Portrait Of The Collector As A Young Woman

"Hey, I almost forgot about our meeting! Just came back from the swimming pool. I've only got an hour, then I have to meet my family for Parade Day. I won't turn on the camera because I have to change, okay?" 

It is the 9th of August and I am preparing for a Skype interview with Mrs. Audrey Yeo, a young Singaporean art collector, entrepreneur and gallery owner. Coincidentally, it is also Singapore's National Day. Mrs. Yeo is preparing to attend the festivities together with her family. While she gets ready, the plan is to chat about life and art.

I first met Audrey Yeo in Bucharest, where she was doing research and collecting works by Romanian artists. Since then, we've kept running into each other in Venice, London and Berlin. In spite of her graceful appearance, Mrs. Yeo is a veritable power frau with an unlikely trajectory. Five years ago she was successfully working in corporate America. She then decided to renounce that life and pursue a Masters in Contemporary Art History at The Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London before returning to Singapore. Our interview begins as I turn on my camera—she leaves her's off (understandably so). 

A Glimpse Of The Collector

Artparasites: Your story is very inspirational. What inspired you to renounce a successful career in finances for the world of art? 

Audrey Yeo: That's a difficult question. I think it's more fun to collect art for pleasure, but I felt like I had to be involved in the arts in a bigger capacity. When I finished my studies, I found myself able to do the corporate thing. But at the end of the day, your true calling stands out and you cannot escape it. 

APs: How did you get into collecting? Is there anything you used to collect as a little girl?

AY: My sister and I used to collect little stones, rocks or pieces of glass. My mother was a designer for Galeries Lafayette and she would bring home costume jewelry stones. We used to trade them with a friend who used to come over to our house. She would weave them into bracelets and sell them back to us. So there was always this element of exchange between us. At twelve, we also inherited my grandfather's stamp collection and my grandmothers Swarovski crystal animal collection. I have loved and taken care of them ever since. I guess this encouraged me to put together my own collection.  

Portrait of collector Audrey Yeo as a young woman. Photo courtesy of Audrey Yeo.

APs​: How about your current collection of art. How do you find the works?

AY: Most of the works in my collection are difficult to acquire if you are not in the domain of art. That's why leads are very precious to me. I travel to all the obscure art fairs. My travels are for business, but I always end up falling in love with a piece and buy it. There is something about artwork that makes you go crazy, and you just have to have it.

At this point, I feel like she is opening up to me, so I get to a topic that really interests me, but collectors will sometimes be vague about. 

APs​: How many pieces do you have in your collection and what are some of the names?

AY: Around thirty pieces. I have works by artists such as Thomas HirschhornDamien HirstStefan Constantinescu and T. Venkanna.  

APs: Sense or Sensibility? 

AY: Sensibility. I think I have a good instinct. And if you have to fail, I think it's better to fail by instinct than by reason. The best choices are the ones you are fully accountable for.

The background sound amplifies. I can hear her moving around; clothes are swooshing through the air and there are stomps on the ground. Could she be trying on shoes? She sounds very coherent for somebody doing two things at once.  

APs​: We were once at an opening in London and you stated, somewhat with pride, "I may be old fashioned but I like good craftsmanship."

AY:  Yes, I remember that. I think that wasn't a very trendy thing to say at the time. I did not mean to say I am not interested in concept. But it is particularly difficult to find artists with concept and good craftsmanship. Yes, I have a great deal of respect for the time and talent artists invest in their works. I believe there is such a thing as real talent; there is instinct and there is labor. That's also why I was so fascinated with certain Eastern European artists. Their concepts are at the forefront of contemporary art but some of them also have classical training in the fine arts.

Stefan Constantinescu, Factory Interior, from the series "An infinite Blue." Photo courtesy of the artist.

APs​: Do you have a special tie to one of your works?

AY: "Factory Interior" by Stefan Constantinescu. This work made me realize that you can't always explain what you see. The lines are very blurred yet very detailed—detailed but not defined. See, this does not make sense but it totally does when you look at it.​

Judging by the background sounds, our interview might be coming to an end. I think I can hear her typing a message on her mobile phone. However, I try to keep her attention for a few more minutes. Mrs. Yeo is very polite and plays the game.   

APs​: I know you are very opinionated about collecting. Why is it important for young people to collect art?

AYCollecting art is a very worldly thing to do. But not only that: art changes your life. Some of the most important thinkers of our time are in the art world today. Collecting art is also a way of supporting the careers of young artists. I believe young collectors should collect young artists and then follow their careers and grow with them. It makes the experience of collecting so much more meaningful.

Mrs. Yeo is running late for the festivities and she barely manages to disguise her impatience anymore. 

AY: Listen, I'm late – I gotta run. Keep in touch, okay? 

And there she goes: a young independent collector walking through the streets of Singapore, celebrating Parade Day. 

Article by Veronica Ionescu