The peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector

Q&A with Dick Quan

Dr Dick Quan is a highly respected collector of Australian and international art. We caught up with him to find out what he enjoys about art fairs.

How long have you been collecting art and when did you begin?

When I was 21 after my father bought me an Edo period print. I met lots of artists at university so it was supporting artist friends at first and then I succumbed to the allure to collect.

Has attending art fairs changed the way you collect in terms of the geography of the artist and the type of work produced?

Yes. It has exposed me to more international art and works from the Asia Pacific region as the fairs are like the contemporary version of the salon shows of a bygone era. Fairs are like a counterpoint to the intellectual or rigour of a curated museum show. Both have a place in the art ecosystem. Fairs now confirm the role of Australian artists in an international context and especially in the Asia Pacific region where a strong sense of identity has emerged. It is not like the Atlantic Rim vision of Europe and East Coast USA. It’s truly exciting to see new ideas and aesthetics emerge. At the large art fairs like Art Basel, Frieze, Armoury, you look less at the nationality but more at the ideas and individual talents of the artists presented as there are galleries from everywhere. You very quickly sort out your personal preferences. I don’t use geography nor race nor name as an indicator of what I should collect but rather what resonates with me and our time. I hope that what I collect will have resonance in times to come or can be a page in the history of art that is beyond an accomplished work.

I also like artists who are resourceful like Eko Nugroho who works with low priced editions for his works and has collaborated with Louis Vuitton to Ikea. He also empowers his community by employing them to produce his DGTMB products. The same can be said of Nick Cave, the American artist who has an online product shop. I like the post-Warholian world of art products so I collect them with the artist’s original work. In Australia, artists like Del Kathryn Barton and Fiona Hall has demonstrated that a scarf or a plate can be an effective artwork as well as a ‘work’. Editioned works and collaborations are part of the new opportunities for artists to cut through.

What have you learnt from attending major art fairs through meeting and speaking to other international collectors?

Art fairs are now an important conduit for curators, museums, collectors, artists and enthusiasts. It is an addition to Biennales and symposia. We get to meet everybody and discuss works we are interested in and receive viewpoints we didn’t know from the commercial, private, educational and art worlds. I feel that after almost a century of art being museum & curator-led it is returning to the people and the market place. It sounds threatening to many but with the internet accessible to all, research of art & artists, art fairs have exposed more people to art than ever. The growing number of fairs has given rise to a democratisation of access to view work, where one can then research the art and forums as a platform of discussion and discourse outside of the traditional keepers of knowledge. We can find the art that excites us and be exposed to those aesthetics we don’t understand.

I also know that the tick list to make an artist be noticed has gotten a lot longer and the work has to resonate with a much bigger audience to cut through so it’s a lot more difficult with so many artists & art in the world.

What are the different tastes you’ve observed from collectors at fairs in Australia and the Asia Pacific, compared to fairs internationally in Europe and America?

I have always noted the divergence of tastes in our region away from the cool eyes of Europe and the Atlantic coast of the US. There is an independent visual awakening in the Asia Pacific Rim, a counterpoint to 20th century art in the emergent and re-emergent cities and cultures. The beauty of indigenous art of Australia is now prominently displayed around the world in museums not afraid to acknowledge the first peoples’ aesthetics. This is juxtaposed to the rise of the aesthetics of a confident commercial & vibrant Pacific Rim through art fairs, biennales and travel. Often these trends are ahead of curated museum shows and biennales as the fairs facilitate the collector, student, artist, dealer and enthusiasts to explore, study, and engage with local galleries and cultures. We can research online and make connections with artists and curators of the host fair cites, see museum shows, go to private collections, as well as immerse in the culture through art fairs. It is amazing that we need no access to books to learn. We can judge through engagement and speaking to those involved with art contemporaneously at a fair. Our tastes are broadened and the old stereotypes of what is ‘good or bad’ as dictated by an elite is recalibrated. So the term taste I feel does not describe the new heterogeneity of experiences and oeuvres we have in the word. It is old fashioned and not consistent with the contemporary world. We have disparate streams and all are particular and cultural resonant to the audience who embrace it no matter what an expert would say about the ‘taste’. I enjoy a good hamburger and good sashimi. They are all good.

You’ve said previously that you collect based on the movements you’ve observed particularly around the term you coined, "PRACCArt” (Pacific Rim Aesthetic Climate Change Art ) and also "the Melbourne school of model makers". What are the factors you consider before adding a work to your collection?

I like the idea of stating that the Pacific Rim has a unique array of aesthetics that is an aesthetic climate change from the EU or NYC. However I see more artists from the EU or NYC embracing Pacific aesthetics in the recent years promulgated by museums like the Quai Branly in Paris. I am talking about the late 2000s-early 10’s with Indonesian art from Jogja, Korean artists or the Melbourne school of model makers. The PRACCA is an art borne through growing up in the Pacific city, educated in another country then working in a third, where identity is no longer defined by what a person looks like or where they are born. Accents are adored and irony is de rigueur. I love artists learning exploring and embracing multiple cultures, practices, and hence they are redefining aesthetics. An aesthetic climate change. Currently I am interested in the acknowledgement of art in the commercial world and bling culture like the Neo Paleo Ironic of Damien Hirst and many Chinese artists like Made In Company/ Xu Zhen.

I often as , how does the work reflect the time it was made, and the environment or history in which it was created. I also seek to find elements in the work that makes it different from the mainstream of art at that time.

How can unrepresented artists gain the attention of collectors if they're not participating in art fairs?

1. Social media, social media, social media.

2. Engage with the world, get out there, talk to curators, artists, collectors, people.

3. Go all over, see the world, to show your work. Sadly art has a very limited audience in Australia and our neighbour Indonesia has a population of 265 million vs our 25 million.

You’re a prolific social media user, are you also buying works online? How important is the documentation of work in this instance?

Yes. I’m embracing a new age and I believe that social media is here to stay. Those who don’t use it must have something to hide or belong to the last millennium. I embrace the future and the future is social media.

I like to attend a lot of art fairs, biennales and I usually find artists I am interested in. Unfortunately great works are sold in the first minutes of art fairs and I must rely on a gallery sending me images or I find a work online by artists who have sold at a fair. I usually like to have seen a work by the artist in the flesh before I buy. I don’t usually buy an artist’s work that is unknown to me online. I also have curators, other collectors and gallerists whom I trust to recommend works which I will follow online.

Most works are very well documented especially by the artist. Provenance is very important in contemporary art and I find that it can’t hurt to have a work documented with the artist. Artists can also shift galleries and some galleries don’t pass on owner information so a collector’s contemporaneous art fair, social event or museum post with the work serves as great documentation. Traditional forms of documentation are still valid, but what makes a work great is to enhance the social resonance through documenting a work in its cultural context sometimes outside the confines of the museum or art world.

Image: Dr Dick Quan. Photo by Daniel Boud, 2014 courtesy of Art Month Sydney and 10 group.