In the living room of Shanyan Koder’s London home sits a large, iridescent canvas by Damien Hirst. “It’s the only butterfly work by Damien—and he’s done a lot—that has every single butterfly from his entire series within a single work,” says the Hong Kong-born entrepreneur, an avid art collector. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Her entire personal collection is equally incredible and includes all you’d expect and more, from a Tracey Emin neon to a Degas pastel on paper, from an Antony Gormley figure to a couple of Chris Ofili paintings and photographs by Candida Höfer. It’s a mix of emerging and established, modern and contemporary, Eastern and Western pieces, many of which she lives with and all of which are the result of emotion-driven purchases.
“Be it that I love it or it makes me sad, I have to have a reaction,” says the daughter of Canning Fok (whose role as Li Ka-shing’s right-hand man gave him the wherewithal to build his own extensive art collection and inspire his daughter). “Emotionally, spiritually, psychologically—I might hate it, it might make me angry but I have to react to it, rather than understanding the concept or thinking it’s an investable piece of art.” The importance of her emotional reactions was one of the things she came to understand as a little girl accompanying her mother and father to auctions to bid on Renoirs and Picassos for their collection of Impressionist masters.
Today, Shanyan is the art expert in the family, in charge of managing the collection begun by her father. And although many of her father’s words of wisdom echo in her ears when it comes to buying—such golden rules as “don’t get carried away chasing a work”—she is an expert in her own right at navigating the rapidly changing market, having founded several art-related businesses in London, where she lives with her high-flying banker husband Matthew and their two daughters.
A vision for digital art business
Ten years ago, after gigs at Goldman Sachs and Sotheby’s, Shanyan put her lifelong immersion in the world of art to use by founding Shanyan Koder Fine Art, an advisory business based on one-to-one relationships and trust that helps high-profile collectors obtain masterworks. And there are plenty of reasons for clients to trust her judgment. As well as her own invaluable experience of collecting, she’s a council member of London’s Serpentine Galleries, a member of the New Museum’s Artemis Council, which champions female artists and gender equality at the New York museum, and she sits on the board of Unit London, the influential Mayfair contemporary art gallery.
“I’ve sold many Warhols—Marilyns, flowers, Maos, cats—a Degas ballerina, Picasso, Míro, Damien Hirst,” says Shanyan. “And Chinese artists as well, like Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi. It’s a good little business. As time goes forward, I think part of the story I’d like to tell is how to bring the art world into the digital world. Over the years, I think it’s really been surprising how I sell a lot of these works on social media or on email. I’ve sold a half-million-pound oil-on-canvas Degas on WhatsApp. I sold a US$2 million Warhol over email. And because they trust me, my clients don’t necessarily need to see the work in the flesh.”