Post provided by Alexandra A. Seno for Sotheby’s Magazine.
TAIPEI – Taiwan-based businessman Pierre Chen is one of Asia’s leading collectors of Western contemporary art. Now, as Alexandra A. Seno reports, Chen is bringing the collection he lives and works with to a wider audience, and in the process, connecting the East with the West.
Museo del Prado 4, the subtly dramatic Thomas Struth photograph, dominates one wall of a conference room at the Yageo Corporation global headquarters, just outside Taipei. The German photographer’s large-scale work, part of his iconic Museum Photographs series, focuses on a group of students on a trip to the great Spanish art institution. The boys and girls linger indifferently in front of Las Meninas, the 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez that has inspired generations of artists, from Pablo Picasso to Francis Bacon.
Pierre Chen, collector and businessman at home in Taipei, where a painting by Georg Baselitz hangs behind him. Photograph by Andrew Loiterton.
Walking into the empty conference room – which otherwise fits about 30 – Yageo founder Pierre T.M. Chen gives the photograph a quick glance before he settles down at the table. The Taiwan-trained computer engineer started Yageo in 1977 and built the company into one of the world’s biggest electronics components manufacturers, with average yearly sales of US$800 million. He has nine factories and offices in seventeen countries, and is actively engaged in Yageo’s day-to-day management.
Chen says: “My business changes very quickly. I am fighting everyday because there is always some new technology coming to the market. For me to have balance in my life, I need art and music.” Hundreds of pieces adorn his offices and homes, and even more are in storage. But starting this summer, four prestigious Japanese museums will exhibit 76 works from Chen’s collection.
In a Tokyo residence, Peter Doig’s Canoe Lake has pride of place in the dining room. Jean-Baptiste Huynh’s Inde-Portrait XXIX and Josè-María Cano’s RM-Kate Moss Flank the doorway. Photographs courtesy of the Yageo Foundation
It will be the first time that the institutions will show a single, private collection of modern and contemporary art, and it is also the first occasion in Asia that works from the Yageo Foundation can be viewed together in public. The tour begins in June at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo (MOMAT), and then proceeds to the Nagoya City Art Museum in September, the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in December and finally the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto in March 2015.
MOMAT curator and organiser of the exhibits Kenjiro Hosaka wanted to collaborate with Chen not only because Japanese museums do not usually have access to such works, but also because he was drawn to the collection’s “energy to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western art, which museums in Japan have struggled with for many years.”
“I decided to accept the invitation from Japan because the museum is professional, and because Japanese audiences have a mature appreciation for art. They admire traditional things and also what is new. I also consider Japan as my retirement destination of choice,” says Chen, who keeps a Tokyo apartment, conveniently just five minutes away from MOMAT.
The living room of one of Chen’s Hong Kong homes, with Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild andMark Tansey’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. Photographs courtesy of the Yageo Foundation.
Born in Tainan, Chen grew up in Kaoshiung to a middle- class family that could trace their roots in Taiwan back for 200 years. He enjoyed going to galleries, and as a student in 1976, he made his first art purchase: a wooden, coconut-sized sculpture by Hong Kong artist Cheung Yee. It cost 25,000 Taiwanese dollars, a sum that took him a year and a half to save as a part-time computer programmer. He proudly keeps it in his office today.
When his company began to do very well, Chen started collecting Chinese artists because he was inspired by their work. As his business expanded to other countries, he would travel, and says he “liked going to museums and galleries because they are a good place to learn.” He read voraciously about art and went to exhibitions, habits he continues today. “I am still discovering,” he says, his eyes lighting up behind his serious, black-framed glasses.
In recent years, Chen has been most excited by Western contemporary art. He took the leap in the mid-1980s and bought an untitled Cy Twombly work because it made him feel “calm,” and later a yellow Warhol fright wig self-portrait because he thought it was “so fresh.” Continue Reading >