‘Collectors’ journeys into the homes of fledgling and seasoned art buyers from across the globe. The ongoing series offers an intimate spotlight on a range of personal collections from hobbyist ephemera to blue-chip artworks — all the while dissecting an individual’s specific taste, at-home curation and purchase trajectory.
Matt Chung is the owner of a Hong Kong-based gallery called Gallery Ascend and the co-founder of a new art platform in the same city called Haus of Contemporary which he started with his partner, Samson Ko. Started in 2021, Gallery Ascend has launched 10 exhibitions so far as it serves as a dynamic platform for both local and international artists such as Kang Jun Seok, Kebeyo Chen, Millie Kelly, among others. On the other hand, Haus of Contemporary was established this past June as a way to spotlight more talented artists in the region while offering opportunities for artists all across the globe and educating visitors with unique programming when they enter the space.
Matt started his collecting journey when he was studying at Boston University back in 2007. As a student who was paying off his own apartment at the time, he didn’t have the funds to purchase original works of art so he gravitated towards more accessible forms such as print editions or works on paper that normally have affordable pricing. “At the time, I discovered street artists like Banksy, Dolk, Nick Walker, Blek le Rat and others. The first unique work that I got was a Todd James work on paper from Aishonanzuka a few years after I graduated and that’s what got me hooked to collecting more original works,” he said to HypeArt.
Works of street art by famous artists such as Banksy or KAWS were the compositions that attracted Matt early on, and since then, he has pivoted his purchasing towards Asian artists who have roots in the United States or Europe. Artists such as Dominique Fung, Anna Park or younger artists such as Your Lee and Haeji Min are creating the works that are on Matt’s radar. As a gallerist and collector, Matt is strongly attuned to different modes of curating artworks both in his home and studio. He has a wide approach towards curating as he doesn’t solely focus on spotlighting painting, sculpture or mixed media works — he does them all.
Having personally known Matt for the past few years, it’s been exciting to chat with him now and then to discuss the artists that he’s interested in. We’ve discussed the illuminative portraiture of Roby Dwi Antono, the magnetic female subjects of Stickymonger, the gritty photographic eye of Daido Moriyama and exchanged plenty of conversations surrounding both legendary and futurist artists such as Futura and Felipe Pantone. Matt and I both agree that as an art enthusiast, it’s important to keep tabs with gallerists who are showing the works of artists that you admire – whether it’s for acquiring a work of art or knowing more about the atmospheres that house the works of your beloved artists. We recently connected to discuss his art collecting journey, memorable moments of acquiring certain works of art and artists that he’s currently admiring and the works that he wants to add to his collection.
Check out Matt’s office collection in the photos below and read our exclusive interview for insights behind the works he collects. Also, be sure to follow Matt Chung on Instagram for updates on his gallery initiatives.
“I first started collecting pieces of street art as it had a tight connection to my upbringing.”
Could you give us a bit of your background in the art industry?
I have been collecting for around ten years. Five years ago, I started curating shows with mainly Japanese artists and I had the chance to co-host Futura’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong back in 2019. I also brought Edgar Plans and Yuichi Hirako to do their first shows in Hong Kong. In 2021, I finally started my first permanent gallery called Gallery Ascend at the Arca which is a new hip hotel in Hong Kong, and in June, I started another art hub called Haus of Contemporary in Hong Kong. On the side, I co-founded an art print company called Artport with my partner Rom Levy from Volery Gallery in Dubai.
Art collectors have varying tastes and gravitate towards distinct pieces. Describe your collection and the artworks that attract you.
I first started collecting pieces of street art as it had a tight connection to my upbringing. I was learning about artists like Stash, Futura, and KAWS that were connected to Japan’s Harajuku street fashion culture with Bathing Ape and everything. This interest naturally led me to discovering a wide collection of Japanese artists such as Hajime Sorayama, Izumi Kato, Madsaki, Yoshitomo Nara, Tomoo Gokita and even photographers like Daido Moriyama and Araki Nobuyoshi.
For the past few years, my collection naturally shifted towards a lot of Asian artists who have their roots in the United States or in Europe. For example, artists such as Anna park, Mike Lee, Dominque Fung or younger artists like Yoora lee, Haeji Min, Ji Woo Kim, and others. I really appreciate what gallerists like Will Leung (ATM Gallery), Kathy Huang (Jeffrey Deitch) and Sarah Han (Harpers) are doing with their programming. I guess I connect more with these artists and gallerists due to my background as I studied abroad for 7 years since the age of 14. I really appreciate that mixed culture in their work.
“I love multidisciplinary artists and how they could create sculptures, paintings and even frames by themselves.”
Tell us about the curation of artwork in your home. Describe your process of selecting which artworks you want to display in particular areas.
