Sydney based collector, Clinton Ng, has built a substantial collection of leading contemporary art in just over ten years. His collection now includes works by over 150 artists, including Ahmed Alsoudani, Olafur Eliasson, Adrian Ghenie, Vik Muniz, Alex Prager, Simon Denny, William Kentridge, Adrián Villar Rojas, Shaun Gladwell, Thomas Hirschhorn
and Patricia Piccinini. With the same diligence and passion that enabled him to amass his collection within a very short period, Ng is now sharing his love for art by adopting a generous lending policy to public institutions and supporting local, emerging artists and art institutions in other ways too. In this two-part interview, Ng discusses his collection and the desire to share it, his highlights from the Sydney Biennale, and finally the upcoming Art Basel Hong Kong.
You came to collecting in an unusual way – via the Internet while taking a break from your PhD in medicine. But what led you to be interested in art prior to that?I believe I was born with the ‘collector trait’. As a child, I collected stamps, Enid Blyton books, game cards, plastic toy animals etc. My father, a collector too, has a large collection of vinyl records, CDs, music and T-shirts from his era. My mother in turn, collects souvenirs from her travels. The house that I grew up in overflowed with various knick-knacks that my mother loved, which I detested.
The first work you purchased was a John Coburn. Tell me about that work and the story behind buying it?
I always had an interest in art. I drew, painted and admired art whilst in school. When I did my PhD in medicine, which was a long drawn out process, my partner at the time introduced me to the art of John Coburn. I fell in love with his beautiful graphic work and it was a spark that started a consuming passion.
How would you define your art collection?
I collect contemporary art works I love. They are works that speak to me of life, in all its beauty and uncertainty, the world in which we live in today, culture, our past and our future. Broadly speaking there is a large group of figurative works, which include literal figurative works. Then there is the more transformed, transfigured, twisted, mutated works. There is also a body of abstract works and a group of works that relate to outer space - for example Thomas Ruff’s Cassini photographs, Olafur Eliasson’s wall meteorite work, and Trevor Paglen’s spy/drone photographs. With maturity I hope there is a certain cohesiveness to my collection.
How have you changed as a collector since you bought the first John Coburn work?
I started out collecting Australian contemporary art. Over the last five years - with frequent travel to art fairs and biennales in Hong Kong, Basel, New York, London, Venice and Kassell - I have also started collecting international works. The last few works include paintings by Ahmed Alsoudani and Adrian Ghenie, sculptures by Elmgreen and Dragset, Eko Nugroho and Hahan, and photographs by Alex Prager, Trevor Paglen and AES&F.
Sometimes there is a misconception that collecting internationally comes at the expense of the local art.
I do not agree with that. I still collect Australian art. However I collect international art as well. And I don’t think it matters where it is from – good art is good art.
In the last few weeks I bought a work by an Australian artist, Benjamin Armstrong. He is a young artist who makes sculpture from glass, wax etc and he creates unusual characters. The particular works he made for the Sydney Biennale are a group of disfigured plaster busts. They are a bit kooky, a little Picassoesque referencing islander sculpture and very interesting.
How have changes in the art world impacted the way you collect?
What has made a huge difference to the way I collect is the Internet. These days with the Internet, there is no barrier to seeing art. You can go across to the other side of the world to see a show. You can see museum shows: not just contemporary works, but classical works and ancient artifacts. And the resolution is so good these days, it is almost like you are there. The Internet has changed things a lot. It has opened up a whole new world for people collecting.
In addition to travelling to see art at major art fairs, biennials and other art events, I research extensively on the Internet and trawl art publications. As long as I am familiar with the artist’s practice and respect the gallery, I am prepared to purchase based on an on-line image. A portal, like Ocula for example, allows me to see a great number of art works. You can see a range of works, and this allows me to evaluate the type of work I would like to buy.
You could say that I am quite adventurous or brave in buying art having seen it only on-line initially. I think it has also been something that has developed. There have been good experiences, and some not so good experiences. You kind of learn along the way. However I keep an open mind to seeing new movements, shifts and trends in art.
You were interested in expanding your collection to include Chinese contemporary art. Is this still the case?
I have some Chinese works including works by Xu Zhen/MadeIn in my collection. However in the last few years my collection has also turned towards Indonesia, Australia’s neighboring country. The works produced have a certain authenticity, something worthy to say often with a quirky sense of humour. I have acquired works by Eko Nugroho, Hahan, Wedhar Riyadi, and Entang Wiharso, for example. These artists have all received a fair share of attention in shows staged locally and overseas, and in publications, galleries and even in the auction room.
How did your interest in art from Indonesia start?
It all started because of friends I have – they are also collecting Indonesian art. I have an art space in Sydney, called CAS Sydney (Contemporary Art Space, Sydney). Matthias Arndt, who has a gallery in Singapore and Berlin, had a show in my space in Sydney last year. Matthias put on a show that included both European and Asian art, and also some Australian art. He bought some really good artworks from Indonesia. I think the Indonesian art movement is really gathering momentum, mirroring what developed with Chinese art ten or so years ago. There have been a number of museum shows in Australia and elsewhere overseas of Indonesian art. The fact is that these shows have been successful and well embraced. All of that contributed to my enthusiastic engagement with Indonesian art. —[O]