Indonesian Chinese Budi Tek has lived in China for 17 years. Here he is mostly known for being a collector of contemporary Chinese art. But it is his recent decision to open an art museum in Shanghai that has further triggered LEAP’s interest in this figure. In the beginning of September, we interviewed him in Shanghai.
LEAP You have said that collecting a work of art is about more than just purchasing the material aspect of the object, that it is also about acquiring its spiritual side. How do you perceive the relationship between the two?
BUDI TEK For me, the purchase of an artwork is the purchase of a “sensory experience,” which is more important than the object itself. This experience is a mental response to a specific set of things— a subjective evaluation, if you will. This sensory experience exceeds our perception of objective “facts,” and that is particularly true with interpersonal interactions.
LEAP Are you religious?
BT I am Christian. To me, collecting is an exercise in endurance; it is the faith, hope, and love of an artistic life.
LEAP Then your taste in art is related to these concepts?
BT I collect art out of personal interest. The Bible is a set of guiding principles for my behavior. The endeavor to collect, on a certain level, is meant to proactively influence myself and others. For instance, through the creation of a museum— the museum is the vehicle, a platform— I can influence those who visit the museum, and help foster their interest in the arts, and take them to a higher form of living. The material properties of art are not particularly interesting. But art can continually provide positive energy and influence people. Through art, people can see beauty at the same time, and then interact. This isn’t a direct interaction; it is more in an ethereal sense instead.
LEAP Like the Buddhist concept of “smiling with flower petals in one’s hand,” people understand each other implicitly and almost telepathically.
BT Yes. I like Buddhism very much. It calms me. I studied Chinese through high school and retain deep feelings for Chinese culture.
LEAP As a Chinese Indonesian, is your goal in founding a museum related to this feeling? Is your personal experience part of the process?
BT Years ago, I combined forces with other second-generation Chinese Indonesian businessmen and joined anti-racism organizations during the time when Indonesia had a strong anti-Chinese movement. Then, Chinese Indonesians weren’t entitled to a college education, Chinese characters were banned, and the Spring Festival was not a national holiday. Through lobbying, we managed to rewrite the law through parliament. Even so, in Indonesia, people generally believe that Chinese immigrants are “animals of the economy.” I want to disprove the notion that Chinese people aren’t cultured. At the time, I was converting a space that had been abandoned for seven or eight years into a private club. My original intention was to share my collection with my friends. During the building process, I started thinking about turning the private space into a public art space and founded the Jakarta Yu Deyao Museum. My initial thoughts were fairly simple, thinking that a private museum just needed a good name. Later I visited some very professional privately operated museums in many countries and continued to learn in order to produce exquisite exhibitions.
LEAP In what sort of direction does your Chinese contemporary art collection lean?
BT I use contemporary art history as the basis for selecting the artworks, hoping to find a common thread among my collections. Among these works, 1985 to 1995 is the golden period which I most cherish. I am interested in works prior to 1985 and post 1995 as well, but I’m more careful about purchasing those works. For instance, my best Zhang Xiaogang paintings mostly come from the 1990s. I also have one from the 1980s, but that isn’t my focus right now. If I were able to focus on Zhang individually, then I would certainly collect all his periods.
LEAP It has been said that you also collect foreign contemporary art?
BT My Chinese contemporary art collection follows certain motifs, whereas collections from other countries are relatively spotty. I collect artwork from other countries that pertain to Chinese art. For instance, the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has had an influence on Chinese contemporary art, so I’ve collected his works.
LEAP Do you have contemporary art from Indonesia?
BT Yes, but the collection is also spotty. The works have nothing to do with contemporary Chinese art.
LEAP Why did you select Shanghai as the location for the Yu Deyao Museum?
BT Before deciding on Shanghai, I had considered Beijing, Bali, and Hong Kong. My friends tell me that the whole contemporary art world is looking intently at China’s development, and in China, the best art is in Beijing or Shanghai— the two are equally important. Although most of my collection is stored in a warehouse in Songzhuang in Beijing, due to certain complications, I ultimately settled on Shanghai.
LEAP They say that Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled (The Tree of Life), will be on permanent display at the Yu Deyao Musuem. How did you come to make such a decision?
BT In terms of art history, this piece is very important— there are only two copies worldwide. I collected it out of my love for the work and didn’t think too much about whether it is easy to preserve or if it is visually appealing— I collected the “No Smoking” series by Liu Wei, which is of significant academic value, but the imagery is not pleasing to the eye. At the same time, I’ve collected lots of works that are difficult to display, such as Xu Bing’s Tobacco Plan and Freedom by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The installation Like Mother Like Son by Adel Abdessemed requires a tremendous amount of space in order to be displayed. These pieces are of very high value. French collector Francois Pinault told me that when my Shanghai museum opens, he will definitely come see it.
LEAP Why did you select Sou Fujimoto to design the Shanghai Yu Deyao Museum?
BT I met Mr. Sou Fujimoto through friends. The design team that he worked with recently won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the Venice Biennale. His simple and clean design style is very much in tune with my taste. We can expect that the architectural style of the museum will be very simple.