Texas-based collector Jereann Chaney discusses the origins of her passion for cutting-edge — and often provocative — contemporary Asian art. Illustrated with works in our Asian Contemporary Art Online sale, 20-27 November
How did you begin collecting art? What was your first acquisition?
Jereann Chaney: ‘My husband Robert and I began looking to purchase art after we got married in 1992. We would seek out galleries while on vacation, and bought some pieces in those first couple of years. Those works came from what we refer to now as more commercial galleries, but what they added to our home was amazing: they were real conversation starters.
‘As time progressed, we began to realise we were somewhat all over the board in terms of periods, artist’s ages, mediums and price ranges. We decided we wanted to streamline our collection. The first major work we acquired was an Andy Warhol self-portrait. From then on, we focused on new contemporary art.’
What drew you to contemporary Asian art? How did you decide which artists to collect?
JC: ‘We saw that socially, Asia was shifting as its economy was making huge strides. Politically, significant changes were also taking place. This drew us to the possibility of turning to Asian contemporary art.
‘Our first work, I believe, was Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Metropolitan Orpheum Theatre, LA, and we went from there. Though we always bought what we liked!
‘In 2005-06 we travelled to Beijing and went studio-hopping with a gallery and consultants from Denver. There were few galleries in Beijing at that time, and many artists’ studios were located in outlying areas around the city. The consultants we were with had been out to many of these studios before, so they took us with them and we knocked on doors. Thank goodness one of them spoke Mandarin.
Artists would let us in, serve us tea and explain their processes and intentions. They were delighted to have interested, fascinated, curious parties. And then they would put us in contact with their artist friends, brothers, cousins — and off we went to those studios. There was no set agenda and we didn't know where we would end up. We had no guidebook — we travelled and visited for about three days, studio to studio, simply by word of mouth. What an adventure it was!
I had brought cashier’s cheques and we ended up purchasing some works. We gave the artists our home address in the States, paid them and hoped the works would arrive in Texas. They all did!
Are there any overarching themes in your collection?
JC: ‘Many of the works that will be offered at Christie’s were in our show, Red Hot, in the late 2000s — works that broke the mould and introduced Houston to what was beginning to percolate in Asia. The Pop movement that came out of the United States in the 1960s emerged in China and Japan in the 1990s. These works represent China, Japan and other parts of Asia “breaking out” with cutting-edge new art. Exciting art by young new artists on the cutting-edge has been a focus of ours from the beginning.’
Would you say there is one piece that is particularly emblematic of your collection?
JC: ‘No. Each work represents our collection in its own special way and each one has its place. No work outshines any other. Each one we chose because we liked it and wished to live with it. We were drawn to the story, intrigue, mystery, colour, materials and dynamics.’
Many of the pieces you've acquired deal with difficult subjects, such as the trauma of China’s Cultural Revolution. Did you have any hesitation about displaying these works in your home?
JC: ‘No. Art is to be seen and shared. The themes engaged in by young, cutting-edge artists are often the events of the day. Often the work is difficult, challenging, shocking… wrenching. It can contain many different emotions and they all have a place and are meant to be seen. A work can make a statement, tell a story or open one’s eyes to what is transpiring. If you are not willing to put up a work because you feel it is controversial, political, painful, then don’t purchase it.’
Your collection includes several large-scale sculptures or works in other unusual formats, like Hung Tunglu’s lightbox Gundam or Koji Shimizu’s soft sculpture, Lost in Translation. Do you have any tips on how to integrate works like these into the home?
JC: ‘One has to think about the challenge of displaying works in unusual mediums. Putting works like these in one’s home can be daunting, but it can also be very rewarding in that the uniqueness of each piece stands out.
‘Collectors must consider what it will require to properly exhibit a particular work in their home, and if they are not up for the time and effort, let it pass. Speaking from experience, however, the rewards of these unusual works are often unfathomable.’
What advice would you give to someone looking to buy their first contemporary work?
JC: ‘Always LOVE it! Truly, that is first and foremost. Make sure it fits your budget and maybe take the medium into consideration. Often, young artists use materials that may be more challenging for collectors.
‘Study the artist’s biography, where he or she went to school, past shows, gallery representation, museum shows and so on. Ask others what they know of your artist. The ultimate factor, though, is loving the work and wanting to display and live with it.’
What role has the internet played in building your collection? Do you always try to see each work in person before making an acquisition?
JC: ‘In the early years, yes. We went to fairs, galleries and studios and saw each and every work before we purchased. After a while we did purchase some works based on jpeg images. If we had seen the artist’s work, and felt that we really understood what it looked like and were attracted to it, we purchased. The internet gave us the ability to do research on so many artists. If one could not travel abroad or visit every opening, the internet was a godsend. It allowed us to study and make note of the artists we thought were interesting. Then, when when we were in in New York, LA, Chicago or wherever these new artists had representation, we would go and seek them out and see their works in person. The internet opened up such a vast world.’
Are you still collecting, and if so, what are you looking at now?
JC: ‘Yes, I’m still collecting, and still concentrating on work by cutting-edge artists born around 1985. With Texan artists, though, age isn’t a consideration: if I see a work I cannot live without, I do not limit myself. I will always support Texas artists. Basically, I still collect according to my original premise, but have expanded beyond a specific region or country.’