An art patron and collector of Asian contemporary art, Patrick Sun has made quite the mark over the years through his philanthropic and activist work with the LGBTQ community. As the founder of Sunpride Foundation in 2014, Sun has made it his very aim to raise awareness and to encourage support for LGBTQ rights through the power of art.
Most recently, Sun worked with the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre to collaboratively present Spectrosynthesis II – Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia. A highly successful and monumental exhibition, this was the first and largest survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer history through Southeast Asian contemporary art. The second iteration follows Sunpride Foundation’s critically acclaimed Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now which was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, Taiwan in 2017.
In this interview, The Artling had the opportunity to speak with Patrick Sun about his journey and motivations as a collector, and how his collection has evolved over the years. Whilst providing insight into the key individuals who have influenced and inspired him, Sun also shares his personal views on how the art industry has quickly adapted to the drastic changes our world has faced in light of recent events.
How did your collecting journey begin? How has your collection evolved throughout the years?
I bought my first artwork - a traditional Chinese painting - on Hollywood Road, an area in Hong Kong famous for curios and antiques. My first property development project was in that neighborhood and walking by these shops frequently got me interested in art. Over the years my interest shifted to contemporary art, and in 2014 I started Sunpride Foundation with a specific focus on Gay Asian Art.
What propelled you to start collecting works by LGBTQ artists?
I have always supported gay rights movements, from fundraising events to participation in parades and pride activities. When I contemplated starting an art collection I thought why don't I merge the two interests into one? I see art as an alternative way to support the LGBTQ community, raising awareness and respect for gay people through collection and exhibition. Our collection primarily falls into two categories: works by gay artists and works with an LGBTQ theme from non-gay artists too. Ultimately the criteria is quality, because how can you talk about raising respect for the gay community if the works presented are not good? For this I am immensely grateful to my advisory team which includes the foundation's advisers and also the exhibition curators.
Is it important for you to meet the artists whose works you collect?
Absolutely, not just to understand the artist and his/her works better but also to seek their endorsement if we should present their work in a show with a specific gay theme. At the beginning some gallerists were skeptical about introducing us to the artists directly but eventually they understand our reasons and that we are not trying to bypass them. I also treasure the friendships I have developed with many artists, through which commissioning of some brilliant works were made possible.
What has influenced you as an art collector, philanthropist and activist? Is there a particular figure or artist that has inspired you?
When I first started collecting, I sought advice from a family friend, Mr. Uli Sigg, who is the largest private collector of contemporary Chinese art in the world. Uli gave me useful and pragmatic advice, from getting a good art advisor so I wouldn't waste time and money, to hosting exhibitions as platforms to promote Sunpride's mission.
Another person that inspired me is an artist from the entertainment world - Mr. Leslie Cheung. I remember watching a popular TV talkshow where he casually mentioned his relationship with his partner. I believe that statement influenced the average household in a stronger and more far-reaching way than perhaps years of street protests asking for anti-discrimination. In a similar way, I hope our art exhibitions will help to promote acceptance by the general public.
How do you hope Spectrosynthesis has changed people’s attitudes towards LGBTQ rights in Asia? Do you find that attitudes are generally different in East Asia versus Southeast Asia?
By anchoring our exhibitions at public institutions (Spectrosynthesis-I was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, and Spectrosynthesis-II at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre), we hope to reach out to not just the LGBTQ community but also to the general public. Our goals are simple - to normalize presence of LGBTQ people in society and raise respect from the public.
As for attitude differences, it is easy to generalize that Southeast Asia is less liberal by comparison because of the laws against homosexuals in countries like Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. However, our exhibition aims to generate more social acceptance, which should be universally applicable, as even the most progressive countries still have discrimination issues.
Following the success of Spectrosynthesis in Taipei (2017) and Spectrosynthesis II in Bangkok (2019/20), do you foresee a third iteration of the show in the future? If so, where next?
Responses to Spectrosynthesis I & II were indeed encouraging. We have been invited to bring the show to museums in Europe and America but our focus remains on Asia, where equal rights for the LGBTQ community are more direly needed. Currently we are working on future iterations in Hong Kong, Philippines and Japan.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all industries across the world. What do you think this spells for the arts? Have your own collecting habits changed during this period?
I already see the art industry adapting to social distancing with more and more viewings available online. Whilst this allows for better accessibility, virtual experience is still a far cry from the real thing, especially as contemporary art encompasses such a wide range of mediums with works even incorporating smell. Nevertheless I see this accelerated digital development as something necessary and complementary. It will continue to be useful even when the crisis is over, and I am fully supportive.
Presently, many artists, arts organizations and institutions are left with great uncertainty about their future in the arts industry. How do you think these affected individuals can be best supported right now?
Donation and buying art online are some of the ways I am aware of. One even simpler way is what I plan to do this evening - bring a glass of wine and attend two online openings.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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