To get an idea on the kind of art that Chong Huai Seng collects, one can look at the works in Of Human Bondage, a new show of nudes the art collector personally curated at The Culture Story, the gallery he co-founded with his daughter Ning Chong.
While the display of 38 works by 22 artists from Singapore and Southeast Asia, China, the UK and the US, among others, represents only one part of his collecting interest, it reflects the breadth of his art collection, which includes drawings, mixed media, Chinese ink on paper, oil on canvas and sculptures, painstakingly put together over more than three decades.
Many of the artworks are being shown for the first time, including the early works of Singapore’s senior artists such as Lim Yew Kuan and Chua Mia Tee. Chong also shares how he acquired the works. “I like to share stories of my collecting journey,” enthuses the private investor. “With every acquisition, my dad can remember what he did and how he was feeling at that time, so it’s interesting to hear the stories,” Ning explains.
This is exactly what the father-daughter duo sought to do when they first established The Culture Story in 2017. “As collectors, we want to try and fill in the gaps by providing an alternative platform where people who enjoy art, who want to find out more about art and meet people who are also interested art, to come together,” shares Chong. Some recent exhibitions presented by The Culture Story include Constellation by American contemporary street artist Futura, Flesh Matters by Singaporean painter Wong Keen, and Genesis: God’s Terrarium by Singaporean pop artist Jahan Loh.
Chong first became interested in collecting art in the 1980s and ’90s, from his frequent business trips to London, where he spent many a weekend exploring the museums and galleries. His early acquisitions included European contemporary artists such as Sydney Harpley and Sergei Chepik. He later moved from figurative to abstract art, and was interested in Chinese contemporary ink throughout the 2000s. In recent years, he also began collecting art from Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Ning, meanwhile, considers herself “an accidental collector”. She says, “I have a little collection but quite a lot of them are gifts from artists. Dad and I have bought art together—we agree on the works or artists that we want to collect—but it’s part of his collection.” While Ning and her two brothers grew up with art around the house, and spent many weekends at the galleries of old at the Paragon shopping centre (“The truth is my dad would drag us there.”), it wasn’t until she graduated from university that she discovered her passion for art and seriously considered it as a career.