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Collecting as a practice: Amber

Eazel Magazine

Apr 10, 2023

A room specially designed in black in Amber's new house in Seoul. 
Fernando Cano Busquets, Boyacá, 2017

 

 

“Collecting as a practice” is a set of conversations with imaginary collectors which explores the ways in which these art enthusiasts go about building their collections. There is a nuance between collecting and buying art; one contains the implication of a collection, a string of carefully selected pieces that complement each other to convey a symbiosis of meaning.

 

This series was launched in an attempt to highlight the practice of art rather than simply focusing on a finished piece. Similar to the process of creating an artwork, the story of how several elements come together across time to form a collection is akin to a magical quest, with the collector as the adventurer. Ultimately, the conversations help to navigate the precious collections of these fictional characters by gaining intricate insight into their journey.

 

Following the success of “Collecting as a practice: Liam and Hana”, which told the story of two collectors who shared a passion for art despite their separate professional backgrounds, eazel is proud to present its second entry in this series. With a new fictional character, a new story and a new collection, we hope to once again inspire our readers and those looking to dabble into the practice of collecting artworks. Aiming to explore the intricacies of a collector’s practice from another angle, this account delves into the various ways in which one can be inspired, influenced and motivated to begin collecting. As everyone has a different experience with art, this series looks at the butterfly effect of a million experiences that can shape a person as an art collector.

 

On that note, meet our new fictional character, Amber. A second generation art collector, Amber is an enthusiast who lives and breathes art. With years of exposure to a myriad of artists and their works, she has spent her life evolving as a collector and a patron. This was mostly possible through her parents’ activities, her mother being a collector herself and her father an architect. Though Amber grew up and established her architecture firm in London, she has her roots in Seoul. Her frequent visits to the city have prompted her to partly settle in Seoul, and she recently decided to purchase a house, which now displays a part of her collection. In this interview with Amber, eazel looks at how this character developed her passion for art and overcame the challenges on her path as a collector.

 

*The works that are part of Amber’s fictional collection are all from the eazel archive, and all artworks are courtesy of the each artist and relative galleries.

 


 

eazel: Great to see you again since our previous encounter during Frieze week in September last year. Do you visit Seoul on a regular basis, or is there a special occasion this time? 

 

Amber: Yes, lovely to see you again. For about the past three years, I have been dividing my time in London and Seoul. My grandmother on my dad’s side wasn’t very well and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. I was born in Seoul and my grandmother looked after my brother and I until we moved to the UK when I was six years old. Thankfully, her health is back on track now and we can once again do the usual things we used to do together; go out for meals or go on her favorite walks. This time however, the whole family managed to be here as we are celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday. I own an architecture firm in London, but I am lucky to have a business partner I can trust, which allows me to travel freely. 

 

eazel: Glad to hear that your grandmother is doing better now. So, do you have any childhood memories from Seoul? 

 

Amber: Mostly from photographs, in which my brother and I look extremely happy. So we must have had a good time! My parents met each other in Seoul in the early 1980s while my mum was working at the British embassy as a diplomat in international economics. As a graduate of the London School of Economics, and eager to explore the world, she chose a career where she can easily work in a different country than where she grew up. My dad had just gotten back from his studies in Architecture at Politecnico di Milano in Italy at the time. 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Peyton, The Friends (after Titian's Pastoral Concert 1509), 2021
© Elizabeth Peyton; courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
Photo: Tom Powel Imaging

On their first date, my dad took my mum to a Chopin concert. We later found out that she was not a big fan of Chopin, but she was nonetheless happy that they shared a love for classical music. I am not sure if it was love at first sight, but they definitely grew to love and respect each other. So, Seoul to me is not only where I was born, but where I feel my roots are. It is where my story all began, and it doesn’t feel too alienating to spend a significant time in this apparently new city in my late 30s. And how great is it that you can call two cities your home? 

eazel: Yes, that sounds quite comforting actually. Thank you for inviting us to your new home. Last time we spoke, you were moving part of your art collection from London to Seoul. Are these pieces from that said collection? 

Amber
: We just finished hanging these yesterday actually, so your timing is perfect! As I began to spend more time in Seoul, I missed being surrounded by artworks that give me great comfort and pleasure. My mum has been supporting artists and collecting works since the 1990s, so I have always lived in an environment full of art pieces. If I am to live here half of the time, I want to feel at home.

 

 

eazel: They look fantastic. Your house has a very minimalistic feel to it and your choice to use black works rather well with your paintings on the wall. 

 

Amber: I love how the light reflects different shades of black throughout the day. Black has the ability to absorb and accept anything surrounding it. Black isn't on the visible spectrum of color, meaning that it is not a reflection of light. Rather, black is the absence of light. It is the only shade that can exist in nature without any light at all. So, for me, black is conceptual and poetic, and I use it quite often in my designs in architecture. 

