Ed Tang And Jonathan Cheung On Their New Art Consulting Firm, Art-Bureau Advisory
Building an art collection is a deeply personal thing, a pursuit that collectors like to say is ruled by all their senses. Some people are driven by aesthetics and tastes, others by emotions and feelings. But almost everyone, when it comes down to it, is ultimately influenced by what they hear.
“We don’t want collectors to necessarily collect with their ears,” says Ed Tang, the global art advisor and London and Hong Kong native who has nurtured numerous aspiring patrons through his work at auction houses including Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips over the last decade. “Someone might hear that this or that is going to be a hot thing, and they just buy it. But we really don’t want to jump onto trends that may not have longevity—because longevity, I think, is the key.”
Of course, for those with the means to access the notoriously opaque and move-it-or-lose-it art world, any opportunity to land a potential trophy can be tempting, and it’s not always easy to trust the senses alone. With art collecting on the rise in many corners of the world, a trend that has only grown stronger with people spending more time in their homes, Tang and his longtime friend Jonathan Cheung, the Hong Kong public relations veteran known as JC, decided to branch out with a new consulting service, called Art-Bureau Advisory, launching this month. Cheung, a co-founder of Buzz Agency Hong Kong and now a partner and executive director in Occasions Asia Pacific Group, will be based in Hong Kong, while Tang will work from his home in New York, where he has lived since 2014.
Tang and Cheung, through their respective careers and as art collectors themselves, have a combined network that includes influential gallerists, curators and blue-chip artists, as well as figures from the overlapping worlds of design, fashion and society. Each has had significant experience behind the scenes through his support of major arts institutions.
Tang, the son of the late David Tang, has been an ambassador for Tate Young Patrons, a member of Tate’s Asia-Pacific acquisitions committee and a founding co-chair of the Whitechapel Gallery First Futures group in London. Cheung serves on acquisition committees for Tate and the Serpentine Galleries in London, and is a trustee of Design Trust, an executive committee member of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and a founding patron of M+, all in Hong Kong. Both are founding members of Asia Art Archive’s Women in Art History Fund.
They became friends as teenagers and remained close even after their schooling and occupations led them to different cities at different times, a factor they now see as an advantage in an industry that, during normal times, operates on a relentless calendar of trade fairs and auctions spread across nations and time zones. And increasingly, the customer focus for contemporary works has shifted towards a rising class of wealthy Asia-based collectors who are eagerly entering the field.
“Asia is the one word that everyone talks about today,” Tang says. “My life is in New York, but JC is here, and he’s incredibly passionate and well-informed. We cover each other’s blind spots and also push each other in directions where we will have a lot of opportunities. I can be the bridge to bring attention to collectors in Asia and, likewise, if collectors want to see things in the West, I can go on their behalf to see them.”
“I see it as extending the surfaces of what I’m doing with PR and marketing,” adds Cheung. “I had the luxury of Ed’s friendly advice throughout my own journey of collecting, and I could see the importance of that.”
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Their services will include research, consultation and special commissions—“someone who filters, advocates and protects you from the things you want, but shouldn’t want,” Tang says—as well as long-term planning for families who want to build collections with philanthropic intentions. Tang himself has donated or promised works to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the High Museum in Atlanta and ICA Miami.
“A lot of times, collectors think of themselves not as owners of work, but as custodians,” Tang says. “We know what needs to be done to safeguard those works of art. That is an integral part to a collector’s life.”
Tang and Cheung will also collaborate on special projects, their first being Go Figure, an online group show of figurative art with the gallery Sprüth Magers, opening this month to coincide with Art Basel in Hong Kong. The name is a pun, inviting the audience to figure out different links between the artists and the roughly 20 works included. Those include pieces by John Baldessari, George Condo, Thomas Demand, Gary Hume, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sterling Ruby, Cindy Sherman and Rosemarie Trockel, as well as a mix of artists not represented by Sprüth, including a painting by Lenz Geerk and a work by Matthew Angelo Harrison from his forthcoming solo show at Kunsthalle Basel.
Tang fell in love with visual culture as a child, gravitating towards art history at boarding school in the UK and making it his focus at University College London. When he graduated, the western market for contemporary Chinese artists was booming and his friends suggested he return to Hong Kong to catch that wave, but he believed it was only a matter of time before collectors in Asia turned their attention to the West. “We are now living in a global world,” he says. “I feel like I’m at the right place at the right time.”
Cheung was studying design and management at Parsons School of Design in New York at a time when the fashion and art worlds were beginning to collide, with unexpected collaborations between artists and designers. He was intrigued by their aesthetics, and became more exposed to the art world while completing his graduate studies at the Bartlett School of Planning at University College London, leading to his interest in supporting galleries and museums.
“One of the things I have loved in the past few years was going on trips with the institutions to see the studios of artists and the homes of collectors,” he says. “I went to Texas with the Tate, California with Serpentine, Korea with M+. I love seeing how happily they live with their collections.”
As for their own collections, Tang describes himself more of a maximalist. At his country home in Connecticut, “we don’t have a single blank wall,” he says. Recent acquisitions have included a painting by the American artist Wade Guyton and a half-tonne sculpture by Korean artist Lee Ufan installed in his garden. Cheung, meanwhile, loves minimalism.
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“Even in my daily conversations with JC, it’s interesting to see his taste is not quite opposed, but different from mine,” Tang says. “I think opposites attract.”
Their complementary tastes, in fact, drove Tang and Cheung into business together. As he was moving into a new home in Hong Kong recently, Cheung found himself asking Tang lots of questions as he sought to create a space that better defined his own burgeoning taste.
“I ask way too many questions,” he says.
“No,” says Tang. “Some collectors may be very intuitive and don’t want to be bored by minutiae, but I think the more you develop your own taste and rhythm, it’s important to ask questions.”
That’s especially true when seeking to fulfil the desires of a collector.
“People often ask how much something costs and they are told that it’s impossible to get,” Cheung says. “But what’s impossible? Is it financially impossible because it’s out of reach? Is it because the artist only produced ten works and 20 museums around the world want a piece? Is it a matter of timing? There are just so many factors, but I was never afraid to ask questions, because I think nothing is impossible.”
Adds Tang: “There are so many creative ways of getting what you want.”
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