Interview
Collecting

Collector's Eye: an interview with William Zhao

Art lovers tell us what they’ve bought and why

William Zhao is a keen collector of Picasso works Photo: courtesy of William Zhao

William Zhao, the independent critic and collector, describes himself as a “leading contributor to Hong Kong’s art scene”. He completed a Master of Business Administration in Paris and then worked in the finance sector in France for 11 years, relocating to Hong Kong permanently in 2003. During his time in France, he advised the French government cultural body in charge of the Joint France-China Years 2001-02 initiative. He has also organised several shows—including Framed: Ai Weiwei and Hong Kong Artists at Duddell’s, Hong Kong, in 2013-14—and has written for the South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Tatler.

Works in his eclectic collection range from 1,500-year-old Pakistani Gandhara Buddhist figurines to a drawing by Picasso. He also owns pieces by leading contemporary artists such as Georg Baselitz, Liang Yuanwei, Sergej Jensen, Joseph Beuys, Zhang Enli, Zeng Fanzhi and Carol Rama.

The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?

William Zhao: A small Picasso drawing from 1933, which I bought in Paris.

What is your most recent purchase?

Liu Ye, a painting from the Bamboo series. It is interesting how he combines traditional Chinese imagery and subject matter with Western painting techniques.

I reframed a Danh Vō work and turned it into a coffee table

What is your preferred way of buying art?

From galleries or at auctions.

What is the most valuable piece in your collection?

All of them are valuable to me.

If money were no object, what would be your dream purchase?

Picasso paintings, in his later period, or Matisse paintings (not works on paper).

Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?

A Picasso painting.

If your house were on fire, which work would you save?

I would save all of them—if only I could...

Of all the works in your collection, which requires the most maintenance?

Paper works are usually more sensitive to the environment, like Lee Kit’s cardboard works. And some paintings with heavy impasto too; for example, the paintings by Michael Williams or older masters like Kazuo Shiraga.

What is the most surprising place you have displayed a work?

I reframed a Danh Vō work and turned it into a coffee table. People are usually very surprised when they realise it is an artwork, as there are too many books on the table.

Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Picasso.

What is the best collecting advice you have been given?

Study art history and trust your gut.