For my home, I tend to have fewer portraits, as it’s partly a Chinese superstition, but also the ease of looking at something repeatedly day and night, I feel like abstract works are the best for home. Also, I like to work on a color matching theme for every corner. As for my studio (featured in this article), it has a wider mix of variety, there is also a consistency with the color matching theme in each corner. I would always think about how visitors would feel when they enter each room or section, what should be the first piece that catch their eyes, and how pieces beside each other can introduce new dialogues around the work.
From figurative paintings to sculpture, your collection is varied. Do you tend to collect a specific medium of art, let’s say painting versus sculpture or do you have a more balanced approach?
I believe figurative paintings would definitely take up the majority of my collection. Although in recent years, I have tended to shift towards abstract works a bit more, but I have always loved sculptures as well, and with a large studio space, I do think apart from walls, there has to be highlights here and there. So sculptures or art editions from my friends’ companies like case studyo or Avant Arte would definitely be great fit to curate the right vibe in my home or studio.
Which artists do you find yourself buying work from the most? Are there particular reasons as to why you gravitate towards these artists?
I think Izumi Kato and Alicia Adamerovich. I love multidisciplinary artists and how they could create sculptures, paintings and even frames by themselves. Their level of creativity and skills still stun me every time time I look at their works.
“People often think as a seasoned collector (among young collectors), and as a gallerist, it would be a lot easier than regular collectors, but that is definitely not true.”
Which artwork in your collection was the most challenging to acquire? What was that experience like?
Most pieces are challenging to acquire. People often think as a seasoned collector (among young collectors), and as a gallerist, it would be a lot easier than regular collectors, but that is definitely not true. I think the most memorable piece would be a canvas work from Madsaki that I acquired five years ago. I flew on a budget to Tokyo alone, stayed at an inexpensive hotel near Kaikai Kiki gallery, and I walked to the gallery from my hotel. I had to hand carry that piece, along with my friend Austin Lee, on a hot summer day.
When I checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport, I realized no cars would fit those two pieces I purchased so I had to carry a huge suitcase with these two pieces and walked the stairs to take the subway to the airport, just to save on shipping cost. I think most collectors try to hide this painful side of their art collecting journey, but to me, these are all beautiful memories that make me smile when I look at the works I purchased.
How many pieces are in your collection? Do you have a master catalog of the artworks you own?
I think roughly 500 pieces, and am adding to it every day. I am in the painful and slow process of cataloging all of them and I would say I’m not even halfway done.
“Collecting is growing at an absurd speed, especially during the past two years of COVID.”
How often do you rotate artworks that are inside your home? And how often do you get them cleaned or treated?
For my home, not so often, maybe once every four or five months. But, for my studio, maybe at least once every month, and usually I take a piece away. I have to consider how the size of the new piece would match with the adjacent pieces, so usually every rotation has 6-7 new works up.
What is the community of collectors like in Hong Kong? Any trends that you are noticing in terms of the type of artworks that are being purchased more these days?
Collecting is growing at an absurd speed, especially during the past two years of COVID. I’m sure every collector has their own private group where they go to openings together, and try to share their desired work list as it’s impossible to access the numerous shows going on in the world everyday. For trends, I still believe new collectors are more hooked towards cartoon imagery, but of course, sought-after names on auction would usually become a trend.
“I can’t say that I am an expert or keen fan of NFTs quite yet.”
Though you are based in Hong Kong, how often do you travel to fairs or galleries internationally to see artworks in person?
Before COVID, I would say almost every month. I haven’t flown in 2.5 years. Recently, I went to Seoul, London, and Paris for a month and got to check out many great galleries and meet friends in person finally for the first time. I will be attending the Kiaf Seoul art fair in September.
Apart from physical artworks, are you also collecting digital artworks in the crypto universe?
I have collected a couple from my artist friends’ projects, such as Edgar plans, Jon Burgerman, Takashi Murakami, Ryan Travis Christian and James Jean. I can’t say that I am an expert or keen fan of NFTs quite yet.
“Always buy what you love. Do not follow the trend or base your purchases off of speculation or investment value as it usually disappoints.”
Any words of advice for those who want to start their own art collection?
Always buy what you love. Do not follow the trend or base your purchases off of speculation or investment value as it usually disappoints.
Do you have your eyes set on an artwork that you want to purchase at the moment?
One artwork? Maybe not, but as for names, I’m definitely looking to add Emily Shaffer, Sarah Slappey, Diane Dal-pra, and Arghavan Khosravi to my collection.
What’s in store for Gallery Ascend? Any exhibition shows or upcoming programs that you want to share with our readers?
We are currently showing Narita Hikaru now, who is a great Japanese artist, in collaboration with Calm and Punk gallery in Tokyo. We will be showing Korean artist Jade Kim soon, and also Yosuke Ueno later this year. I think these are the names that us and European collectors should really look into.
Photographs by Gallery Ascend for ©HypeArt