 

My mum’s minimalist style rubbed off on me I suppose. It is a style that I grew up with and learned to appreciate. “Less is more” is something that my brother and I heard her say on a daily basis when we were younger. And she still does! After resisting her when I was younger, I do agree now that refined beauty gives a kind of satisfaction that comes from striving to make the surrounding environment shine. 

 

 

Installation view of Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View at Chisenhale Gallery, London (1991)
Courtesy of the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London
Photo: Hugo Glendinning

 

 

eazel: It reminds me of a famous Francis Bacon quote: “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present”. Before we get into your collection itself, could you say a little bit about your relationship with art in general? It sounds like you grew up seeing art from an early age with your mother. 

 

Amber: When I was six years old, my family moved to a town called Richmond, very close to London. My mum’s side of the family had a sizable mansion there, which we inherited eventually. The house was full of Old Masters paintings and antique furniture. It was quite dusty too, I remember. My parents renovated the house little by little and now it is more to my mum’s taste - minimalistic with mid-century furniture. My dad is an architect too, and he took care of most of the planning and organizing regarding the construction. The house is a Grade II listed building, which meant it needed careful planning and execution by highly skilled craftsmen. Once the house was finished, it was featured in both Architecture Review and Home and Garden magazines. 

 

As the parts of the house were being renovated, artists and curators would come in to have dinner and drinks with my parents and it was quite natural for me to be around them talking about art. I later found out that my mum was supporting some of the artists who would come to our house when they would do exhibitions, as most of them created big installation art that was not very commercial. When I look at photos of my childhood, I see that I was often at exhibitions with my brother. There is a very cute one where we are waving our arms up in front of a Cornelia Parker installation at Chisenhale Gallery in 1991. My brother was too young but I have some recollection of it, mostly because I had been trying to make shadow animals against the wall. 

 

eazel: Going to art exhibitions from a young age must make you feel like art has always been part of your life. Has seeing your mother collect pieces inspired or motivated you to start as well? 

 

Amber: My mum was a patron before she was a collector. She sees the importance of art in people’s lives and is quite adamant about how it is a must-have element in someone’s life. Her attention was magnetically drawn to artists who make great art that is not necessarily commercially attractive to the market. She was, and still is, a big fan of artists like Rachel Whiteread, Mona Hatoum, and Fiona Banner. Conceptual art projects like Michael Landy’s Break Down in 2001 were also something she loved.

 

 

Angela Bulloch, Five Form Stack: Pink Moss, 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, London and Hong Kong
​​​​

 

 

Do you know an artist-run space called City Racing in London? It operated until 1998, closing due to financial difficulties as the artists who ran the space struggled to keep up with the running cost. City Racing is where Fiona Banner had her first ever solo exhibition in 1994. My mum would support art spaces like this, or individual artists who wanted to realize exhibitions that were a little ahead of their time. She has a collection too, mostly minimalistic works with geometric elements, including Angela Bulloch, Agnes Martin, and Sol LeWitt.

 

eazel: Although the decor and the structure of this house is quite minimalistic, your paintings are not. So, it is fair to say that you were somewhat influenced by your mother in terms of her ethos, but in the end you developed your own taste and collection. 

 

Amber: As you can see, my mum’s taste in her collection has not affected mine, but I sure have learned a lot from her in terms of how I place myself in the art world and how I approach collecting and the market. This doesn’t mean that she spoon fed me the how-to-collect. I made my own mistakes and learned from them. My first few purchases were completely driven by my emotions and I didn’t care about the price. Some works were bought directly from the artists’ studios in their earlier career straight out of graduate school and at the time, I didn’t even think to ask for a certificate or a document proving the transfer of ownership. Now I don’t tend to buy straight from the artists, partly because of lessons I have learned through the mistakes I made in the past, but also because I believe in the role of galleries and in the way they foster and look after the artists they represent. 

 

eazel: How do you view collecting as a second generation collector? 

 

Amber: My collection was definitely influenced by my lifestyle and it is undeniably connected to my mum. Most importantly, I want to continue my mum’s legacy in patronage, as I think something beautiful and meaningful happens when the practice of supporting artists goes hand in hand with collecting. In terms of her physical collection consisting of her minimalistic works, I have less intention to inherit them per se. I appreciate their worth as great and historically important works, but they are not necessarily my “taste”. Opening an art foundation is one of my dreams, and it could be a good way to continue in her footsteps as a collector as well as a patron. 

 

eazel: What is the most important element you consider when deciding to add a work to your collection? 

