I was recently asked what art meant to me. Art, to me, is an ecosystem. Artists aren’t the alpha and omega of the art world. Rather, they are the conduit through which art happens, interpreting and then reproducing the energies of our world onto their mediums.
But art also happens with the collective creation of culture and ideas, in the spirit of our times. Art is a response to zeitgeists created by entire societies. Art does not happen in a vacuum, and art requires a platform – like Art SG.
An organisation that has historically supported these platforms is UBS. The financial institution is presenting Art SG this year, further cementing a culture around art and its ability to shape the future. As a matter of fact, UBS was the main sponsor for the inaugural Art Basel back in 1994. Nearly 30 years on, it continues to be one of the leading voices in art patronage.
At the heart of UBS’ support of this year’s Art SG is August Hatecke, Co-Head Global Wealth Management Asia Pacific at UBS Global Wealth Management and Country Head of UBS Singapore. It’s a lofty position to be sure, but when I got to sit down with him ahead of Art SG, I found a warm, eloquent man with a refined erudition.
His responses to my questions were calm and measured – he was representing UBS, of course – but behind his words, you get the hint of a man who might be moved to passion under the gaze of the right artwork.
Tell us about the UBS art collection. What considerations go into procuring a work for the collection?
UBS has an incredible history as a supporter and collector of contemporary art for over 60 years. With a rich collection of paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures and video art by some of the world’s major artists from 1960 onward, we are recognised as having one of the most important corporate collections of contemporary art.
Today, our collection is made up of over 30,000 works of art created by artists from more than 70 markets. It is comprised of various individual art collections with unique attributes that have been integrated over time through a series of mergers and acquisitions, notably with Union Bank of Switzerland, Swiss Bank Corporation and PaineWebber.
Ours is a working collection. Unlike a museum or institutional collection, most of the artworks are on display in our offices in 700 buildings all over the world for our clients and employees to enjoy and explore. To make more works available to the public, recently we launched the UBS Art Gallery in our New York headquarters.
We continue to acquire works by emerging to established artists with an international reach and this includes acquiring from the regions where we operate to support the local communities. We aim to collect art that inspires [and] sparks conversations; works that reflect where we are now in our culture and in our society.
You mentioned that UBS has been collecting art since the 1960s. How does this feed into the organisation’s DNA?
Contemporary art challenges us, providing insight into our complex and unpredictable world; it embodies the spirit that our firm stands for: questioning the status quo; exploring global perspectives and innovative thinking.
Our collection by nature is defined by the fact that it hangs in our offices and client facing areas and is intended to spark conversations. There are people coming in and out of offices all the time and we want the artworks to be heavily engaged with.
We have a history of supporting cultural endeavours across the world and continue to use contemporary art to bring together ideas, inspiration and opinion to enrich lives, and to celebrate what makes us human. The UBS Collection is a big part of our cultural history and art is an important part of our DNA.
UBS advises clients to collect art to enrich their lives, as a passion pursuit that pays emotional dividends. Can you tell us, in simpler terms, what this means?
Collecting art is best driven by a curiosity for the discovery of new ideas, and the desire to leave behind a legacy. It is the desire to know more and understand more, it is very emotional and tells a lot about who we are.
We do not advise our clients to view art as an investment class, but rather, as a passion pursuit that pays “emotional dividends”. These are all intangibles but nevertheless enrich our lives in ways that are beyond measure.
How does UBS support Singapore artists?
We value close collaborations and long-lasting relationships with artists. As such, we only acquire works on the primary market to support artists and galleries directly. This is part of our efforts and commitment to fostering the local art community in the various regions UBS operates. We continue this close collaboration with artists in Singapore.
For our office at 9 Penang Road, we highlight works by important Singapore artists – Hilmi Johandi, Jane Lee and Robert Zhao who are all part of the UBS Art Collection. Commissions are a defining legacy of the UBS Art Collection and Hilmi Johandi’s work, for example, is a special commission for our Singapore office.
His two paintings, “Destination image: Reception” and “Destination image: Lobby”, draw inspiration from the historical images and postcards depicting Penang Road, the nearby Fort Canning Road and Orchard Road, imbuing the works with the heritage and legacy of the location of our new office building.
At the inaugural Art SG, our UBS Lounge will also feature a special site-specific commission, a video, paintings and photographs by Singaporean artist Dawn Ng.
