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

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents - Photography Mitchell geng

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

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