The Key to Be a Successful Collector - Conceptual Thinking:Interview with Sonia Ning Sun

5 years ago

Sonia Ning Sun is a brand operator, project investor, collector and member of OGP. She has worked with over 70 different brands including BMW, HBO, Microsoft, THOMSON, Walt Disney, DreamWorks, P&G, GSK, Coca Cola, Budweiser, Martell, CBS News, NBC Sports, KFC, Adidas, Hasbro, Davis Cup, China Telecom, Formula 1, Expo 2010, etc. She has nearly 30 years of collection experience. Due to the comprehensive factors of her family's background and social work, she has been influenced. Ms. Sun has a good knowledge and understanding of treasures, and her collections cover many different cultures, and arts from the East and the West.

OGP:Imitation of Nature. This concept of Taoism focuses on the many intricacies and complexities found in nature. In contrast with objective reality found in the Western world, Asian culture emphasizes harmony between man and his surroundings. When nature is observed, skilled craftsmanship and intricate design can be found which in turn inspires the viewer. A Chinese poems reads "the good rain, without a sound, quenches the thirst of all things". It implies developing an appreciation with art can satisfy our soul. Imagine sampling tea whilst regarding fine art displayed on a table. Yunnan Pu-erh tea is poured into your underglaze dragon cup, engraved with "Tian" on its bottom, filling the room with a sweet aroma. You are sitting on a gold silkwood carved chair; your back presses against hand sewn Suzhou silk. Guzheng music, "High Mountain and Running River" , fills your ears. What you see from the windows is the colorful fall red and orange leafs. The combination of usability, excellence and phenomena reaches its peak and makes up the Asian art of life.

Ms. Sun:The collections you mentioned are expressions of elegance. It is mind over matter. These reflect the artists' expressions toward life and their pursuit toward art. As the Book of Changes (1*) mentioned, thoughts are abstract and objects are empirical. If an object only has functions and doesn't carry any thoughts or ideas, it is shallow. Lao once said, "thoughts are unspeakable". This philosophy is the core of the Asian culture. Let's compare it to appraising porcelain ware. You start with its material, paint color, then the body. Only when you clean these off the surface, you can see the beauty underneath. That is why amongst the collectors, porcelains from Song Dynasty become prized possessions but the porcelain from Qing Dynasty become mere merchandise. Chinese philosophy comes from its Taoism roots and Confucius doctrine: imitation of nature. They are reticent, restrained, harmonious and elegant.

OGP:It is so nice to talk with you about collections because you can see the essence and true value of them. Confucius said, "A man of noble character is not worried nor frightened." If a person is kind, disaster is kept away from him even though happiness hasn't arrived yet; if a person is wicked, happiness is kept way even though disaster may have not arrived. A person's conduct determines a person's future. Many people think collections depend on riches and good judgment, but we know it mostly depends on the heart. Be calm when you posses it, remain cool when it departs. You must fight for it, but must let nature take its course. Life is a journey, you enjoy every scenery that passes and cherish every love you meet. Unlike people of old we no longer rise with the sun, work till its setting, plough near the mountain and pick asters near the Eastern fence. However, we still can hymn the songs while painting, invite friends over to see the bloom and withering of the flowers and watch clouds float in the sky.

Ms. Sun:We need to juggle tension with relaxation or work with rest. Stay calm in glory or crisis. This is the way. The collections we are talking about today are an extension of our culture, art and riches. Let us put aside the collectors of the new generation, let us only speak of the past such as Shixiang Wang (2*), Sir Run Run Shaw (3*) and Jirui Qiu (4*). Despite criticism made against them, none come close to their talent. None can make the same monetary and material donations to support the education system. What are good morals? Their conduct explain it.

OGP:Amongst the three you mentioned, Mr. Wang was born into a long line of intellectuals. His father was once the secretary general of the state council and ambassador of Beiyang Government. His mother is famous for her painting of flowers and fish. His uncle BeiLou Jin is a renowned artist in the north. Mr. Shaw also came from a wealthy family. His father is the owner of the famous Jintaichang Dye Company. On the other hand, Mr. Qiu became a successful entrepreneur without aid from family members, being extremely intelligent and fond of studying. After having started his manufacturing business, he shifted his attention to the real estate market and also found success. We all must agree with him when he said," The art of collection and the interworking of business is essentially the same. Once dedicated, you will master whatever you do."