“OUR MISSION IS TO COLLECT WORK BY THE MOST DYNAMIC AND IMPORTANT ARTISTS OF OUR TIME. WE LOOK FOR ART WHICH CAN CHALLENGE US, OPEN CONVERSATIONS, PROVIDING NEW PERSPECTIVES ON GLOBAL ISSUES AND OUR SOCIETY.” – AUGUST HATECKE
How does UBS discern which artists to support?
Art has an emotional value. We believe that artists are the spokespeople of our time and have a vital role to play in provoking conversations and challenging the status quo. Our mission is to collect work by the most dynamic and important artists of our time. We look for art which can challenge us, open conversations, providing new perspectives on global issues and our society.
Art which embodies the spirit that our firm stands for: questioning the status quo; exploring global viewpoints, and innovative thinking. Wherever we are in the world and in whichever community we do business, we make sure we directly support artists and galleries by buying on the primary market.
Longstanding relationships with artists are also at the heart of our collection. Ambitious site-specific artworks and commissions, created out of close collaboration with living artists over many years, are one of the defining legacies of our collection. The UBS Art Gallery in New York pays homage to this – presenting major artist commissions, including the wall painting by American artist Sarah Morris.
How does the UBS Art Advisory and Collectors Circle support your clients?
Through the UBS Art Advisory, we provide exclusive impartial expertise on the art market, collecting and art legacy planning. Our clients’ needs are at the heart of UBS’ services. Some of the world’s wealthiest families and individuals allocate a significant portion of their wealth to their passions. Many are collectors. By offering our expertise and thought leadership, we can support them in exploring their personal collecting aspirations and to secure their own cultural legacy for future generations.
We launched the Art Collectors Circle in March 2018. It is a global community for collectors and cultural philanthropists to connect and to share knowledge. The focus of the community will be on exchanging experience and best practice on patronage and the building and managing of collections. It is primarily a digital platform but will also be complemented by events.
Aside from art, what other passion pursuits in your opinion are worth your clients’ time? Watches? Classic cars? Why the focus on art?
We have been an active contemporary art collector since the 1960s, a practice driven by our long-held belief that the art of today provides inspiration, while encouraging the innovative thinking that has shaped UBS’ corporate culture over the last half century.
What is your opinion on NFTs?
NFTs are a popular new medium being explored by artists. One of the most interesting aspects is the potential impact of the underlying blockchain technology on the art market in the future – the potential to offer solutions around authenticity and uniqueness for digital formats.
Well-known dealers are now offering NFT platforms for the artists they represent and there are also new and dedicated platforms. While these operate using blockchain technology, they are not securities and are unregulated. Collectors of all mediums should carefully research sales channels and pricing before making acquisitions.
Has UBS helped facilitate access to NFTs for its clients? You mentioned “they are not securities and are unregulated”, does UBS help clients manage these risks? Or does UBS only support more physical/tangible forms of art?
What we do is to provide insight for clients through education, commissioned research and access to experts on the NFT topic. It’s a topic of discussion and programming for example within the UBS Collectors Circle.
Let’s talk about Art SG. How has UBS supported the fair?
UBS has a long and substantial record of contemporary art patronage. The firm actively enables clients and audiences to participate in the international conversation about art and the global art market through partnerships with leading fairs such as Art SG, Art Basel Hong Kong, West Bund Art & Design and Taipei Dangdai. This is driven by our belief that artists are the spokespeople of our time and that art can tangibly contribute to building a better world.
Art SG will be the largest international art fair to launch in the Southeast Asia region in a decade. The partnership furthers our shared interest in contemporary art and collecting, allows us to connect with clients in meaningful ways, and enables us to provide access to themost important galleries and artworks being produced today.
Southeast Asia is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and Singapore, which is both home to an increasing number of collectors and convenient for those across the region, is at its heart.
As an organisation that has supported art, both in its creation and in connecting some of the world’s greatest artistic talents to the world’s most ardent collectors, how do you think Art SG will change the landscape?
Art SG brings together over 150 leading galleries from around the world to Singapore from 12 to 15 January 2023, shining the spotlight on Singapore’s dynamic cultural scene. Against the backdrop of an increasing global interest in the arts scenes across Asia and the growth and potential of Singapore’s collectors, as well as the quality of local connoisseurship, Art SG will fill the gap in Singapore for an international art market platform to help connect collectors directly with artists and galleries from Singapore and other parts of Asia. Art SG thus provides a critical meeting point for international galleries and collectors and contributes to the expansion of Singapore’s art market beyond its borders onto an international scene.
(Photos: Brandon Ho/Lensofmira)