Chinese contemporary art is a favourite with Budi Tek, one of the most powerful art collectors in the world today.

It's not only just love for art that drives Budi Tek to collect it. It is as much to do with his determination to protect the “national treasures” with a view to creating an educative enriching experience for not just his immediate world but for many future societies.

Cultural philanthropy is central to the life of Tek, an Indonesian Chinese agribusiness tycoon, who is considered one of the most powerful art collectors in the world today. So, when the art connoisseur was in New Delhi during the India Art Fair early this year, he was little concerned that the rich and mighty of India aren't really taking as much interest in art as they should be.

“People need to understand that philanthropy can be done in several ways and cultural philanthropy is as important as any other kind of philanthropy. Who else would be able to preserve Indian contemporary art but the people of this country. It's interesting to note that most of the rich people don't collect but most of the collectors are rich,” quips Tek adding that even if “outsiders” buy a work of an artist from a different country, h/she won't necessarily keep it and eventually the work will find its way to the country it is rooted in.

Tek does what he preaches. He has founded the Yuz Foundation through which he intends to set up a network of art museums and spaces in Beijing, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Bali. 

Balinese beginning

Going back to his sojourn as a buyer, it started with a Balinese sculpture in 2004 in Jakarta and though he still buys Indonesian art, a significant chunk of his collection comprises the magnificent works done by the first generation of Chinese contemporary art in the 1980s. These were the artists, he says, who laid the foundation of Chinese contemporary art, considered such a strong force today.

“My collection spans around an 18-year-period, from the 80s to the late 90s, which in a way shows the evolution of the Chinese contemporary art. Their art was so powerful and rebellious and understandably so because Chinese society was going through so much societal and political transformation. But survival being so difficult in those times, some of the artists like Song Ling and Shu Qun gave up art altogether,” informs the collector, whose collection runs into more than a thousand pieces and spans across the genres of paintings, installations, video works, photographs and public sculpture.

Tek says, he doesn't bother about the frenzy the world gets into over the monetary aspect of it all, like the ripples he created with the purchase of Zhang Xiaogang's “Chapter of a new century-birth of the people's republic of China II” for a whopping USD 6.7 million at a Sotheby's auction in 2010.

An astounding record or not, for Tek all that mattered was the art work's critical discourse on China's past and present.

The art lover considers Zhang an important Chinese artist and the painting, one of the most significant contemporary Chinese art work. “It's a historical work. This is the second in the two-part series each having a baby in red and yellow. While the red signifies communism, the yellow baby suggests the emergence of a new nation,” says Tek, who intends to display the work in De Museum that he is building in Shanghai. It is expected to open in 2013.  

Among many such pieces that dot his collection, Yoshitomo Nara's “Yogya Bintag House Mini” is a highlight. An installation in wood, it's a house with many windows which allow the viewers to look inside. “Nara has put around 50 small drawings. Since the work is so rooted in the Indonesian soil, the artist wanted an Indonesian to buy it.”

Japanese too

Though Chinese contemporary art remains the biggest preoccupation with Tek, the collector is also keen on Japanese, Malaysian and Arabic art.

As for Indian names in his kitty, Tek has a Subodh Gupta and an Anish Kapoor.

Visiting India after a gap of 20 years, he feels, he has a lot of catching up to do before zeroing in on particular artists. But he promises to be back soon.