Ms. Sun:You're right. I know what you are going to say me next. Collection is only a hobby of mine. Since young, I love to collect strange things. An elder of my friend, who was director of big hospital in Shanghai, collected jade and furniture. When I went to his home, I was so amazed at his collections. Even though I was a child, I was very brave. I asked him if he could sell them to me. He smiled and gave me a price while made my heart sink. More than a decade later we told about it. He said he would keep all these things for someone who would treat them very well. In their mature stage, many collectors will pick a particular kind of things to collect, for example, bronze vessels, ancient jade, porcelain, pottery, jewelleries, paintings. Even more specifically, they subcategorize them by the year of making. You can see my collections are of different kinds. Some were given, others were bought. But they all don't stay with me long. When I met the right person or was at the right place, I will give my collections a new home. I have friends who open business clubs, antique stores or private art museums and sometimes they invite me to their places. And if I see it's a good match, I would leave my collections there.

OGP:Then you must be a very welcomed guest, since you had a good heart towards them. If one only collects but doesn't appraise, only possessive desires would be satisfied. This is not the art of collection. If one only appraises but doesn't enjoy, it has become a work or study but not real collection. You seem to understand these. However, not many people can do so. How were you molded in this way?

Ms. Sun:There is no limit to knowledge, and the same comes to collection. As most collectors, I am also on the path of learning. In both 2006 and 2008, when I was in China, we got three year brand operating rights of Formula one. This was from Bernard Charles "Bernie" Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One Management, Formula One Administration and Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA). This means, we had to promote the brand so it can be a top brand in China from something unknown. At that time, we didn't have enough funds. Four companies invested in the shares in it, ours was one of them and we were responsible for Greater China. To guarantee increased return, we had to deal with different people in different situations. At that time, I met some real collectors and they had great influence on me. What I heard and saw changed my views of a lot of things. Before that time, I only collected as a hobby and didn't put much thought into it.

OGP:Now in China, Formula One is well known. Many collectors started collecting as a hobby. They might start it coincidentally, but later turned into a passion because the art had a special attraction to them. For example, the jewelry passed down from family line and furniture used by parents when they got married. The sight reminds you of the giver. What you collect is also the love and the memories which is meaningful to you. The collections also hold value. When we collect something, we may also consider its economical value. Most collectors are money smart. Like real estate and stocks, collecting art also can give us higher returns in investment than real estate and stocks. People in different countries at various ages, antique collectors and stores can earn high interest on returns. There might be different motives for people to collect; maintaining and increasing the value of asset is greatest motivation. Another motive might be personal actualization, according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs by American psychologist Maslow (5*). Many successful collectors, motivated by self actualization, worked hard and wrote books, engaged in academic activities, volunteered in the community, used all the savings to benefit younger generation and eventually became very successfully all they do.

Ms. Sun:Collectors of your last category are real collectors too and should be respected. But to most collectors, collection is only a method of investment. In the west, real estate, stocks, bonds and art collections have always been an asset investment. Only in China this has just recently started. The setup of the rules is still vague but they will become clear once regulated by laws. This good because no matter in which field, people want to play fair and have rules. I am a fortunate person. I met many nice elders and they showed me the right path. In the field of collection, your road could be very difficult and you may pay a great price if no one lead you along the way. In this field, we can say all collectors at one point had been scammed. If you have seen many genuine collections and therefore might distinguish the genuine from the fake. Even when the seller gives me 'insight' on the item, I take a scrutinising look. But a visual confirmation is not enough. Because of technology, some adulterated items are almost like real. So we must appraise them very cautiously.

OGP:In 1955, American Fortune magazine predicted that "art collection will be the most money generating business". In the 1980s, capitalism reached its prime time. In International auction, there were impressionism and modernity. Van Gogh ' s “Sunflowers” and “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” were sold with a jaw dropping price. Also “Boy with a Pipe” by Pablo Picasso broke history record. In the view of Economics, investment in scarce resources is a safe investment. Art is not only scarce but also a merchandise with an undefined price. When the real estate market is regulated and stock market is a bear one, investing in art collection becomes a haven. High end collection has just started and its mechanism hasn't been perfected. When we consider these, we should say now it is the best time to step into this field. Also trust the advice of experienced collectors.

