Why The UBS Art Collection Is Contemporary Art That Delivers Enjoyment, Inspiration And Impact

UBS is the custodian of one of the most noteworthy corporate collections of contemporary art in the world. “The UBS Art Collection is vast and diverse. It comprises more than 30,000 paintings, works on paper, photographs, sculptures, videos, and installations,” reveals Elaine Choi, UBS Art Collection Manager, Asia-Pacific. The extensive Collection is unsurprising as UBS has been collecting contemporary art since the 1960s.

Elaine Choi, UBS Art Collection Manager, APAC (right) in conversation with Eko Nugroho.

“The guiding mission of the Collection is to collaborate with and acquire interesting, engaging works by artists of our time, in the communities where we do business,” Choi explains. Most of the works are displayed in UBS’s offices around the world. “Selections from the Collection are tailored to local offices. So, in our APAC offices, we feature works by international contemporary artists and what is current in the region.

“We also consider practicalities such as space availability and office environment when deciding on pieces to be showcased,” Choi adds. “The artworks in the Collection are of diverse mediums, but in our APAC offices, they are mostly two-dimensional.”

Eko Nugroho in his studio in Yogyakarta.

Growing and sharing the Collection

Choi is a member of the UBS Art Collection team of 11 personnel located around the world, whose remit is to continue collecting works by living artists and growing the Collection.

“We buy artworks on the primary market to directly support artists and galleries,” Choi affirms. “We also do a lot of commissioning work, where we collaborate closely with artists to produce artworks that reflect current issues and concerns. For example, for ART SG 2024, we commissioned a piece from Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho who produced Guarding Sunrise in Mind, a work developed during the pandemic, which reflects on the idea of protecting optimism and encouraging positivity, ultimately leading to a better future.”

Although curation and acquisition for the Collection are driven by the Global team, Choi and her Singapore colleague are involved in the process too. “We propose artists in the region to the Global team and have discussions whether to commission or acquire an artwork.”

Sharing artworks from the Collection is a also key aspect of UBS’s commitment to art. Works in the Collection are loaned to major art museums and cultural institutions, and presented at art fairs and public exhibitions.

Eko Nugroho working on another piece in his studio.

In May 2019, the UBS Art Gallery, located in UBS’s New York headquarters, opened to the public. The Gallery features permanent artworks, rotating exhibitions as well as tour exhibitions. Recently, it organised a world tour of Ed Ruscha’s works in the Collection, uniting all of Ruscha’s works owned by UBS.

Partnerships and collaborations

Future Fungus #1, 2020, Wired upcycled plastics, iron, acrylic paint, 93 x 95 x 140 cm; Future Fungus #2, 2020, Resin, wired upcycled plastics, iron, acrylic paint, 110 x 100 x 130 cm; both by Eko Nugroho.

UBS’s commitment to supporting art is extended through partnerships with important arts institutions, events and fairs. For instance, UBS is the Global Lead Partner for Art Basel in Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach. In Asia, it partners leading art events and fairs such as Art Basel Hong Kong, Taipei Dangdai, West Bund Art & Design, and ART SG.

UBS also constantly seeks ways to make art accessible. For ART SG 2024, UBS collaborated with Eko to establish the UBS Art Studio for the first time in APAC. In the Studio, members of the public helped complete Eko’s We Are Here Now three-part installation using Polaroids of themselves with two colourful mask sculptures, and then attaching them to the third blank sculpture.

“The response to the activity was overwhelming!” Choi exclaims. “It was a huge success, with positive feedback received from the public.”

Managing the Collection

Garden with Shine #1, 2023, Embroidered painting, 143 x135 cm, by Eko Nugroho.

The UBS Art Collection APAC office was established in 2016, and Choi joined the team in 2017. “I was fortunate that a year before I joined, UBS had published an overview of the UBS Art Collection, featuring major works from the Collection,” Choi says. “The publication became my reference to familiarise myself with the extensive Collection.”

As UBS Art Collection Manager, APAC, Choi manages, develops and displays the Collection in UBS offices and UBS Lounges across the region. Her responsibilities include managing and acquiring for the Collection; conservation; framing; shipping; insurance; risk management; research; working with artists in the region; organising viewings for UBS clients; internal communication and activation; as well as education and outreach activities for students.

Garden with Shine #2, 2023, Embroidered painting, 143 x134 cm, by Eko Nugroho.

Although Choi is the only person in the UBS Art Collection team based in Hong Kong, she does not feel alone. “I receive plenty of support from my other colleagues in the UBS Art Collection team, and I enjoy my day-to-day work—particularly, interacting and working with the artists.”

Choi also notes that technology has always been part of the art world and the evolution of art. “Technology has contributed to new modes of creating art,” she observes. “Recently, we acquired an immersive video installation—Catharsis by Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen, who created an imaginary, simulated forest, using real-world forest materials and digital technologies. The result was a meditative, slow media work that takes people on a journey into a new world. The work was exhibited in Geneva, Taipei and Shanghai, and was very well-received.

“Technology has also helped support the sharing of artworks through virtual displays or exhibitions,”

Choi continues. “For example, while the UBS Art Gallery was closed during the pandemic, the team leveraged technology to create a virtual version of the Gallery and presented virtual exhibitions and online viewing rooms.”

What’s next for the Collection?

Nothing Gonna Change the World, No worries, 2020, Resin, wired upcycled plastics, iron, acrylic paint, 210 x 26 x 218 cm, by Eko Nugroho.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2024, Choi’s attention will be focused on working with artists and preparing for Art Basel Hong Kong (28-30 March 2024), Taipei Dangdai (10-12 May 2024), and West Bund Art & Design in Shanghai (8-10 November 2024).

For Art Basel Hong Kong, Choi is particularly excited about the piece commissioned from Chinese artist-photographer Chen Wei, who has developed an LED sculpture entitled How Are You, Hong Kong?, inspired by LED advertising screens ubiquitous in contemporary cities. Choi is also looking forward to the works by a group of multi-disciplinary artists that explore urban living experiences and perspectives through innovative approaches.

UBS Art Collection

Lead image: Catharsis, 2020, 2D cinematic video, single channel, 12 mins, by Jakob Kudsk Steensen, UBS Art Collection.

All images courtesy of UBS or the respective artists.

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