While traveling the globe on business trips for their banking and finance careers, Singaporean art collectors Linda Neo and Albert Lim would always make time to visit museums. Inspired by what they saw there, the couple started collecting Western and Renaissance art 18 years ago; but these days, their collecting attentions focus on contemporary art from Singapore and throughout Southeast Asia.
“We feel that it is very important to support emerging artists,” Neo said, as they did with local artist Jane Lee, whose exhibition they sponsored at their gallery, Primz, in 2017. They’ve also acquired several works by performance artist Tang Da Wu, whom Lim described as “the father of contemporary art in Singapore.” Other artists in their collection include Promthum Woravut, Lim Tze Peng, Cheong Soo Pieng, Melissa Tan, Suzann Victor, Hong Zhu An, and Han Sai Por.
“The visual language is so different between the West and the East, especially Chinese art with calligraphy and ink works,” Neo said. “So we are beginning to learn more and more about our Asian roots.” She stressed that Southeast Asian art isn’t a monolith but represents a region home to 680 million people, with distinct art scenes in each country.
When visiting art fairs across Asia from Hong Kong to Indonesia, Lim and Neo (who sits on the board of the forthcoming Singapore fair Art SG) were struck by the sprawling art spaces collectors had built. But in Singapore, where space is scarce and expensive, they decided to start small by opening the Primz Gallery in a modest space in Woodlands, a residential area in Northern Singapore. Visiting is by appointment only, allowing for a more intimate experience with the art on view, and the exhibitions—to date, they’ve mounted four—are shown for extended periods and are accompanied by “local programming to work with the artists,” Neo said. “It works really well.”
Their vision for Primz is part of an effort to create more art scholarship from Southeast Asia, and they produce catalogues for each show. “There’s not enough books in English or information that explains the art here,” Neo said. Future plans for the collection may include donations to Western museums to raise the profile of Southeast Asian art or even starting a museum of their own.