For the Love of Art
You would think that being thoroughly immersed in the art world on a daily basis would engender art fatigue. But not for Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia, who finds solace in galleries and museums. However, Wei makes it a point not to bring or discuss work at home, joking that even her husband – a retired chairman of a listed company – doesn’t know exactly what she does. The couple lives with their 10-year-old daughter in Hong Kong.
I’m surrounded by the world’s finest and most beautiful objects on an almost daily basis, but I’m not a collector. I do have some contemporary art, which my husband and I bought when we moved to Hong Kong. My daughter likes (Yoshitomo) Nara and (Takashi) Murakami. Once, I brought her to Galerie Perrotin (in Hong Kong). I thought I would be doing the shopping, but in the end it was she who picked out a print. And I ended up with the big ticket – US$10,000 (S$14,050)! The only time I bought something at auction was when I bid successfully for a small Murakami sculpture online.
I love art and enjoy spending my spare time in museums. It might sound like I’m not getting away from what I do, but it’s different. In my day-to-day work, I’m supposed to sell the art. But when I go to a museum, there’s no pressure to sell. The only thing is, every time I see a Monet or something, I start to estimate! The numbers keep appearing in my mind! And then I start to laugh at myself, because I’m obsessed with assigning values to objects.
I have a few favourite galleries and museums that I like to visit. Taipei’s National Palace Museum, for one. If I have two hours to spare, I’d go there for sure. The content is always good. There’s always something to learn. If I’m in New York, it’s MoMA and The Met. MoMA is close to our office and I don’t need to buy tickets; my namecard gets me in for free. In London, I like the National Gallery and Royal Academy of Arts. In Shanghai, the Yuz and Long Museums are good. I also visit art fairs, such as ArtStage in Singapore, Art Basel (Hong Kong and Switzerland) and the Venice Biennale.
If I have to pick my favourite pieces from an upcoming auction, it would be a (Paul) Gauguin painting of a Tahitian landscape that’s going for US$15 million (S$21 million) at low estimate. There’s also a (Henri) Matisse painting from 1944 that has an interesting story behind it. I love walking our galleries, reading the essays that our specialists write and learning the stories behind the works. It brings the pieces to life. Those two paintings I mentioned will be sold in London this season.
One thing about this job is that the collectors are more interesting than the paintings, because everyone who comes to us is successful and they enjoy life. Helping them acquire pieces is one thing, but their stories – their education, how they grew up, how they made their first bucket of gold, how they make their business decisions, what challenges they face – interest me greatly. They’re usually very hardworking, passionate about what they’re doing and curious about life. I’ve never realised how valuable curiosity is as a personality trait.
I always ask myself if I’m passionate about what I’m doing. If so, the physical and mental stress will be a lot less. It’s also about understanding where your energy comes from. For me, it comes from sleep. When I get eight straight hours of sleep, I’m fully energised the next day. It could also be shopping, or going to the beach. I live in Hong Kong’s Repulse Bay, so the beach is never far away.