KEN Holdings Bhd chairman Dato’ Kenny Tan, 60 has been a long time art collector ever since he first bought a Chinese brush painting. From that very first painting, it has led him to open up the KEN Gallery in Menara KEN TTDI that opened in 2017.
The Peak speaks to Dato’ Kenny Tan about what still draws him to the art world.
I’ve liked art since my younger days. I’m a not good painter; I never had the patience to finish the works I started. It proves that, even though I like art, I didn’t have the quality of an artist. So, now, whenever I see artists doing things I cannot do, I really admire them.
I remember the first piece of art I bought was a Chinese brush painting, I can’t remember who the artist is but it’s still definitely in my collection. It was a small piece because, when I first started buying, affordability was very important. I think I paid about MYR50 for it. Those days, I used to go to the National Art Gallery, which was at the old Majestic Hotel. There were lots of beautiful art pieces from Malaysian masters on display there.
When it comes to collecting, I don’t only focus on the subject, but also on the skill and composition of the piece. I am drawn to art by Dato’ Ibrahim Hussein, Latiff Mohidin, Chia Yu Chian and Khoo Sui Hoe. Back then, a big art piece by Latiff Mohidin was about MYR30,000, similarly for Chia Yu Chian, as compared to the prices they fetch now.
Buying art is very personal for me. Every artist has a different character and, hence, every piece has different characteristics. The most important thing is that you must like the painting. Of course, you can ask for advice, but your own feeling is what’s most important. Would you look at an art piece you hate every single day? It’s a piece of art; no one can tell you if it’s good or bad because it’s very subjective. That’s the first thing – to trust yourself as you have the best instinct.
I realise most collectors either keep their paintings in storage or have them displayed at home, and not everyone has the chance to see and admire them. My original idea for KEN Gallery was an art space to allow collectors to showcase their works on rotation with a curator’s guidance. But the potential risk of damages was too big a responsibility. Instead of taking the risk, I decided to showcase my own collection. Even then, I hesitated, wondering if my collection has enough ‘standard’, but my friends gave me the courage, help and advice to proceed. Especially the late Syed Nabil Syed Nahar, who was a treasured member of the art community in Malaysia. He played an immense role in the curation of the art works for KEN Gallery.
Collectors often unknowingly cause damage to their paintings, including myself. It will be unfair to the artist if we cause damage to their masterpieces. Hence, it is important for collectors to play our part in preserving our paintings and to protect them from future deterioration. That’s why I started the conservation centre here at KEN Gallery.
TEXT NEDA AL-ASEDI & SWAROOPINI UDHAYA NAIR
ART DIRECTION AUDREY LIM & MON KAI-SIONG
PHOTOGRAPHY PATRICK CHAN