Budi Tek, the prodigious art collector and founder of the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, said at a panel discussion in Hong Kong this morning that he will partner with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to form a yet-to-be-named foundation, to which he will donate most of his sprawling collection of Chinese contemporary art. The Yuz and LACMA will be equal partners on the foundation and collaborate on exhibitions and other programming, with a first show set for 2019 at a venue that has not yet been announced. The deal is the first of its kind between museums in the United States and China.
Because he is currently in Frankfurt receiving chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer, Tek appeared via video, wearing glasses and a black zip-up pullover, seated before shelves of books, and explained that he has recently been thinking about how his legacy can be “preserved for the benefit of the world.” The Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur, who is said to be seriously ill, began collecting in 2004 and has some 1,500 works in his collection.
Tek said that he told his family that “if I share more than a thousand pieces of artworks worth a lot of money . . . [that] actually means nothing. I’d like to group it together to preserve the legacy, and actually to keep it forever. Then it means something to the world, because the collection’s meant to belong for the world.”
His reveal of the partnership came at an event hosted by Art Agency, Partners at Sotheby’s space in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the home of Art Basel Hong Kong through Saturday. Just before the start of the panel, the Art Newspaper carried details of the plan. Earlier this month, ARTnews reported that the two museums were in talks on a substantial collaboration.
The panel, titled “The Future of the Museum: The Rapidly Evolving Roles of Nations, Directors and Collectors,” was hosted by Charlotte Burns, of the art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners (a division of Sotheby’s auction house), and included LACMA’s director, Michael Govan; Sotheby’s Asia CEO Kevin Ching; Doryun Chong, the deputy director and chief curator of the M+ museum in Hong Kong; and Allan Schwartzman, the co-founder of Art Agency, Partners.
After the panel, Govan told ARTnews that the deal has yet to be officially completed, but that the contract will hopefully be signed this summer. The two sides began talks about two-and-a-half years ago, with the discussions growing increasingly serious. An agreement was reached four months ago. Noting that LACMA has strong holdings in American, European, and Latin American art, Govan said that the collaboration means bringing to an end the notion that “Asia a thing over there, or U.S. art is a thing over there from here . . . you’re going to build a bridge.”
Govan explained what the partnership means for both LACMA and the Yuz. “For LACMA, it means we become partly Chinese in all ways, through marriage, which is cool,” he chuckled. For Yuz, the collaboration will result in it having “access to possibilities that just don’t exist anywhere else because there’s nothing like that. There’s nothing in China that has access to global collections that easily.”
The Chicago-based art historian Wu Hung has been hired to be consulting artistic director for the project, which Govan said will involve more than just traveling exhibitions between the two collections. “We’re going to do things specifically for there, we’re going to connect collections, we’re going to come up with programs that don’t exist anywhere else,” he said. “You’ll see some things that wouldn’t be available to Shanghai that you could see in other places that haven’t been to Shanghai.”
The news comes just a day after LACMA announced that collectors Gérard and Dora Cognié will give the museum its largest gift of contemporary Chinese and global ink-related art in the museum’s history, burnishing its position as a global player with a large collection Asian art. At the moment, Govan estimates that while LACMA has several significant pieces of ancient Chinese art, it only has about ten significant works of Chinese contemporary art, so access to Tek’s holdings is a substantial achievement.
While there are no immediate plans for a new building to house the forthcoming foundation, Govan said that anything is possible. “All I’ll say is that there’s one rule of museums—they continue to expand—so who knows what the future holds?” he said.