassing in the process, one of the finest collections (The Azahari Collection) of Malaysia and Indonesia art. We also helped launch his new four volume publication "Hati & Jiwa; Volume 3" during the talk.
 
Another very interesting event was a music soiree we collaborated with Music and Makan in 2017, where three young musicians and a singer performed a medley of classics and new music in response to and interacting with the abstract art pieces which were hanging on the walls. We had a very good crowd who enjoyed some magical moments.

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

How did your art collecting journey begin and how has it evolved over the years?

I started collecting art through my overseas travels, first as a tourist to places like Australia, UK, Europe, US, and China.

In the mid-eighties to the nineties, I worked as a stockbroker and then fund manager for London headquartered companies, which meant regular business trips to Europe and London. It was during this period that I started visiting the famous museums there on a regular basis. Together with a more lucrative career, I was also able to start buying art from galleries in London and Paris. So initially, all my purchases were mostly contemporary and modern European art.
 
After leaving the finance industry in the mid-nineties, I was based mostly in Singapore and China. My art collecting journey became more local and regional. China became a major focus in the early noughties for me as I travelled there extensively for business and recreation. I was particularly fond of Chinese contemporary ink and organized a few major exhibitions in Beijing including the ground-breaking "XinXieYi" (New Free Hand) ink exhibition at National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) in 2004.

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

You have a keen interest in Street Art; How did this come about and what are you specifically drawn to with Street Art What other genres interest you?

I think every generation creates or develops its own art movement to represent the zeitgeist of its time. Impressionism came of age during the mid-19th century in France and Abstract Expressionism flourished in the United States after the second world war. I believe Street Art is the new art movement that best represents the pop culture of 21st century. 
 
Although its birth is controversial and, in many instances', illegal, such as the spraying of underground stations by Keith Haring in New York and painting of public buildings and walls by Banksy in Bristol, street art today is widely embraced by the millennials and Gen X, with many of the top artists collaborating with famous fashion brands to make highly saleable merchandise from sneakers to Tees to Toys. 
 
Amongst the many talented street artists, I am particularly drawn to those with the capacity to elevate their work into fine art. A good example would be Futura, who at 65 is still creating some amazingly strong works for exhibitions in top galleries in Tokyo and New York. The Culture Story hosted him to a 2-week residency in Oct 2018 and a solo exhibition at Gillman Barracks in June 2019. It was an almost sold-out show for about 30 works. Not bad for a street artist showing for the first time in Singapore. I have interest in other genres like contemporary ceramics, stone, and bronze sculptures and walking sticks.

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

What are some of the major art trends you've seen over the years within the region?

The emergence of private museums across the region, big and small, funded by rich businessmen with a passion for the arts. These include Museum MACAN in West Jakarta, MAIIAM in Chiang Mai, The Private Museum in Singapore, The Srihatta-Samdani Art Centre in Bangladesh and the Long and Yuz Museums in Shanghai. 

Rich private collectors with their own space are now collecting ahead of most publicly funded institutions and this trend is likely to continue, especially in countries like China where billionaires are minted in record numbers every year.

Beyond the mega collectors, increasingly now, many people view art as an alternative asset class which they wish to invest in and hopefully make a profit from in the future.

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

What to you, is overrated vs underrated?

Overrated. Is when everyone posts the same art on Instagram.
Underrated. The joy of buying something you really, really like.

How do you see the art industry evolving in the next 10 years? 

More technology will be incorporated into the art industry. The pandemic has disrupted the traditional channels of selling art via physical art fairs and onsite auctions across the world. Virtual exhibitions, art fairs and auctions are now the norm. But given the big advances to come in Artificial Intelligence and 3D software, the art of selling Art may take us into a totally different sci-fi type world with robots as specialists' and payments in crypto.

With the rise of social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok, many artists and dealers are now able to reach out to more collectors, especially the younger ones. The volume and value of such transactions may surprise us on the upside in the future.

Image courtesy of The Culture Story

Could you share some tips for young or new collectors?

Besides reading a lot and visiting as many art galleries and museums as possible, new collectors should seek advice from a trusted mentor who has had a good track record in collecting. This will save quite a lot of tuition fees when they start buying. However, it's also important that they should not be too cautious and never can decide on a purchase because of indecision. 
 
Art speaks to the heart much more than the brain, so if you like it, just buy it!

 

Click here to learn more about The Culture Story.
Discover more on The Culture Story's Instagram: @the.culture.story



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