Local art collector donates sculpture by Yayoi Kusama to Gardens by the Bay

Art collector Lee Tuan, 81, with Kei-Chan, a 2.6m-tall sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It is being unveiled today.
Art collector Lee Tuan, 81, with Kei-Chan, a 2.6m-tall sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It is being unveiled today.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Even amid the colourful flora of the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, a sculpture of a girl in a red and pink polka-dot dress catches one's eye instantly.

Kei-Chan, a 2.6m-tall sculpture by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, was donated by local art collector Lee Tuan and it is being unveiled at the Flower Dome today.

With more than 300 items in her collection, Ms Lee, 81, has traversed the globe in search of creativity during her lifetime.

She has also quietly donated about 100 artworks and contemporary jewellery since 2015 to art institutions overseas such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Royal Academy of Arts in London.

She said she believes in sharing her art during her lifetime, instead of bequeathing it posthumously.

"The earlier you give it out, the more people can enjoy it. As an art lover, I want to share the art I appreciate with others so they can enjoy it too," she said.

Along with the Kei-Chan sculpture, which is Ms Lee's first legacy gift in Singapore, she has also pledged $10,000 every year to Gardens by the Bay in her lifetime beginning in December 2019 and another $2 million to be distributed to the Gardens across 20 years.

Ms Lee, whose family used to own the Thye Hong Biscuit and Confectionery Factory, said: "I am a very happy and positive person by nature and I believe art should be the same."

When The Straits Times met her, she was wearing a necklace with bright red firecracker motifs in honour of Chinese New Year.

Recalling an encounter a few days earlier, she said: "I met a man at Maxwell market who said: Why are you wearing that? Someone may strike a match and throw it."

Ms Lee realised her passion for art in the late 1970s, and studied the history of modern art in London to gain knowledge about the field.

"I realised that art was what made me happy and keeps me going. I always get excited when I am out in search of the next piece," she said.

Beyond art, Ms Lee also has a penchant for gardening, at one point even growing 200 plants at her home.


A gift that stands out in the Gardens: The Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay has a new resident - Kei-Chan, a 2.6m-tall sculpture of a girl in an eye-catching polka-dot dress. The sculpture, by famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, was donated by art collector and philanthropist Lee Tuan, whose family used to own Thye Hong Biscuit and Confectionery Factory. Along with the sculpture, Ms Lee, 81, pledged a legacy gift of $10,000 every year to the Gardens in her lifetime beginning in December 2019, and another $2 million to be distributed across 20 years. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Her donation to the Gardens hits both sweet spots. And while an act of art philanthropy locally seems like a long time coming, it was not for the lack of trying, she said.

"The Gardens were the first to appreciate my items. I have tried to donate in the past in Singapore, but I do hear that my art is too modern for people's taste," she added.

Gardens by the Bay senior director of programming and events Chua Yen Ling said: "The colourful Kei-Chan sculpture brings cheer to visitors in Flower Dome as well as makes art accessible to one and all, while her continuing contributions to Gardens by the Bay will go a long way to allow people to enjoy the beauty of nature for years to come."

The Gardens' signature Sakura floral display also returns today.

The display is being launched by Japan's Ambassador to Singapore Jun Yamazaki and Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, who will also attend the unveiling of the Kei-Chan sculpture.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2021, with the headline 'Local art collector donates sculpture by Yayoi Kusama to Gardens by the Bay'. Subscribe