We know you both have green thumbs—how has your love for plants changed throughout the years?
I used to be the youngest Committee Member of the Singapore Gardening Society some years ago. I was the OG plant collector of plants like philodendron and anthuriums, back when they were considered valueless (laughs). My art-related work has gotten more intense since Circuit Breaker, so I haven’t had much time to garden, but I still have some plants in the garden and regularly give cuttings to friends of whatever that is left.
You don many hats—one of them being your profession as an art lawyer. Share with us more about what that entails.
In my work as an art lawyer, I use my specialised knowledge of art collecting and the global art industry to fight for my clients and to advance their interest. I also help make deals happen–often at night and across different time zones where artworks are bought and sold for princely sums. Sometimes, I get called up in emergencies where valuable artworks have been held for ransom and need to be released.
What’s one of the most interesting cases you’ve worked on?
Interestingly, I have been working with a group of poultry enthusiasts to vindicate their right to raise ornamental chickens. These are the most beautiful chickens you have ever seen, some look like soft toys, and they have been at risk of being removed or re-homed without legal basis. There’s been an increased interest in chickens as pets in the wake of the pandemic—people are looking to them as companions, or in terms of sustainability and urban farming.
Apart from being an art lawyer, you also run The Ryan Foundation—tell us more about that.
The Ryan Foundation’s mission is to promote arts awareness and to develop art projects in Singapore and internationally—we often bring international artists and exhibitions to Singapore. We have organised exhibitions such as Lucy Liu & Shubigi Rao’s Unhomed Belongings at the National Museum Singapore and other exciting exhibitions that have drawn huge crowds.
In times of economic trouble, art can often be considered secondary to other concerns—how do you think this has affected Singapore’s art landscape?
Yes, this really gets my goat. The newspaper article stating that artists were the most “non-essential” profession had far reaching consequences. I had friends who came up to me to tell me that their children in art schools were extremely demoralised–and these were young 15-year-olds whose dreams were deflated. It’s sentiments like these that holds Singapore back from being a cultural hub. We need to change this. We need exhibitions that are relevant, we need vibrancy, and we need to get people interested.
Artists around the world have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic; artists in Singapore are no exception. In the early stages of the pandemic, I was already helping artists go up against their evasive landlords to secure rental rebates or had unlawful terms in their leases.
With more museums going digital, do you think how we perceive art is shifting?
I feel that the current stakeholder shift towards the digital is purely knee-jerk. The current state of technology is such that a lot of art still needs to be experienced in person. There is no good substitute for seeing art in the flesh. You will understand this after you have walked the wings of the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.
You mentioned that Andy Warhol is one of your favourite artists—what’s something about his art that strikes you?
Warhol was tremendously forward-thinking. He left behind a huge body of work and covered themes that are increasingly relevant—politics, LGBT rights, fame, scandal, race, and even the conservation of endangered species. Warhol even illustrated children’s storybooks with drawings of delectable desserts and cats. So even in 2020, I’m still struck by the versatility and breadth of his work.