The journey of Chinese-Indonesian collector Budi Tek is the story of contemporary Asia and China
He is ready to open his new contemporary art museum in Shanghai — a private archive — in a restored aircraft hangar built by the Russians nearly 70 years ago. The door of Budi's new museum will open on May 17, 2014, in a symbol of the museum building boom in a changing China. The country, estimates Asian culture entrepreneur Philip Dodd (Made in China), is planning to build nearly 8,000 museums in the next decade across private and public sectors. "I met Budi and his wife Michelle in mid January in Shanghai. They were pushing for the project — a series of exhibition rooms in a old aircraft hangar that will host Budi's personal art collections," Dodd recalled in a recent interface with a niche crowd of artists and writers at the India Art Fair 2014 (Jan 30-Feb 2, 2014).
Budi began to collect seriously in the mid-1980s when China went on an economic expansion binge - opening its door to globalised aesthetics in the process.
It was the time when contemporary Chinese art started making its mark in international circuits - as institutional and private collectibles. Millionaire collectors in the west began to acquire works by new Chinese artists - many of whom were in hiding during Mao Zedong's cultural revolution and the iron curtain decades thereafter. In a reverse trend, local collectors like Budi expanded their "essentially Chinese collections by selectively collecting international art primarily to show contemporary Chinese art in the international context. The era witnessed the beginning of the homecoming of classical Chinese art that had moved out of the country during the British rule in buy-back campaign by museums and collectors.
Budi cashed on this trend - and set up his first private museum in Jakarta. He is in the process of moving the museum back to Beijing at a more exclusive and private address - which will allow viewing by appointment.
The collector, who was in India for the India Art Fair 2014 in February, spoke at length about his collection.
"I am happy to be back in India after three years - I visited the India Art Fair three years ago and we were then talking about collectors and the kind of art works they collect — about my museum in Jakarta. My lifetime's goal has been to establish a serious and big museum. I have a Bodhi museum in Jakarta where we (along with wife Michelle) show serious art by serious artists and serious curators. The museum has become influential in Jakarta. But very soon, we will move the museum to a private headquarters in Beijing," Budi said in a prelude to recounting his odyssey.
"The Asian financial crisis (1997) wiped out all my wealth. My fortunes went down to 'negative 100' and I fought hard to recoup. Thank god, it is positive again after restructuring,: Budi recounted. Some people "love to live only for their wealth, but I am not one of them", the collector said.
He was "up there for three years during the financial crash cooking at home everyday just to forget what was happening to my life. It took seven years to restructure my life," Budi said. The collector is the president of a company "but he does not go to work - for the last 10 years which he chooses to describe as his years of self exile to pursue his heart's calling art". When Budi decided to "build his art collection once again after the Asian market crash crash that sunk his fortunes, he began in a small way". "I started to get one piece, two pieces at a time. Now I am a full time collector- doing everything all at once. I am collecting art and watching my two kids from Michelle grow up. For the first time, I felt I was becoming a father and grand-daddy at the same time. I had time to watch my kids grow up," Budi said.
The first work that Budi had acquired was of a "Boy Riding a Wooden Horse". "It is coincidence that (2014) is the year of the horse- it is a good sign," Budi said.
The collector's preferred genre of contemporary art is "installation". "Installations matter to me because they are three dimensional - sometime four or with more dimension. They are rooted. Each dimension has a message — about anthropology, sociology, philosophy and about anything and everything. There is something hidden, something unspoken and something unclear," Budi explained. One of the most profound yet "cutting -edge" installations in his collection that Budi likes to show off is a solid artwork, "Bat Project IV" by artist Huang Yong Ping that comment on war, ravages and abandonment. He bought the art work - rather persuaded New York gallerist Barbara Gladstone to sell the art work to him.
It is a skeletal replica of an American spy plane with a bat logo on its tail that came down on the island of Hainan after a collision with a Chinese aircraft. After two decades of negotiations, the aircraft was acquired by the American government and cut into four parts. Artist Yong Ping used a Lockheed prototype of the cut version of the plane for his installation. "The artist thought of the bat logo and used it as motif (of stuffed taxidermic bats) in his work. When the installation was being shown at Guangzhou Triennale in 2002, the American embassy denied permission citing diplomatic reasons. It made the artist famous," Budi said.
At the interface in India Art Fair 2014, Budi was the lord of the collectors' ring — flaunting his treasures with a slideshow.
Budi says his collection strategy is to rebuild "the history of contemporary Chinese art that begins in the early 1980s. He collects "historic Chinese paintings of value as well".
Budi Tek's Yuz Museum in Shanghai
Budi Tek had been looking around for a creative archiving space for some years before he stumbled upon the derelict aircraft hangar on a trip to Shanghai with wife Michelle. "My wife is from Shanghai and we had the chance to look around Shanghai. We got this hangar built by the Russians 70 years ago. For 40 years, the hangar was empty. We hired the famous Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto and designed the hangar into an exhibition space - minimal in layout - without compromising on the character and history of the space.