Gift of beauty
Collector donates artwork to spread good taste
The main problem for George Wong is finding space to store and display his growing collection of artwork.
The Hong Kong collector, who has been amassing Chinese ink paintings, calligraphy, antiques, celebrities’ letters, oil paintings, sculptures and installations since the 1990s, does not know how many such items he owns.
“I’m interested in everything. I have never set a cap on the purchase of artworks and what kind of items I buy,” says the 65-year-old executive of Hong Kong real estate firm, the Parkview Group.
Wong, who also likes wine, has more than 100,000 bottles in his collection.
He has also opened many restaurants based on his own culinary preferences.
Wang once bought two Nobel Prize medals to show his respect for those who have made significant contributions to the progress of humanity.
Speaking about his collection, Wong, who met China Daily at his office in Beijing’s Parkview Green, a complex he built in 2010 that brings art into a commercial center, says: “I don’t buy the most expensive things. I only pay for my interest and for the works I really love.”
The private museum on the building’s rooftop displays Wong’s collection of contemporary Italian art from the 1960s.
Artworks also dot his office space.
A Buddha statue without a head sports a futuristic mask like the ones in StarWars movies.
Then, there are oil portraits ofWong and his wife.
Paintings by his grandchildren feature on carpets made for the meeting room.
Wong says buying artwork is so addictive that once he began, he could not stop.
His hobby dates back to his childhood when he began collecting marbles, then buying stamps and CDs. During his years in London, he bought paintings and celebrities’ letters.
Wong has a passion for contemporary art, which he says has no limitations.
“It’s like my personality. I’m open to new ideas and new things. I like change,” he says.
“My artist friends are all fond of me. I’m humorous, willing to talk to them about art and finally I buy some of their works.”
Zhang Meng, who works in Wong’s private museum in Beijing, says: “He is very funny. Every time we talk to him, it is like a talk show.”
Demonstrating Wong’s close ties with the artists, he pulls out a book on which Chinese oil painter Liu Xiaodong has written: “We all love you, bossWong.”
Wong bought two of Liu’s works from his show in Florence a fewmonths ago.
Wong has about 45 sculptures by Spanish artist Salvador Dali.
While some of the pieces are displayed in his Beijing shopping mall, others have been donated to theNationalMuseum of China.
Wong, incidentally, is one of the few art collectors who has attracted media attention by donating his art to museums and schools even as other Chinese collectors are attracting attention with their big-ticket purchases of art by Western masters.
Among the recipients of Wong’s generosity is the Nanjing University of Arts.
The academynowhas about 60 contemporary pieces given byWong.
“I want to cultivate a taste for art in the young. I also want to provide a channel for contemporary Chinese artists’ works to be seen in schools,” Wong says.
“I usually show them a list of works frommy collection, and it is up to schools and museums to select the works they want.”
Wong also loves to show his collection to the public.
That’s why he keeps building exhibition spaces in different cities and countries.
Besides Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore — where he is opening an art space at the beginning of next year — Wong plans to add another two spaces — one in Taiwan and one in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
Wong is so committed to showing his art that within 10 minutes of receiving a small horse painting by Chinese painter Xu Beihong, which he bought for HK$1 million ($128,900) in August, he had it displayed in his Hong Kong art space.
Wong is often referred to as an “old child” by his friends. He spends a lot of time meeting artists, and visiting art fairs and museums.
Speaking about his connection with art, he says: “I see myself as a versatile person rather than a collector. But art is part of my life. It’s the source of my enjoyment and fun.”
I don’t buy the most expensive things. I only pay for my interest and for the works I really love.” GeorgeWong, Hong Kong collector
GeorgeWong shows off his collections at his office space on the rooftop of Beijing’s Parkview Green.
Visitors atWong’s private museum in Beijing for the ongoing show of his collection of contemporary Italian art.