Art critic and collector William Zhao’s passion for thought-provoking art shines bright in his home, writes Emilie Yabut-razon, with an eclectic range of media and artists on show, from famous Europeans to homegrown talent
Art critic and collector William Zhao’s passion for through-provoking art shines bright in his home, with an eclectic range of artists and objets on show
Inside his spacious Hong Kong Island abode, carefully curated artworks from all over the world reveal the eclectic tastes and travels of banker-turned-art curator William Zhao. A serious collector for more than a decade, William traded an 11-year career in finance and a home in Paris to return to Hong Kong in 2003 to devote himself to his first love, art, as a curator and critic. He also joins Hong Kong Tatler this month as our editor-at-large for art and design.
It took a year to find the cool and contemporary villa he currently calls home. “It’s really difficult to find a good place in Hong Kong, but I like how this area is so quiet and so convenient to get to Central,” he says.
William was drawn to the house’s high ceilings and large windows. “Natural light is great for displaying my favourite pieces.” The front door opens onto a small landing, where three Gandhara Buddhist figurines from Pakistan more than 1,500 years old are displayed, and a short staircase leading to the main living area, William’s favourite spot. Its walls are covered with art, and the largest space is dedicated to a selection of works that hang salon-style, with mismatched frames and unequal dimensions. “I didn’t want to pick any one painting to occupy this space,” William explains. “I feel that’s very conventional, so I put together what I liked, because I want guests to have discussions on them with me, if they want.”
In terms of value, perhaps the most notable works are by Germany’s Georg Baselitz and Joseph Beuys, China’s Zeng Fanzhi, and Italy’s Carol Rama, but William, whose collection numbers more than 300 works, says he doesn’t think about how much each piece is worth when he’s putting them together. “Some of the pieces here cost nothing, but I really like them because they inherently have something special.” He points to a set of hardwood stools less than 20cm tall on a cabinet below Brown Diamond, a work by Danish artist Sergej Jensen. “These come from Ethiopia. People carry them on long walks and sit on them when they need a rest. They really go well with the decor.”
William has put a lot of thought into creating this engaging space. “I want people, as they’re walking into our home, to feel the places I’ve been and what I’m thinking.” In the middle of the room is a large rectangular coffee table created from an artwork by Danh Vo, a friend of William’s who fled his native Vietnam in the 1970s for Denmark. “I bought the artwork five or six years ago, but when it arrived, the frame was broken. So I made it into a table by having this base and glass top made.”
Occupying an entire wall is a large floral oil painting by Chinese artist Liang Yuanwei. William thinks very highly of her technique, which plays with process and perception. “When you really like a piece of art, you don’t care how big it is; you go and get it anyway, and worry where to hang it later,” he laughs. Below Liang’s painting is a console made of metallic pipes by another friend, furniture designer Hervé Van der Straeten. The patterned rugs and textured cushions of the room provide warmth and colourful accents.
In the dining room, a long table is flanked on the left by a wall of colourful paintings, bright, loud and graphic in hues of red, pink
and yellow. The works are by Hong Kong’s Tsang Kin-wah and mainlander Xu Zhen, among others. The facing wall is more muted, hung with a painting by by Guangzhou-based Duan Jianyu, who William says has a rich imagination and sense of humour. “The idea for this room is humour. I want people to feel relaxed and sociable, with a vibrant ambience to facilitate not-too-serious conversations.”
The bedrooms, book-lined study and television room on the upper floors of the home are decorated with paintings and sculptures by established and emerging artists from the mainland (Xie Molin, Liu Ye, Zhang Enli, Liang Yuanwei), Hong Kong (Lee Kit), and Europe (Joseph Beuys, Toby Ziegler), along with knick-knacks William has acquired on his travels.
When William is assessing a piece for his collection, whether abstract or figurative, contemporary, renaissance or impressionist, the most important issue for him is that it is aesthetically and intellectually connected. “The decision to buy the artwork I can do very quickly, but the research on the artist takes more time. It was easier 10 years ago when I was more emotional, but now I take more time to enjoy knowing the artist and what he’s thinking.” As for the items he has chosen for his home, “I love each and every one. I appreciate beautiful things–especially if it’s clear that the artist used his heart to make it.”
William chose works by a variety of contemporary artists, including Georg Baselitz, Liang Yuanwei, Sergej Jensen, Joseph Beuys, Zhang Enli and Carol Rama, to create a stimulating but relaxing atmosphere in the living room, his favourite spot in the house
NATURAL LIGHT William was drawn to the home’s high ceilings and large windows. Inset: What looks like a flight of stairs is actually a piece of art in steel and titanium, Superstructure, by Gao Weigang
Works by Hong Kong and mainland artists, a drawing by Picasso and a 19th-century Tibetan ritual dagger are the key pieces in William’s bedroom
TABLE CONVERSATION Like the rest of the house, the dining room contains a mix of oriental and Western elements, including dining chairs by Guglielmo Ulrich. Inset: Zeng Fanzhi’s Warhol