Art collectors: Singapore is the place to be

Married couple Mr Lito Camacho and his wife, Kim, with Mario de Rivera’s 2014 work, Bailes De Ayer. Their collection also includes de Rivera’s East Of The Clouds (above) and Between Salalah & Serendip.
Married couple Mr Lito Camacho and his wife, Kim, with Mario de Rivera’s 2014 work, Bailes De Ayer. Their collection also includes de Rivera’s East Of The Clouds (above) and Between Salalah & Serendip. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS
Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar.
Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Singapore-based Indian art collector Aarti Lohia (above) with her first buy, Looking For Wings, by Indonesian Putusutawijaya. Ceramic work City In A Garden, which she commissioned sculptor Madhvi Subrahmanian to create for her home in Ubud.
Singapore-based Indian art collector Aarti Lohia (above) with her first buy, Looking For Wings, by Indonesian Putusutawijaya. Ceramic work City In A Garden, which she commissioned sculptor Madhvi Subrahmanian to create for her home in Ubud. PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Singapore-based Indian art collector Aarti Lohia with her first buy, Looking For Wings, by Indonesian Putusutawijaya. Ceramic work City In A Garden (above), which she commissioned sculptor Madhvi Subrahmanian to create for her home in Ubud.
Singapore-based Indian art collector Aarti Lohia with her first buy, Looking For Wings, by Indonesian Putusutawijaya. Ceramic work City In A Garden (above), which she commissioned sculptor Madhvi Subrahmanian to create for her home in Ubud. PHOTO: MADHVI SUBRAHMANIAN
Mr Ernesto Bedmar, with a 2001 acrylic on plywood by Sutee Kunavichayanont titled Elephant. He is selling artist Jimmy Ong’s STPI handmade paper and pigmented paper pulp work, Cranes (2010, above).
Mr Ernesto Bedmar, with a 2001 acrylic on plywood by Sutee Kunavichayanont titled Elephant. He is selling artist Jimmy Ong’s STPI handmade paper and pigmented paper pulp work, Cranes (2010, above). PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The art choices of these collectors have been influenced by their time in Singapore, thanks to the country's many art galleries and extensive network to other parts of Asia

In recent years, Singapore's visual arts scene has seen a transformation not just in terms of the quality and range of exhibitions, but also in the globally mobile, younger collectors joining the ranks of more established ones.

The island's strategic location allows art collectors to travel with ease and gives them access to museums, galleries, art fairs, artists and world-class art storage.

Some of them tell Life how living here has shaped their taste in art.


Kim and Lito Camacho: Two of six kids now artists

Charismatic couple Kim and Lito Camacho are often seen at Singapore's high-profile visual arts events.

The Singapore-based Filipino couple started collecting in 1980. They are Harvard Business School graduates, who met when they were in New York, and bought mostly Filipino art at the time.

Now, their collection is made up of mostly Filipino and Japanese art, most of which is displayed in their home in Makati, the Philippines, their farm house near Manila and their apartment in Berlin.

From their native country, they have a mix of works by masters such as Fernando Amorsolo and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and contemporary names such as multimedia artist Norberto "Peewee" Roldan.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2015 issue of The Life e-magazine in The Straits Times Star E-books app, with the headline 'Colour my world'.


Married couple Mr Lito Camacho and his wife, Kim (above), with Mario de Rivera’s 2014 work, Bailes De Ayer. Their collection also includes de Rivera’s East Of The Clouds and Between Salalah & Serendip. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS

Their collection of Japanese art is differentiated by museum-quality pieces by Yayoi "polka dot" Kusama, one of Japan's most influential female artists. They also have a strong representation of Gutai art, a radical post-war art movement that often involved unconventional materials and the use of the human body in the creation of artworks.


Married couple Mr Lito Camacho and his wife, Kim, with Mario de Rivera’s 2014 work, Bailes De Ayer. Their collection also includes de Rivera’s East Of The Clouds and Between Salalah & Serendip (above). PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS

The couple had a stint in Singapore from 1998 to 2000 and returned here in 2005. They now live in a penthouse in The Rochester near Buona Vista. There, visitors get to see a small selection of their artworks and gain insight into their other collecting interests, which range from carpets to antiques.

Like many collectors, they started buying art only to decorate their home, but got serious about building up a collection fairly soon.

We have such a rich tradition of art history, strong modernist art movements.''

MRS KIM CAMACHO on why she and her husband, both Filipinos, are drawn to Filipino art

Mr Camacho, 60, vice-chairman (Asia-Pacific) of Credit Suisse, says they are "not casual collectors" and this shows in the engaging back stories they share about studio visits, friendships with artists, going to gallery backrooms and watching two of their six children - the youngest is 18 and the eldest is 32 - become artists.

They continue to support Filipino art and say they are drawn to it because "we have such a rich tradition of art history, strong modernist art movements", and artists who keep pushing the bar.

They have been buying actively in Singapore, both from galleries and at the Art Stage Singapore fair. Two of their recent acquisitions - video works by Japanese artist Dr Naoko Tosa and Japanese art collective teamLab - were made here.

