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ART & NEW MONEY3 INVENTIVE MODELS OF PATRONAGE How Funds Are Flowing to Hong Kong Artists Today. By Christie Lee
T heres a buzz in the Hong Kong cultural scene about the rise of private art patronage. The concept itself is far from novel; with roots in medieval Europe, it reached its pinnacle during the Renaissance. Private arts patronage dwindled over the centuries due to the rise of publicly funded museums, but it has made a strong comeback in recent years. In Europe, the prolonged economic crisis has caused museums to rely on private money to underwrite top-quality shows. In Russia, the Middle East and China, arts patronage has become a gauge of ones standing in society.
Todays young art collectors are a savvy bunch, no longer content to throw money at artists and museums without knowing that they are getting for their dollars of patronage. Cultivated and well-padded, they demand much more, be it sitting on acquisition committees or devising a social network of private dinners organised in partnership with the worlds top museums and cultural institutions.
We profile the individuals who are changing the face of private arts patronage in Hong Kong today.
THE WELL-HEELED COLLECTORThanks to his diplomat father, museums, galleries and concert halls have always been a part of Alex Erreras life. The founder of The New Circle group of art collectors, Errera earned a degree in international relations at the London School of Economics, and then laboured at Morgan Stanley like, you know, all LSE graduates, quips the French-Bolivian, rolling his eyes in good humour. Four years later, he called it quits, starting Personal Dating Agent, a London-based online dating site. Realising that his true calling was in the arts, he sold that venture a year later, packed his bags for Asia and officially launched Artshare.com in April 2013.
The art market is so big and for the most part unregulated, so there were a lot of opportunities, says Errera, who counts Xu Qu and Wang Guangle as among his favourite Chinese contemporary artists. I looked at how Artsy and Paddle8 were doing it, but Id envisioned Artshare to be something between a gallery and private dealer. Aside
from holding curated exhibitions, there are also private sales and artist interviews. With the focus on Chinese contemporary art, prices are from US$5,000 and up, though contrary to popular perception Errera confesses that the rule the cheaper it is the easier it is to sell doesnt apply to the online world. The first thing that anyone will do when they see something on the site is to google it, so its actually easier to sell works by more established artists, he reveals.
While Artshare is accessible to all, The New Circle, which the serial entrepreneur set up in September, is a group for art patrons targeted at the young, affluent and artistically minded. It couldnt have come at a better time. Not only is a rising number of international cultural institutions reaching out to young collectors in Asia, there is also certain prestige conferred upon those who supports the arts. For the super-rich, it no longer suffices to say that theyre rich, they want to be recognised for having contributed to the cultural landscape in Hong Kong, opines Errera.
THE NEW CIRCLEWho? Founded by Artshare.coms Alex Errera (pictured), chaired by cultural entrepreneur Adrian ChengAge 4 monthsHow does it work? Targeted at affluent collectors aged 40 or below and capped at 200, The New Circle organises exclusive dinner parties, art studio visits and private shows. No gallerists or dealers are allowed to ensure that patrons interact in the most convivial environment possible. Ultimately, The New Circle wants to extend its claws well beyond Hong Kong, and indeed the Asia-Pacific region. It is thus fitting that Cheng, in addition to the K11 Art Foundation initiative, also sits on the Centre Pompidou board and the Acquisitions Committee of Tate Modern. Errera is banking on the connections he has with major collectors and museums in Hong Kong, New York, London, Paris, Shanghai and Beijing. The Hong Kong art circle is so small that everyone already knows everyone. What we want to do is to connect Hong Kong collectors with those in Europe and North America, he says. Costs are kept at a minimum we hold a lot of our events at private homes and museums though Errera hopes that the society will sustain itself on revenue from private sales in the long run. Coming up The New Circle is partnering Christies for a VIP dinner at the China Club on December 9, where works donated by artists, gallerists and collectors will be auctioned to benefit Teach for China.
