The visionary art collector and Yuz Museum founder Budiardjo “Budi” Tek has died at age 65 from pancreatic cancer. The Indonesian-Chinese businessman is best known for his broad art collection with a focus on Chinese contemporary art and for founding Yuz Museum Shanghai, which since its opening in 2014 has exhibited international artists including KAWS, Alberto Giacometti and Andy Warhol – while pushing for greater recognition of both Chinese contemporary artists and emerging international names.
Tek died on 18 March surrounded by family in Hong Kong, 12 days after a long-anticipated solo presentation of Yoshitomo Nara – organised in collaboration with Qatar Museums and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) – opened at Yuz Museum Shanghai.
“Qatar Museums is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Budi Tek, following his long and courageous battle against cancer,” says Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the chief executive officer of Qatar Museums. In 2019 Qatar Museums joined the strategic partnership that Yuz and Lacma established in 2018. “A legendary advocate for contemporary art, especially from China and East Asia, he gave invaluable support to artists throughout that region and elevated their work on the international stage through his activity as a formidable collector, founder of museums, and generous collaborator with institutions around the world. Qatar Museums is proud to be a partner with his Yuz Museum and hopes to honour his memory by carrying on the spirit he exemplified.”
“Budi was a dear friend, an interesting friend,” says Lorenz Helbling, the founder of the gallery ShanghArt, representing many of the Chinese artists Tek collected and showed. “He was a big supporter of contemporary Chinese art – as well as a big supporter of contemporary art in China.”
An entrepreneur in Indonesia’s livestock industry, Tek began collecting in 2004. In 2008 he founded his first institution, Yuz Museum Jakarta, which was among the first private art museums in the Indonesian capital and operated until 2014. In 2007 he established a foundation around his burgeoning collection, which quickly began to focus more on the contemporary art of mainland China, where Tek also had a residence. Yuz Museum Shanghai was the first artistic outpost to take a gamble on the now vibrant West Bund art district, but which in 2014 was largely empty land and a few derelict industrial buildings.
“Mr. Tek and I came the same year to the West Bund Cultural Corridor to establish art museums,” Wang Wei, the co-founder of Shanghai’s Long Museum, posted on her WeChat Moments. “We opened that successive March and May. At that time, the Xuhui Riverside was very different from today. Mr Tek back then called the whole area an industrial relic. But we were the first pioneers, passionate for art and proactive. Thus I know that Mr Tek has been ‘feeling the stones to cross the river’ [a Chinese idiom] for many years. As founders of private art museums, we encounter many difficulties that go unseen by everyone else. Fortunately ‘art’ itself teaches us to persist. I hope for Mr Tek that there is no sickness in heaven, but art is forever.”
The name Yuz derives from a nickname of Tek’s Chinese name, Yu Deyao. The Sou Fujimoto design converted a historic hanger from the nearby Longhua Airport into a voluminous hall capable of showing Tek’s holdings of massive installation works. Its first two collection shows, Myth/History I and Myth/History II, both curated by Wu Hung, an art historian at the University of Chicago, included works such as Xu Bing’s Tobacco Project and Huang Yong Ping’s Tower Snake. Yuz went on to stage a series of ambitious shows featuring some of international art’s biggest names in the main hall. A small project room on the museum’s second floor also introduced to Chinese audiences many early and mid-career international artists including Tschabalala Self, Math Bass, Eddie Martinez and Donna Huanca. That space also featured many younger Chinese artists like Ni Youyu and Chen Ke.
Tek acquired Asia rights to Random International’s Rain Room, debuting it in Shanghai in 2015 and exhibiting it again in 2018. Tek had a passion for getting to know the artists he collected and showed, and forged a particular friendship with Random International’s principles Florian Ortkrass and Hannes Koch. “It’s a tragic and far too early departure from a landscape that really could do with more of his boldness, single-mindedness and passion,” Koch says of Tek. “He was unapologetically ambitious for the art he loved. When we met, we immediately felt compelled to join him in his incredible vision and journey towards his sculpture park Budidesa [on the Indonesian island of Bali] due to his infectious enthusiasm. What he kept building since 2015 in spite of his adverse health condition was simply incredible. May his legacy live long and prosper, and may it enrich and inspire others to follow in his steps.”
Tek soldiered through his illness far longer and stronger than doctors anticipated after his diagnosis in 2015. In partnership with Johns Hopkins University and Sotheby’s, Tek established the charity Art Creates Cures, with activities including a gala that raised $640,000 for research during Hong Kong’s art week in 2018. In 2017 he was awarded the French Legion of Honour.
Planning for the long-term future of his museum and foundation, Tek lobbied the Chinese government to revise its foundations law to allow him to leave artworks to the Shanghai public without relinquishing all control. His subsequent attempt to register a joint foundation in mainland China with Lacma since 2018 was further frustrated by deteriorating Sino-American relations, and the joint exhibitions planned by Yuz, Lacma and Qatar then experienced postponement or cancellation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now that you are in heaven by His side, there is no more pain and you can finally enjoy drinking your wine again
Michael Govan, Lacma's chief executive officer and Wallis Annenberg Director, said in a statement emailed to The Art Newspaper: "Budi Tek has been a great inspiration to me and Lacma, encouraging us to link East and West, Los Angeles and Shanghai, with contemporary art. Beyond having established one of the best collections of Chinese contemporary art, especially of the 1990s, Budi continued through his later life to collect and commission new work from young artists from everywhere. By establishing a foundation, and his pioneering Yuz Museum in the West Bund in Shanghai, Budi helped energise the growth of museums in Shanghai, which is now truly an international centre for contemporary art. Personally, to me, Budi was a great inspiration in his commitment to art and his many creative ideas, especially as he bravely confronted his advanced illness for many years.
"Budi's diminishing health, along with the pandemic, made it impossible to establish the joint foundation between Lacma and Yuz in China as we had planned. But the exhibition of his collection at Lacma (Legacies of Exchange: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Yuz Foundation) that closed on 13 March showed the strength of his ideas, as well as his generosity. Several of the works in the exhibition were gifted to Lacma by Budi, most prominently Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, which will remain at Lacma and is currently being reinstalled outside at the centre of Lacma's campus. We will miss him dearly."
The current Nara exhibition signals the long-awaited resumption of Tek’s ambitious plans, and his daughter Justine Alexandria continues on as the chief executive officer of Yuz Museum and the director of the Yuz Foundation, positions she has held since 2018.
Tek was also known for his close friendships with many of his staff, who called him their “lao da”, or “the big guy” in Chinese. “Lao da, you were not only my boss, but also my mentor and family,” said Diana Wibawa in an Instagram post she shared with The Art Newspaper. The former deputy director of Yuz Foundation worked with Tek from 2008 to 2019, moving with him from Jakarta to Shanghai, and now directs Jakarta’s experimental space Rubanah Underground Hub. “I will never forget the first time we met…you convinced me within five minutes to work for you! I always joked about being abducted to Shanghai by you, but it was really my fondest moment!”
To the devoutly Christian Tek, she wishes, “Now that you are in heaven by His side, there is no more pain and you can finally enjoy drinking your wine again. God must be jealous that heaven has got no museum and He is calling you to build one up there! Till me meet in heaven ya pak. Selamat jalan!”