ART SG Leaders: Arif Suherman

Indonesian collector and ART SG Advisory Group Member Arif Suherman talks to ART SG about his collecting journey, artists which inspire him, and advice to new collectors.

"Collecting art is a form of self-discovery; as I learn more about art, I feel that I am also learning new things about myself."

How did you start collecting? What inspired you?

Collecting art is a means of escapism. It allows me to view the world differently. It’s like a window into a different universe. Collecting art is a form of self-discovery; as I learn more about art, I feel that I am also learning new things about myself.

Discovering and nurturing new talent is one of my passions, and for the last two years I have channelled most of my energy into supporting emerging artists.

I love the challenge of keeping abreast with the rapidly evolving contemporary scene and I want my collection to always stay relevant. It is very important that the art I collect speaks to my five kids as much as it speaks to me! That’s why I collect everything from Alice Neel to Chloe Wise, both being favorites of my eldest daughter.

Alice Neel, Richard With Dog, 1954

Alice Neel, Richard With Dog, 1954.
Image courtesy of Arif Suherman.

"Discovering and nurturing new talent is one of my passions, and for the last two years I have channelled most of my energy into supporting emerging artists."

What’s in your collection?

As I’ve been collecting for 12 years, I can safely say that my focus has shifted and the vision for my collection has evolved. At the moment it consists of over 200 pieces and counting. Although I am currently collecting mostly emerging, young artists, I aim for my collection to be inclusive and representative of a very diverse group of artists from various backgrounds and movements.

At the start I was mainly focused on Asian artists. I have since broadened my acquisition strategy, however works by Asian artists retain a very special place in my heart.

Over the last 5 years I’ve been collecting artists born from the 1980s onwards; this now constitutes about half of the collection.

One of the collection’s strengths is its diversity. I feel it embraces many female artists, ranging from abstract works by Yayoi Kusama, who has just celebrated her 92nd birthday, to African-American portraiture by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, which I was fortunate enough to add to my collection two years ago. It has been so fulfilling to see her work mature and get the recognition it deserves in her solo show at Tate Britain in London earlier this year.

A fellow Indonesian, Christine Ay Tjoe and her fantastic paintings are amongst my most favourite in the collection; I really enjoy how psychologically challenging and emotional her work is. Other personal favorites are paintings by Cecily Brown and Avery Singer, both continuously challenge and push the boundaries for this medium today.

As for Asian art, two of my top picks remain Wei Jia and Izumi Kato. They are dear friends whose works I supported long before they were recognized as true talents by the wider market. I can even say that I played a small part in Kato’s journey by introducing him to the director of Galerie Perrotin, who later signed him up as one of the gallery’s artists. It’s been really rewarding to witness the level of success his work has achieved in recent years.

"I support artists who address relevant topics about humanity and today’s society and culture."

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, The Ever Exacting, 2018.
Image courtesy of Arif Suherman.

What do you look for in an artwork? Are there any new types or forms of art that you are particularly interested in this year

Artworks that challenge me visually and intellectually. I have a soft spot for painting and figurative art so I am always on the lookout for artists who can push the envelope on such a traditional and in a way, democratic medium.

When it comes to younger artists, I think it is also about investing in the person and their potential, not just the artwork itself. I enjoy seeing how artists mature and how their styles develop. I find it so fascinating and rewarding to follow them as their careers evolve.

In terms of new developments, I think it has been intriguing to watch the way NFTs are being implemented into the traditional art market and what that could possibly mean for the future of the industry.

I support artists who address relevant topics about humanity and today’s society and culture. Today for instance, artists from the LGBTQ+ community, African American artists and Asian Diaspora.

Which artists are you following in 2021?

Xinyi Cheng, Flora Yukhnovich, Jadé Fadojutimi… But I have a list of about 40 other names, which I follow very closely before deciding what to acquire. I make sure I see all of their shows and new bodies of work. I always keep my eye out for new names as well.

What are your favourite art venues to visit?

New York and London for obvious reasons but I think recently Paris is becoming more and more interesting. It’s becoming a hot bed for young galleries with fresh talent. There is an unending array of museums in these three cities.

I have a house in LA so checking out galleries and artist studios is a top priority every time I visit.

In Asia, China is very exciting with a multitude of quality private museums and spaces such as The Long Museum, Yuz Museum, Tank Shanghai, X Museum and Pond Society. I am also really excited with what’s happening at M+ in Hong Kong. I think this will change the landscape of museums in Asia.

Wei Jia, Morning Dew, 2018.
Image courtesy of Arif Suherman.

"When it comes to younger artists, I think it is also about investing in the person and their potential, not just the artwork itself. I enjoy seeing how artists mature and how their styles develop."

What channels have you been using to look at and discover art?

Since last year, Zoom has been an essential tool to meet gallerists as a replacement for physical fairs and gallery openings, but I can’t wait to be able to meet art world friends and see works in person again. I also think that nowadays Instagram is a fundamental tool to finding new names in the art world.

I also discover new names through conversations and relationships, which I’ve built in the last decade and always closely collaborate with a trusted art advisor. New platforms like Clubhouse have sparked my curiosity and at times it has been useful to hear what is happening on the ground. Good research is a huge part of it.

What advice would you give to a new art collector?

I would say build up your understanding of art and the market, learn what you like and continue to push yourself and allow your taste to evolve. Be open to changing your mind about artists and their works.

When you are committed to seriously “Collecting Art”, it takes a great deal of time and effort. I have a limited number of hours that I can put aside for research, so I pencil in time and focus on areas and that I feel are most important to me. Pick your battles, there’s no way you can learn and collect everything.

Finally, it’s key to put yourself out there – e.g. go to as many gallery openings as you can, chat and learn from the best people in the industry; creating a strong network is key. Once you establish mutual trust, things will start falling into place.

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