Ms. Sun:Yes, we must admit they are wise people. Clear insight, good planning and flawless execution are key factors for success. These collectors usually found their collections in one of two ways: from their friends or bidding at action house. In both cases, they avoided counterfeits. Through this investment channel, they received high returns and publicity. In china there are a lot of invisible rich people and many of them are in the circle of collectors. These people started this business even 30 years ago. The number of collections we know are just the tip of a iceberg. Do you know where did the art pieces in National museum come from? is it not because these people donate them? Mr. Jirui Qiu collected six warehouses of ancient porcelain potteries. He took out 6000 pieces that are worth trillions. In fact in this circle, it is not surprising that a collector has 6 warehouses of collections. Remember Chenghua chicken cups? Mr. Jirui Qiu had a few. Not only him, I have seen more at hands of others.

OGP:On April 8, 2014, the cups was sold at Sotheby's in Hong Kong for HK$281.24 million (US$36.05 million), we also have seen it from our collectors. There is no way we can compare ourselves with the collectors born in 1930s and those of 50s and 60s are the main forces in this field. As for you and others who are also from the 80s are new and rising. The 80s inherited riches from the older generation and they are free to follow their dream. From young, they have been influenced by both Eastern and Western culture. This means they thought and views are not limited by Chinese traditional culture and art but influenced by the west. They will have many chances to taste and feel the art in different flavors. Can you please tell us your view of contemporary arts? We know that some of your collections are from the west.

Ms. Sun:It is very pitiful that people usually determine the value of an art work by its price at auction. I always remind myself of the original intention. What is the original intention? Why do we collect? I believe it is the message and connotation it carries. If we cannot understand the meaning of an art work, we will lose interest in it. Contemporary arts originated in the west. Because of this, we should study modern history of the west. Each school and style was influenced by the events at that time. If an art work doesn't represent the culture that is behind and the thought of the artist, it is not worth collecting. For the exploration and innovation of art forms, it is not the same in the west and the east. But we believe the two will meet. I am happy to see that you are recommending the western artists and their art works. This is progress. Listen to both sides and you will be enlightened; heed only one side and you will be benighted. The fact that there are many Chinese buyers in International market shows the views of people especially those of old generation are changing. The real classics cannot be replaced easily. They are a special kind of art. I don't believe the age is an issue, but the concept is.

OGP:Once Dan Yu (6*) said, "the key factor for growth is to have your own life framework". Big realms creates broad minds, great deeds start with a great vision. One should either study or travel so that the body or the thought moves. Art work is unique in a way that it is incorruptible. The value retains with the time. No matter the works from Baoshi Fu (7*) or Picasso (8*), they both represent the spirit of that time. They are most sensible, comprehensive and expressive products of that time. Collection is a life concept. It can enrich our life and help us understand the way of life, no matter tense or lax, slow or fast, win or loss. It is so interesting to talk to you and I hope we meet again and discuss more about collection. Please pay close attention to more interviews on  OGP,

1* The I Ching, or Classic of Changes, is an ancient divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics. Possessing a history of more than two and a half millennia of commentary and interpretation, the I Ching is an influential text read throughout the world, providing inspiration to the worlds of religion, psychoanalysis, business, literature, and art. Originally a divination manual in the Western Zhou period (1000–750 BC), over the course of the Warring States period and early imperial period (500–200 BC) it was transformed into a cosmological text with a series of philosophical commentaries known as the "Ten Wings." After becoming part of the Five Classics in the 2nd century BC, the I Ching was the subject of scholarly commentary and the basis for divination practice for centuries across the Far East, and eventually took on an influential role in Western understanding of Eastern thought. The interpretation of the readings found in the I Ching is a matter of centuries of debate, and many commentators have used the book symbolically, often to provide guidance for moral decision making as informed by Taoism and Confucianism.

2* Wang Shixiang (1914 – 2009) was a Chinese researcher of traditional Chinese culture, leading art collector, poet, and Chinese character calligrapher. Wang was born into a wealthy family, who were at the Qing Dynasty court for three generations. His father was a diplomat. The rich family background contributed to Wang's talent and sensitivity towards classic Chinese culture. His art collection was an inspiration for craftsmen and scientists worldwide. During the Cultural Revolution, his collection was seized by the Chinese authorities, though after the revolution the collection was returned to him. He published much about the investigation he conducted, as is found in the dozens of books he left behind. Wang was internationally known for his extensive study of a wide range of cultural relics, artifacts, and manifestations, including: furniture, Chinese lacquer art, bamboo carvings, pigeon whistles, a large number of traditional crafts and music. His knowledge ranges from trivial matters to esoteric, from Chinese manuscripts and objects to intangible cultural affairs. Altogether, he published over forty books. The book Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties are considered his most influential work.