 

Amber: Intuitive connection is essential for me to begin to think about buying an artwork. In the past, I felt so strongly about this factor that I used to just buy on the spot if I “fell in love” without giving much further thought. Now, I do ponder a little more about how it would sit with the rest of the collection and if the price is justifiable. I don’t collect “artists”, so tag phrases like “the hottest young talent” or “the must-have emerging artist” don’t excite me. Rather, I try to build a collection around the works of a few artists whom I am interested in. I try to get a good overview of their oeuvre and I get great satisfaction from being able to tell the story of an artist’s practice through my collection. 

 

eazel: Is there an artist that represents your collection as a whole? 

 

Amber: I don’t think there is a certain “fit” for my collection. There might be an aesthetic feel through which one can guess what kind of style I like, but that is just my taste. It is hard to just pick one but maybe I can talk about the aesthetic qualities of my collection. The works in the collection largely go into three categories: abstract, figurative, and abstract figurative. I have always loved seeing figures in paintings, especially as a child. Perhaps that was a natural reaction, as they are most recognizable when seeing art from a child’s perspective. 

 

For abstract art, I enjoy the freedom it gives me. I like how it allows for an immediate visual connection, and how it gives me the gift of time to interpret it in any way I wish. I am fascinated by how a piece can be viewed in one way by one person at a specific point in time and then be seen completely differently by the next person. As for abstract figurative, I mean, what is there not to like when there are two of my favorite things put together?

 

 

Artworks in Amber’s working place in upstairs 
Left: Claire Tabouret, The Siblings, 2020
Right: Shinyoung Park, A Fungus and a Dead Blue Bird, 2018

 

 

eazel: Is painting the main medium in your collection?

 

Amber: Although I could not bring any to Seoul, I also collect sculptures. Among them is a ceramic work by Heidi Lau, which looks a little like something you would find at the bottom of the ocean. It gives out a certain depth and ancient energy. The artist herself is much inspired by Taoist mythology in Macau, where she was born. In her practice in general, she deals with displacement and nostalgia, which also resonate with me a lot. Did you see the painting by Lilian Thomas Burwell in the other room? I have one of her wall sculptures from the 1980s in London. You can look at it at different times of the day and it will give you something new every time, depending on where the light is shining from.

 

I recently came to know Dan Kim through a curator friend based in Seoul. I have yet to get my hands on any of his pieces, but what I like about his work is that each sculpture looks like it had the freedom to grow as it wished, resulting in a unique flair. Another artist I have got to know in Seoul is Jong Oh, whose solo exhibition I attended last year during Frieze at ONE AND J. Gallery. He makes these extremely fragile-looking sculptures, mainly built with fishing wire, wood and small weight, and they are usually hung from the ceiling or off a wall. These delicate sculptures require perfect balance and tension in order to retain their form and to appear effortlessly minimalistic. 

 

eazel: Is there an artist who is not in your collection, but who you think would be a good fit? And why? 

 

Amber: Sophie von Hellermann! I first consciously saw her work at Frieze 2004. I didn’t intend to buy anything at the fair as, after learning a few lessons with my earlier purchases, I was a little apprehensive. When I saw Sophie’s work however, I connected immediately. Her piece showed a blond woman in the center stage, who I assumed was the artist herself, looking at a flying microphone as if she was about to catch it. The rest of the band was painted in shadows of purple and gray. 

 

Of course, it was sold already so I didn't come close to having it. I found out that Saatchi bought her works for the graduate exhibition at the Royal College of Art before they made it to the show. Since then, von Hellermann is one of the artists I make sure to see whenever her show is in London. From memory, a Chisenhale show in 2006 stuck with me as it was refreshing to see conventional paintings hung in a rather dynamic format; some were hanging from the ceiling and others stood on the floor in a row creating an immersive viewing experience.

 

 

Installation view of Elephant in the Room at Firstsite, Colchester, England (2013)

Exhibitions at Vilma Gold (now closed permanently) and Firstsite, Colchester in 2011 and 2013 respectively, were also memorable. The body of work for the Vilma Gold show was made during her stay in Margate, a town also beloved by Joseph Mallord William Turner. The one at Firstsite included large scale paneled paintings around the wall displayed at a slight angle, giving the illusion that the space was wider than it actually was. What I enjoyed the most in that show was the architectural tower made up of small portrait paintings and a sculptural painting in the shape of a house that could also be seen as murals.

Later I found out that in one of the exhibitions I saw with my mum in Paris, I had already seen a painting by von Hellermann in 2002 alongside Elizabeth Peyton, Peter Doig, and Luc Tuymans, all of whom I came to love the works of. I think if the opportunity presented itself, I would love to have a work by von Hellermann.

 

 

eazel: How does art influence your life in general? Or vice versa? 

