Ge­orge Wong

Parkview Arts Ac­tion Founder, Hong Kong’s Parkview Group Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man, in his 60s.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Bil­lion­aire art fan.

It was 1971 or ’72. I was study­ing in Lon­don, and my fa­ther vis­ited me. We were walk­ing along the streets and he saw an art gallery. He went in, bought a paint­ing and—bloody hell, it cost 17,000 guineas. 17,000 guineas could get you a house at the time. I still have [that paint­ing].

I’m al­ways child­ish. I hate grow­ing up, se­ri­ously.

My life is re­ally sim­ple. I sleep five hours at the most, and I get up in the morn­ing, very early, six or seven o’clock. I work hard. I push my­self. I don’t like to take hol­i­days.

I get very up­set if peo­ple don’t use their brains. Pisses me off. I al­ways tell peo­ple to think. I also have a very good mem­ory. I didn’t train my­self; it’s just the way I am. My senses are al­ways work­ing when I walk the streets. Most im­por­tantly, so too are my eyes… when I see some­thing, I “catch” it [like all] mem­o­ries.

When I was young, I col­lected stamps, coins and records. As you ma­ture, you col­lect slightly more ex­pen­sive things. How you col­lect evolves, and be­ing a busi­ness­man, you can af­ford to do some­thing slightly big­ger, so you start col­lect­ing nice art­work.

There’s a Chi­nese say­ing, “坐电梯” (“ride the lift” in Man­darin), right? When we say that, there’s no chair in­volved so I buy a chair to be placed in a lift, and I say, please sit, 坐电梯 and that’s fun for me. You find small personal touches of mine in my build­ings.

I like art. I never qual­i­fied, wasn’t good enough for art school, but the pas­sion is al­ways there. The best ad­vice? Just get in­volved. Don’t shut your­self away. Clear your mind, walk around, see more things and start col­lect­ing. But check your pock­ets first. Check [if you have enough money].

I’m all for chas­ing the qual­ity of life. I eat the best food—not nec­es­sar­ily ex­pen­sive but tasty. Some­times, I’ll eat at McDon­ald’s be­cause I miss it.

I am the old­est child in the fam­ily. I spent most of my time with my fa­ther, more than any­one else. All I wanted to do was to make sure he was happy. I al­ways liked work­ing for him. Even when he passed away, for the first few years, I couldn’t, um, I couldn’t free my­self be­cause I still [had the men­tal­ity of work­ing un­der him]. Years later, I re­alised that I’m the boss be­cause there’s no one else; I had to call the shots. And that’s the mo­ment when I grew up and started do­ing my own thing.

Sin­ga­pore­has­gonethrough some tough times and, to­day, with the world do­ing so well, we seem to for­get about the bad parts. It’s im­por­tant to carry that bur­den with you and make sure you don’t go through the same thing again.

The story is al­ways more im­por­tant. In tra­di­tional paint­ing, you’re taught scale; art school teaches you how to paint, but con­tem­po­rary art is about lan­guage. If a piece has no mean­ing, it’s shit.

For me, art is a vehicle. You don’t need a Pi­casso to con­trib­ute to the On Sharks & Hu­man­ity ex­hibit. All you need is some­one who can present a sculp­ture or an art­work with a mes­sage to save the sharks. My grand­son, he did a paint­ing and he’s only 10. He said, “Grandpa, can I do some­thing for the sharks?” And I said, yeah, go on. He is an ex­am­ple for fu­ture artists, I hope. In­stead of us­ing film stars, I use art­work to tell the world. It is more di­rect, more pre­cise, and that’s how the art­work be­comes a vehicle to de­liver a mes­sage.

I have [a huge art] col­lec­tion and I like to show it to the pub­lic. We have our own build­ing in Sin­ga­pore so I took ad­van­tage of it by pre­sent­ing my col­lec­tion in Sin­ga­pore for Sin­ga­pore­ans. It’s not go­ing to in­crease the value of my build­ing; in­stead, it de­creases my in­come be­cause I have to deal with rental, but like I said, we can af­ford it.

You start with one or two pieces of art; you put it in your of­fice, you put it in your bed­room, but later, you re­alise you’re col­lect­ing too many. At the end of the day, your art­work has to be seen in pub­lic; you can no longer keep them at home. Soon, one build­ing isn’t enough, so you have two build­ings, then that isn’t enough ei­ther.

Why does some­thing have to be done in a cer­tain way? I’d want to do it dif­fer­ently. That [phi­los­o­phy] has changed how I live life and con­duct my busi­nesses. I al­ways rev­o­lu­tionise my restau­rants, shopping malls, of­fices and hotel de­vel­op­ments, and ev­ery­one tries to copy me. The lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion at The Parkview Mu­seum is

Lines of Affin­ity by Mas­ter Hs­ing Yun. It runs un­til Oc­to­ber 27 and is open free to the pub­lic Mon­day to Sat­ur­day, noon to 7pm. It is closed on Sun­days.

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