3* Sir Run Run Shaw , GBM, CBE (1907 – 2014), also known as Shao Yifu and Siu Yat-fu, was a Hong Kong entertainment mogul and philanthropist. He was one of the most influential figures in the Asian entertainment industry. He founded the Shaw Brothers Studio, one of the largest film production companies in Hong Kong, and TVB, the dominant television company in Hong Kong. A well-known philanthropist, Shaw donated billions of Hong Kong dollars to educational institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China. More than 5,000 buildings on Chinese college campuses bear his name, as does Shaw College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He also established the Shaw Prize for Astronomy, Life Science & Medicine and Mathematical Sciences. In 1974, Run Run Shaw was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He received a knighthood in 1977 from Queen Elizabeth II and the Grand Bauhinia Medal (GBM) from the Hong Kong government in 1998. In 2013, Sir Run Run received the BAFTA Special Award for his outstanding contribution to cinema.

4* Qiu Jirui (1965-), a well-known industrialist, philanthropist and collector, was born in Shishi, Fujian Province. He graduated from the Department of Chinese at BNU in 1967. He was former Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Fujian Province, Fujian Provincial Federation. He is Vice President of the BNU Alumni Association and Honorary Chairman of the Hong Kong- Fujian Community Federation. Mr Qiu is enthusiastic in promoting public good, especially his dedication to the causes of education and charity. Over time he has donated some 150 million yuan. He was named "China’s Outstanding Philanthropist", putting him among the Top One Hundred People in Hurun Charity List (China). On July 13, 2016, To support and promote BNU’s heritage and research on Chinese ancient cultural relics, in his promotion of excellent Chinese culture, Qiu Jirui presented BNU with a collection of 6,000 pieces of ancient Chinese ceramics of rich variety.

5* Abraham Harold Maslow (1908 – 1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Maslow was a psychology professor at Alliant International University, Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a "bag of symptoms." A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Maslow as the tenth most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

6* Yu Dan (1965-) is professor of media studies at China's Beijing Normal University. She received a master's degree in ancient Chinese literature and a doctoral degree in film & TV studies from Beijing Normal University. She holds strategist/researcher positions in a roster of mass media groups such as China Television Artists Association, China Visual Association's Tertiary Arts committee, China Visual Association's Research Group, CCTV's Research Office, China News Research Group, China-Guangdong Research Institute, China-Guangdong Institute Legal Programs Committee, News Corp (Australia), etc. She is also assistant to the Dean, Faculty of Arts & Media, as well as the Department Chair of the Film & Television Media Department. In late 2006, a series of her lectures entitled "Yu Dan's Insights into the Analects" was broadcast for seven days on China Central Television (CCTV) as part of the Lecture Room program. The transcript, edited into a book, sold 10,000 copies within the first day of release. Within 40 days, sales exceeded 1.5 million. By September 2007, the book has sold 4.2 million legal copies and an estimated 6 million pirated ones since its publication in December and remains on best-seller lists. It has been published in English under the more literally translated title Confucius from the Heart.

7* Fu Baoshi , or Fu Pao-Shih, (1904-1965) was a Chinese painter from Xinyu, Jiangxi Province. He went to Japan to study the History of Oriental Art in the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1933. He translated many books from Japanese and carried out his own research. In painting itself, he brought Japanese visual elements to the Chinese ink painting tradition. He was the Director of the Jiangsu Province Chinese Painting School and a Vice-Chairman of the Federation of Chinese Artists. He also taught in the Art Department of Central University (now Nanjing University). His works of landscape painting employed skillful use of dots and inking methods, creating a new technique encompassing many varieties within traditional rules. He was able to create an old, elegant style through his integration of poetic atmosphere and painting techniques. He has held many personal exhibitions in China and has won favourable comments.

8* Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, also known as Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973), was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright who spent most of his adult life in France. Regarded as one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a portrayal of the Bombing of Guernica by the German and Italian airforces at the behest of the Spanish nationalist government during the Spanish Civil War.

* By OGP Editors / Sun Ning Provides File Photos


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