Interestingly, they bought their first Kusama in Singapore after a gallery invite addressed to a previous tenant landed in their mail box. "We had always felt her work was out of reach for us," Mr Camacho says. "The gallery visit was a revelation."

They ended up buying a small 1999 Infinity Nets painting, an iconic and ongoing series of work featuring delicate white nets, from local gallery Art-2 for what they call "an attractive price".

Mrs Camacho, 59, a retired businesswoman, says: "Being based in Singapore has allowed us to participate in auctions, attend art fairs here as well as gallery shows and museum exhibitions."

As the city is also a key transit point, it helps them meet artists, curators, critics and art academics too. "Our conversations with each of them have helped us in our collecting," she says.

The couple discuss art often and, sometimes when they disagree, an artwork can end up being booted from their home into Mr Camacho's office.

It is apparent art is a central part of their lives, as their home is saturated with beautiful objects. Even their dog, a Great Dane which is as tall as an adult, knows how to navigate his way around the precious pieces and sits quietly and watches when the video recording for an online feature is being done.

As Mrs Camacho says: "We talk about art all the time. I cannot imagine life without it."

Mrs Kim Camacho on collecting Filipino art. Go to str.sg/ZnsG


Aarti Lohia: Collection spread over four homes

The petite collector Aarti Lohia's love for art becomes apparent as soon as she opens the large wooden door leading to her sprawling bungalow off Holland Road.

In the living room, above the coffee table, hangs leading contemporary Indian artist Bharti Kher's stunning 2012 work Alchemy, made entirely of bindis stuck on a painted board. In another part of the room, you see L.N. Tallur's bronze, concrete and terracotta sculpture, Homemaker.

Her love for colour is apparent in several of the artworks, including two large paintings from iconic Indian artist M.F. Husain's Mahabharata series, vibrant canvases depicting scenes from the Sanskrit epic. These works are significant as they are among the last series he painted before his death in 2011.

Other artworks by both Indian and Indonesian artists dot the living room space, which is done up in muted palettes to let the pieces shine.

The 37-year-old has been collecting South Asian art for the past five years.

While the Indian national has not counted how many pieces make up her fast-growing collection or got them valued, she has works by blue-chip artists such as Kher and her equally famous husband Subodh Gupta, photographer Dayanita Singh and masters such as Husain.

These make her collection of South Asian art one of the strongest in South-east Asia. Her pieces are spread out in her homes here, in Jakarta, London and Ubud, Bali, while some are in storage.

She belongs to the prominent Lohia business family. Her father- in-law Sri Prakash Lohia is the chairman of Indorama, a global petrochemicals powerhouse that is one of the world's largest producers of polyester, synthetic rubber gloves and resins.

In 2007, she and her husband Amit moved to Singapore from Indonesia as the family's holding firm is headquartered here. They have two children aged 10 and six.

Although she got her bachelor of arts degree from Lasalle College in Jakarta in 2005, living here cemented her love for the arts.

Calling Singapore "a wonderful place to live if you are an art collector", she adds: "There is a wonderful flow of art and artists in Singapore. You get many opportunities to meet artists."

She says she has come a long way compared with five years ago, gaining more confidence and knowledge by visiting galleries, museums and art fairs. Now, she likes art "that pays attention to the more ethereal aspects of our lives".

"I look for imagination and inventiveness and am often drawn to pieces that have an overwhelming sense of memory - both visual and tactile."

She is also getting involved in the local art scene, collecting some Singaporean art and helping to promote it.

Last year, she started the Lohia Mentorship Series, which is funded by the Lohia Foundation, a charitable trust of the family business.

The mentorship programme backs cross-cultural art projects and the first edition sees avant-garde contemporary Indian artist Jitish Kallat mentoring local artist Sookoon Ang. The two are working on a sculpture that will be unveiled in Gillman Barracks next month.

The Lohia Foundation also supported the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi and it remains committed to supporting future editions.

Gradually, she is expanding her collection to include more Singapore and Singapore-based artists.

For her new home in Ubud, for example, she commissioned Singapore-based sculptor Madhvi Subrahmanian to create ceramic sculptures. After several conversations, they came up with two concepts which explore the idea of a garden for her home.

Despite her frequent travels, she makes it a point to return for key visual arts events such as the Art Stage Singapore fair, which was where she made her most recent acquisition - Singaporean artist Li Yu's 2014 installation, Subsistence, which is made of stoneware and 63 slipcast "da bao", or takeaway, boxes.

She recalls the closing bell had rung at Art Stage this January and she was running around "like a mad woman" when she saw the work.

"It spoke to me instantly. Rather, it shouted 'Singapore'. I had to own it."

Art collector Aarti Lohia on her first painting. Go to str.sg/Zn8R


Ernesto Bedmar: Art tells of journey to Singapore

Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar says "a happy accident" saw him move from South Africa to Singapore in 1984.

A project he did in Hong Kong led to him being offered a partnership in Singapore. He fell in love with Asia and stayed.

One of his earliest homes was a colonial bungalow in Temenggong Road and artist Henri Chen KeZhan was in that neighbourhood.

