Interview: Savita Apte, Private Collector, On Why She Loans Artworks to Museum

Paper Plates (2008) by Hamra Abbas

Rave reviews have been pouring in for the Collectors Show: Chimera that has been showing at the Singapore Art Museum for the past three months. The contemporary art show is the second of its kind to be held by the museum, giving art lovers a grand glimpse into the art treasure troves of private collectors that would otherwise be hidden from public view.

That’s the thing about original art pieces, isn’t it? Once procured by an individual, more often than not, they are kept in a private residence or showcased in a corporate boardroom, squirreled away from the public’s eyes unless the collector has pockets deep enough to stick it in his or her own private museum or in the case of Chimera, loaned to public institutions.

Which is why, according to Chimera curator Tan Siu Li, SAM has been steadily building up relationships with private collectors, a sort of art wooing process to convince them to part with their prized pieces, albeit temporarily, for future shows, which is excellent news for the rest of us.

Shirish and Savita Apte is one such couple that kindly loaned their piece, Hamra Abbas’ Paper Plates, for the show. The high-powered pair – Shirish is the CEO of Citigroup Asia-Pacific and Savita is an art historian who specializes in modern and contemporary art – are discerning art collectors and we got a chance to briefly speak to Savita about her thoughts about her acquisition and the loaning process, which she and her husband avidly supports. 

What did you like about Hamra Abbas’ Paper Plates?

I had been aware of Hamra’s practice for a while and had been following her career. I lived in London at the time and she was exhibiting with Green Cardamom, London, which allowed me to become really familiar with her work. When I saw this piece, exhibited by Green Cardamom at Art Dubai, it really encapsulated Hamra’s art practice into a ‘home size’ work. I loved the intricacy of the paper plates, the painstaking details, the leaching of colour and the absolute skill and knowledge it displayed, but I was also beguiled by the strong irony behind this work (apparent in all her works), which to my mind is what makes her practice so consummately contemporary whilst being linked to and referencing history. Paper Plates has always been located in or near our dining room. It’s an illuminated piece, so it always draws people in and makes for interesting conversations.

How did you come about loaning your piece to the Singapore Art Museum?

I was approached by the director of the Singapore Art Musuem, Mr Tan Boon Hui, soon after moving to Singapore. Since Singapore is now my home, I was happy to be able to help with the loan.

What are your personal thoughts on loaning art pieces? Are there factors that you take into account before you make a loan?

In my experience, museums are particularly diligent in looking after works from private collections. I think as a collector and a supporter of artists, it is my obligation to loan works to museums when called for. This helps enhance the viewers’ relationship with the artist’s oeuvre and opens up new dialogues. I would always research a museum before I loan any works and as far as possible find out from other collectors who have loaned their works what their experience has been. I also like to know about the show the works are included in, as I would hate a work to be shown without context or with an ill-formed curatorial intent. I like to ensure that the artist is properly credited for the work and is always consulted before the work is displayed.

Paper Plates (2008) by Hamra Abbas

In your opinion, what is the relationship between the artist, the private collector and the museum?

It is the artist’s job to create works of art. Normally it would be the gallery the artist is affiliated with, who finds suitable homes for the works created by the artist. This is not merely a function of selling the works, but placing them with collectors who enjoy the work itself and whose other works enhance or are enhanced by the addition of this work.  I think more than ever in the 21st century, private collectors are integral to the artistic process, providing encouragement and context to the works of art. The museum as an institution has the responsibility to build an art historical canon, selecting works which further that canon, constantly evolving and fine tuning the canon so that it is ever contemporary and reflects the needs and wants of the age. Museums are a repository of zeitgeist where as private collectors are a reaffirmation of personal taste.

The Collectors Show: Chimera runs until this Sunday, 25 March 2012 at the Singapore Art Museum.

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