AGENT PROVOCATEURSThe Ambassadors of Design is well known to anyone who has been involved, either deeply or remotely, in the Hong Kong design scene over the past eight years. What started out as a cultural guide of sorts in 2006 swiftly evolved into the two-week-long Detour design festival in 2009. The idea of Design Trust came about two years ago The design landscape is much more sophisticated when compared to eight years ago. We felt that we needed to evolve to stay relevant, says Ambassadors chairman and co-founder Alan Lo. Fellow board member Jehan Chu offers: I felt like there was a seven-year-itch phenomenon going on. The minute you stop learning the minute you become dead inside.
After hours of closed-door debates and extensive research into different art funding models, the team launched Design Trust this September offering an initial two grants. We were happy to operate on a grassroots level for a long time, but we think its time to raise the level of discourse, explains Marisa Yiu, who joined the Ambassadors of Design in 2008. Before we were activating a more programmatic approach, filling the space with things to do and whatnot, but now we want to fill the space with things to think about, elaborates Chu. And that means picking projects that the public-at-large might consider edgy. The alternative voices. Thats the legacy of creativity at its best, isnt it? he asserts.
Design Trust runs on a very lean two administrators aside from the board of directors but efficient team; the 2014 Ambassadors Ball, which raised $5 million for the organisation, held at PMQ in November being a testament to that.
Where do they see the trust in five years? I think itd be great if Design Trust can turn into something as prestigious as the Graham Foundation or the Rolex Mentor-Protegee programme, muses Yiu. I want people to be excited about getting this grant, because theyre getting a stamp of approval from leading scholars. Perhaps we could become a cultural brand. And why not? adds Chu: Especially since were so brand-conscious in Hong Kong.
Efficient money and a stringent vetting process Design Trust has a strong argument going for them. As Yiu poignantly points out, People love to fund medical and stem-cell research, but what about cultural research?
DESIGN TRUSTWho? Ambassadors of Design (pictured here: Alan Lo, Jehan Chu and Marisa Yiu)Age? One monthHow does it work? In a nutshell, Design Trust gives out grants in two categories, the Cultural Project Grant, which starts at $10,000 and is capped at $50,000, and the Research Fellowship Grant, which sees the grantee attach him- or herself to a reputable cultural institution for a three- to six-month research period. A stipend of $40,000 is provided every month. It differs from other public funds in its provision of fast and flexible funding i.e. putting money into the hand of practitioners at the beginning of their research. The public funding system often gets tied down by bureaucracy. Another problem with public funds is that theyre usually dished out bit by bit, which is impractical for cash-strapped creatives, explains Lo. What else? I think we can act as a bridge between institutions, artists and galleries, says Lo. Say, if a museum wanted to acquire art and design from this part of the world, we could help facilitate that. Recent grantees The M+ Research Fellowship Grant was awarded to urban designer and educator Fan Ling out of 40 applicants from around the globe. We wanted to pick someone who has done some work, but who is also young enough to be able to propel their research further, explains Yiu. There have been no open calls for the Cultural Project Grant yet, though local industrial design firm MAP Project Office was selected in an inaugural launch of sorts.
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THE ART INVESTORYou know why I put this here? challenges Hamilton Tang, as he gestures to a painting (Kim Suyoungs Residential Housing) occupying one wall of the boardroom at Simon Murray & Companys Hong Kong office. Its such a nice mirrored image of Murray Building, he says, pointing out of the window. This, he gestures to Shen Yangs A Ka A Ka No 10, is how we all feel by the end of the week, when we all want drugs. Laughing, he continues down the narrow, elongated hallway, arriving at Francis Ngs Higher Ground. And thats basically how you approach investment. You take a dive off the deep-end without knowing what awaits down there.
Despite the cynicism, Tang is a bright and shining example of investment banking, though given his background his chairing of the first artist pension trust in Hong Kong is a tad surprising. He was briefly involved in the entertainment industry during the 1990s, but confesses to knowing nothing about art until 2011, when he met Moti Shniberg and Dan Galai, who founded the Artist Pension Trust (APT) in New York in 2004. As an individual you can obviously buy and collect art in the traditional way, but as a