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Art Voyager: Petch Osathanugrah (CEO of Osotspa, President of Bangkok University, Collector)

Helen Wu

Image: Sunya Photography

Image: Sunya Photography

Text: Helen Homan Wu

Art and travel often go hand in hand. Those who are in a lifetime search for art objects to fill one’s existential needs will indefinitely also collect unique experiences along this journey.  Certainly, the social aspects of collecting art is nothing new, but to take it to the next level is part of what our work is about. I’m not only interested in the action of introducing an artist, private collection, meeting a museum director, a destination, hotelier, or offering art education, but also finding the magic that surrounds these stories.

I ran into my old friend Petch this past October at Frieze London. Both of us had a week packed full of activities and didn’t find a time to properly meet. I suddenly felt a strong nostalgia for the wild art hopping days in both London and Bangkok. Going around to scout for art with Petch is quite an ethereal experience. I remember an evening in Bangkok, where he led me, along with a few artist friends hopping from one gallery to the next in his jeep, completely spontaneous and picking up new friends along the way who were aspiring curators or art managers, as if the whole contemporary art community was a village. Our adventures continued into the break of dawn at the Mandarin Oriental, a classic institution in Bangkok, where he pulled out sketches of his work-in-progress private museum. We sat around in awe, drunk over too many mai tai’s, admiring the architectural drawings to his future museum. 

Then there was another time many years ago during Frieze London where we went around to galleries in Mayfair looking at very specific artists that he liked. It was the first time that I could see a collector who was so decisive with what he liked and didn’t like and for completely personal reasons. It shows that he really knew what he was looking for. It was very inspiring to see through his eyes. I realize that this museum project was very dear to him, as all the pieces were carefully assembled to his own tastes.

This is one of many stories that inspire our work and one that reminds us the importance of losing oneself to unfamiliar territories (through art), and somehow along the way, we understand ourselves in a new way. Continuing our seasonal questionaire with art voyagers, I asked Petch 10 questions.


Petch Osathanugrah, a former pop-artist, is President of Bangkok University, one of the largest private universities in Thailand, and CEO of Osotspa, a 126 year-old consumer product company. He is also a collector of contemporary art. 

 
1. Where are you from? 

I’m an art collector based in Bangkok, Thailand, who has been collecting contemporary art for about 30 years.


2. What's the best exhibition or artwork that was worth a trek across the globe to see? 
The biggest art trip I made across the globe so far was the trip to the big three: Venice Biennale, documenta 14, and Skulptur Projekte Münster (held every ten years), plus Art Basel in Basel, which took me all together about 10 days, last June. It was really mind boggling and exhausting to do them all in one trip. But, it was worth it.

For me, art is for contemplating and experiencing the present moment, and hopefully, take us beyond the limitations of our thinking mind, which is mostly mundane and shallow, and definitely not for speculating or investment.
PIERRE HUYGHE, After ALife Ahead, 2017  (Presented at Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017) Ice rink concrete floor, sand, clay, phreatic water, bacteria, algae, bee, chimera peacock; Aquarium: black switchable glass, conus textile; Incubator, human cancer cells; Genetic algorithm; Augmented reality; Automated ceiling structure; Rain; Ammoniac; Logic game (Courtesy of the artist; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York)  


PIERRE HUYGHE, After ALife Ahead, 2017  (Presented at Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017)
Ice rink concrete floor, sand, clay, phreatic water, bacteria, algae, bee, chimera peacock; Aquarium: black switchable glass, conus textile; Incubator, human cancer cells; Genetic algorithm; Augmented reality; Automated ceiling structure; Rain; Ammoniac; Logic game
(Courtesy of the artist; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York)


 

3. How do you navigate an art fair? a biennial? 
I mainly have time to do 2 art fairs per year and always go to the same ones: Art Basel in Basel, and Art Basel in Hong Kong. But last year I added Frieze London to the list too. Because I go to the same fairs, my routines are mostly the same. On the first day of the fair I would check out the booth of galleries that I like and know well first (because the works they show are usually of good standard, and also to keep up the relationships). Then on the following days, I’ll try to walk systematically around the whole fair. In an art fair, I would normally take a glance at a booth that I’m not familiar with first before walking in, and decide whether I should check it out or skip it, so as not to waste time. 

At a biennial, I would spend much more time and try to look at everything except video art. Because of the limitation of energy and time in a day, I tend to spend less time on them.  

 

100 Tonson Gallery (courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery)

100 Tonson Gallery (courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery)


4. What's your advice for someone traveling to Bangkok for an art trip?
I would recommend the BACC which is the main public art center with regular temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, and Bangkok University Gallery (BUG), which is one of the best non-profit art spaces in the city. For commercial galleries, try Gallery VER (founded by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija), 100 Tonson Gallery, Numthong Gallery, Nova Contemporary, and Bangkok CityCity Gallery.
 

5. What are your travel essentials? 
My travel essentials: comfy pants with strings, lots of t-shirts, and different types of jackets for different weathers and occasions, and two pairs of trainers.

 

The Renaissance Hotel, Hong Kong

The Renaissance Hotel, Hong Kong

6. Favorite hotels that you have stayed in? 
My favorite hotels during art fairs: The Pullman in Basel (only a minute from Messeplatz where Art Basel is held). In Hong Kong: The Renaissance Hotel (adjacent to the Hong Kong Convention Center, where Art Basel Hong Kong is held).


7. What is art for? 
For me, art is for contemplating and experiencing the present moment, and hopefully, take us beyond the limitations of our thinking mind, which is mostly mundane and shallow, and definitely not for speculating or investment.
 

8. What’s the vision behind your collection? 
My vision and direction: international contemporary art with primarily strong and preferably timeless aesthetics, and secondly with good conceptual context, but not necessarily. Spirituality and the human condition are main themes that I focus on too.


9. What’s your advice for new collectors? 
My advice for new collectors is to learn by looking without buying anything in the first two years, because you will end up buying something that you’ll regret, so it’s better to limit your mistakes to a minimal. You should also have a clear vision and goal, as you don’t want to buy everything that you come across or like (not having enough walls and storage will become a problem real soon). Only good artworks that fit a clear vision will make a good collection. Inferior artworks will bring down the whole thing, if you show them. Try to focus on quality, not quantity!


10. What are you working on at the moment?
Sansab Museum of Contemporary Art is my museum project. It will be located in Bangkok by a historic canal which has inspired its name, and set to open in early 2020. The focus of the museum is international contemporary art, with a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.