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40 Under 40 Asia Pacific

Theodore Wohng

1 September 2016

Melbourne, Australia

You come from a family of collectors. How much has their example informed your own collecting?

All private collections carry a sense of autobiographical memory; they are like long books written with objects. Looking at art from a generational point of view really gave me different ways to perceive time, history, and life in general.

Your collection includes one of the most significant private holdings of Odilon Redon’s noirs in the world. What first drew you to French Symbolism, and to Redon in particular?

I’m interested in the poetic aesthetics of Symbolism, as well as the literary and mystical aspects of the movement. When you link images and objects with symbolic meanings, the world becomes your private language. Redon was a master of it.

And how does the mood of these Redon works dovetail with other pieces in your collection?

I don’t see it as dovetailing. I am more drawn to the endless interpretations that a multilayered collection can hold. The mood forever changes at various points in your life: collecting for me has always been a process of self-cultivation and discovery.

Has your work as a composer influenced your taste in the visual arts?

It helps me to appreciate pure forms and abstract ideas. A great work of art is like a symphony – it should contain the whole world. Whatever medium or art form it may be, it needs to represent the moment in time when it was created.

You’re an enthusiastic supporter of emerging Australian art. What developments have most impressed you in recent years?

Australia has a strong artist-run initiative scene for contemporary art. It is a great way for young artists, curators, writers, and gallerists to test out their ideas and collaborate together. There are a lot of hidden art spaces and new artists to discover, which is always exciting.

How important is it, as a collector of contemporary art, to establish relationships with artists?

If you had a chance to spend time with Velázquez or Pontormo, and see the world through their eyes, would you say no to it? I’ve always considered it a real privilege whenever I visit a living artist, architect, fashion designer, or writer from our own times.

Could contemporary Australian art have a higher international profile?

Absolutely. The landscape, light and the sense of space are unique in Australia, and it has inspired many generations of artists. Contemporary works produced here have many distinctive qualities. Both Australian artists and international art lovers should reach out more and explore each other’s territories.

Do you feel that private collectors have a responsibility to get involved in public projects?

Ultimately it’s about doing something you love and supporting things that you truly believe in. Responsibility is inseparable from projects that you feel passionate about – once you are with the right group of creative individuals, in a context that makes you feel together, you can achieve great things.

What advice would you have for anyone looking to start an art collection?

Always be curious and have an open heart. It’s the same combination of ingredients that you need for a good journey. It doesn’t need to be luxurious. At the end of the day, it is the memory and the people that you shared those moments with that really count.