Speaking fondly about those days, Mr Bedmar, director of architectural firm Bedmar & Shi, recalls: "Singapore was not very happening then.


Mr Ernesto Bedmar (above), with a 2001 acrylic on plywood by Sutee Kunavichayanont titled Elephant. He is selling artist Jimmy Ong’s STPI handmade paper and pigmented paper pulp work, Cranes (2010,. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

"Artists did many things themselves. Henri was very actively presenting art events and bringing together fellow artists."

The bachelor would go for many of those "small, informal" events, where he was drawn to both the art and artists.

"It was the conversations that interested me. I wanted to know the back stories. I did not start out with any idea or plan of being a collector. I collected what appealed to me."

Today, he has a respectable collection of Singapore contemporary art from the 1980s to the present.

These include several large-scale early charcoal works by Jimmy Ong, ink-on-paper works by Chen and oils on canvases by Vincent Leow, who represented Singapore at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and had a retrospective at the Singapore Art Museum in 2010.

A part of his collection is going on sale. It is being presented by Art Apart Fair, Singapore's first hotel art fair, in January next year.

There is a pre-sale private viewing at his colonial bungalow off Mount Pleasant Road on Oct 24 and Jan 21, and prices are upwards of $50,000.

Some provocative pieces will be on sale, such as Ong's The Toilet (1989), which portrays an intense love-making scene in a public toilet.

When asked why he would let go of such hard-to-get early works, Mr Bedmar says it is because he will be moving out of his current place to a much smaller apartment off Holland Road.

Looking at the many works in his living and dining areas, which have estimates of anywhere between $50,000 and $150,000, he adds: "I have enjoyed them immensely for 30 years.

"As I get ready to move into a much smaller home, I do not want them sitting in storage. There is sadness in letting them go, but I would very much like them to be part of new collections."

Among the younger artists he collects are Uganda-born British Indian artist Ketna Patel, who is a Singapore permanent resident, and Singaporean conceptual artist Jeremy Sharma.

He also has works by several South-east and South Asian artists such as Thailand's Sutee Kunavichayanont and Sri Lanka's Saskia Pintelon.

What he looks out for are not just works with innate "beauty", but also something that "takes on the sentiment of its own era".

"Many of the works in my collection are not pretty, but they are historically relevant and culturally pertinent."

He calls "collecting a very personal journey". His, for instance, is rooted in his own journey to Singapore in 1984.

"Each work carries particular significance in how it was acquired and how, hanging on my walls, it bore witness to the everyday events in my three decades in Singapore.

"They have been with me in my tough and good times. Throughout, they have been comforting."


Ryan Su and Adrian Chan: Their edge is their age

This pair of young Singaporean collectors made their first purchase of art in London, when Mr Ryan Su, 27, was studying law at the University of Manchester. Their $10,000 buy was some rare polaroids by the late pop artist Andy Warhol.

"It was the only name we were familiar with then," says Mr Adrian Chan, 35, who had gone to Britain to be with his partner during his studies. They moved back to Singapore in January this year and now live with Mr Su's parents in a terrace house near Frankel estate.

Being unfamiliar with the material and the effort it takes to maintain photography works, they soon sold the polaroids at a Christie's auction for $30,000.


One of their recent art buys is an acrylic on canvas by American Helen Frankenthaler titled Race Point (above). PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

That purchase and sale, though, turned out to be an early lesson in collecting.

Now, with nearly 50 pieces sitting in storage at the Christie's Fine Art Storage facility in Le Freeport, Singapore, they are on their way to building up a solid collection comprising mostly of Western names such as the late graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Given that a substantial part of their collection is there, the storage facility was where they opted to do the interview.

While they are still, by their own admission, "in the very early part of their collecting journey", they find being in Singapore has opened up many collecting opportunities for them, given the many galleries offering international art.

One of their recent acquisitions was a painting by the late American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, titled Race Point. They bought it from Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Gillman Barracks.

Apart from their first Warhol buy, none of their purchases after that have been impulsive. They embark on intense research on the provenance of artworks and the artist's background from gallerists, curators and art publications.

They appreciate that conversations with art professionals here are more informal and relaxed.

Indeed, at many openings and artist talks, the duo are often spotted in deep discussion with either the gallerist or curator.

With their art storage sorted out, they are looking to get Warhol back into their collection as they already have several rare books, catalogues and illustrations done by the artist. Another artist whose work they have been collecting is Polish Jarek Piotrowski.

Mr Su, who will become a practising lawyer next year, says he has always been entrepreneurial.

"Before art, I was collecting live birds and plants. I got interested in this because of my grandfather, who had a huge bird collection." he says. "We sold many of the birds and have consulted with zoos across the world which gave us funds to invest in art."

They are now looking at the Asian art scene with great interest and do not rule out buying such works.

Mr Su and Mr Chan, who is self-employed, make it a point to visit art fairs and travel for key exhibitions.

Mr Su thinks the biggest advantage they have is age. "Being young is helpful. I find people teach you more readily."

Mr Ryan Su and Mr Adrian Chan talk about the art of collecting. Go to str.sg/ZnsN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Colour my world'. Print Edition | Subscribe