Special reports
Special reports
Special reports

Collector's Eye: Alan Lau

Art lovers talk about the best and worst works they’ve bought

by Gareth Harris  |  23 March 2017
Collector's Eye: Alan Lau
Financier Alan Lau works for Chinese internet giant Tencent and has an interest in new media art (Image: Ching ho yin)
Hong Kong-born Alan Lau started collecting contemporary art more than ten years ago. A former investment banking analyst at Citibank and senior partner at McKinsey, Lau now works for the Chinese internet company Tencent. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has a special interest in the relationship between art and technology—he worked with the artist Cao Fei on her second life-based project RMB City—and has a strong affinity with conceptual art. Stand-out works in his collection include a gold coin that featured in Wong Wai Yin and Kwan Sheung Chi’s interactive performance piece To Defend the Core Values Is the Core of the Core Values (2012); Tozer Pak’s conceptual poetic work Love Letter (2011); and Firenze Lai’s painting This Is Not Yours (2015). 

Lau was among the first collectors to donate a work to the M+ museum, which is due to open in the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong in 2019. Guards Kissing, a performance piece by Tino Sehgal, is a “constructed situation” in which two museum guards kiss each other when a visitor enters the exhibition space. 

Holding several institutional roles, Lau is on the board of the M+ museum, is the chairman of the independent Hong Kong art space Para Site and the co-chair of the Tate’s Asia-Pacific acquisitions committee. 

The financier and art collector gives us a glimpse into his collection and reveals the artists he banks on. 

The Art Newspaper: How did you first get into collecting? 

Alan Lau: I wanted to get a painting for my office wall and I got hooked.

What was the first piece of art you bought? 
A work by Hong Kong graffiti artist Tsang Tsou Choi, also known as King of Kowloon.

What is the most recent work you have bought? 
A 2015 painting by Camille Henrot, Trolling (Perseus), about our obsessive desire to categorise and label everything in the world.

What is the most you have ever spent on a piece of art? 
Is it possible to spend too much on art? 

If your house was on fire, which work would you save? 
The only portable piece would be On Kawara’s I Am Still Alive [from the Japanese artist’s series of telegrams]. Appropriate for escaping from a fire, I guess.

If money was no object, what would be your dream purchase? 
A work by Henri Matisse.

Which work in your collection requires the most maintenance? 
Perhaps less maintenance than “care”, but probably Ai Weiwei’s coloured vases. They have been around for thousands of years, so I had better not destroy history and break any of them (like he did).

Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party? 
Marina Abramovic, since she can probably turn the dinner party into a performance piece. 

What has been your worst purchase? 
Too many to count—how much time do you have? 

• Alan Lau moderates Art Basel Salon, The Language(s) We Speak: Art as Communication, on 24 March. Speakers include Michael Craig-Martin, Su Mei-Tse and Abigail Reynolds

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