 

Amber: I grew up in a town called Richmond near London and up until 2007, Eurostar ran from Waterloo train station, which was only a couple of stops away. I am told that I had been to Paris many times during the mid 1990s with my mum to see exhibitions, but I was quite young so I don’t remember all of them. One that really stayed with me is when we went to Pompidou in 2002, when I was about 18 to see an exhibition of figurative works. This is the same show I referred to earlier when talking about Sophie von Hellermann. 

 

I actually go to Venice every year for both art and architecture; art biennale with my mum, and architecture with my dad. Sometimes, the whole family goes together if the schedule allows it. One of my brother and I’s first memories on holiday is actually fighting over some ice cream in Venice. There is an embarrassing photograph to prove the moment… 

 

I tend to align my travels, whether for work or holiday, with major art events. I also have a little bit of a fear of missing out, so I do my best to see what I can, especially if I am making an effort to go somewhere that I normally would not visit. 

 

eazel: Is there something you have found out about the art world, or about yourself, that you didn’t know before collecting? 

 

Amber: I actually don’t remember a period of my life when art was not part of it. One of my first memories is looking at what I thought were strange things at galleries and museums. What I know for sure is that art can take some credit for shaping my life and making it more open and creative. When I travel, art also adds another dimension to my holidays and other trips, as I can see wherever I am through the perspective of the artists who reflect the contemporary world. Having experienced the art world for a long time, I have seen changes in trends and generations of artists and gallerists. It keeps me on my toes and gives me an opportunity to see something new all the time.

 

 

Lilian Thomas Burwell, Untitled, c.1980
Courtesy of the artist and Berry Campbell Gallery, New York 

 

 

eazel: Is it important to have a budget when collecting? Is there any advice you would give to a collector who is just starting out? Could you also briefly explain your buying process? 

 

Amber: I usually buy from galleries that I have known for a while. The sense of security and the trust that comes with mutual respect is important to me. Some of these relationships were “passed down” from my mum, which is quite valuable given the current art market climate in which artworks seem to sell at a faster pace than ever before. It is a global phenomenon, especially when it comes to works by emerging and ultra-contemporary artists. 

 

Luckily, I never had to worry about budget, but that doesn’t mean I buy everything and anything I set my eyes on. As I mentioned earlier, there are times when I see a work that I want very much for my collection, but if I see it in an auction at a really high, unreasonable price, especially if the piece is by a relatively young artist, I just feel bad and start to worry about their potential career. I get concerned about whether the market can keep up the price of their work or think about responsibilities that come with handling young artists’ works at that extreme price tag. 

 

For me, sustainability is important - for both my collection and the artists in my collection. My wish is for the artists I love to be able to create for as long as possible in a sustainable environment and market. What is more important than a budget is your outlook on collecting and if an artwork fits that vision. Separate from the money, it is important for me to question why I collect and why I want that particular work. One advice I would give is to make sure you love the work, whether it is for your living room or an investment. Connecting with the work brings out the carer inside of you and the respect for the work naturally forms. 

 

eazel: What is collecting to you and what does it mean to you now and maybe even what will it mean in the future? 

 

Amber: As much as it is a way of life that was heavily influenced by my mum, collecting for me is gathering works of art that make me happy. Responsible and sustainable collecting is my way to protect what I love, as I want to enjoy this brilliant part of my life as long as possible. Patronage is also an important element that parallels collecting; another method to support and nurture the artists who are at the core of the art ecology. I mentioned this briefly before and I have been thinking for a while about opening a foundation that can embrace both my mum’s collection and mine and continue the patronage in more systematic and effective ways. 

 

I envisage a foundation that can give support to talented artists, and share my passion and appreciation for art with the public. Two foundations come to my mind, both of which I admire for different reasons. Gasworks in South London is somewhere I used to go with my mum and carried on visiting on my own. The non-profit art space not only works with artists based in the UK, but also has a network on a global scale. I often see works by talented artists for the first time there, including Candice Lin’s first ever UK solo exhibition in 2016. It also offers studio and residency opportunities accompanied by a program that furthers artists’ practice. 

 

Another organization that I look up to is The FLAG Art Foundation in New York. It was founded by Glenn Fuhrman, a patron and a collector, to encourage a diverse audience to enjoy contemporary art. The foundation also has the resources to loan artworks to museums and provide a sizable database of artworks to curators for research, all from the Fuhrman Family Foundation. I want to be able to give back to the world while supporting the artists and their endeavors.

 

Matterport Dummy

 


Please note that: 

 

ᐧ The characters in the project are fictional and the project is not based on a true story, although the names of some of the artists and other collectors/art professionals in the interview are borrowed from real life persons. 

ᐧ The artworks included in the VR tour are from the eazel archive, and full credit and copyright of each work can be found on our website, following the link on the image.  

Our Art Story

Collecting as a practice

Amber's collection

webvr cover