As the Asian art market continues to grow, two young collectors and longtime friends, Ed Tang and Jonathan Cheung, have launched an advisory firm as a way to tap into a rapidly expanding millennial collector base in Asia. Based in New York and Hong Kong, the five-month old Art-Bureau could prove to be a formidable force in the area.
Having worked in different positions in the contemporary art departments of all three major auction houses by the time he turned 30, Tang, who is currently based in New York, is hoping that Art-Bureau can tap into accelerating demand in Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and Malaysia, and other locales.
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“The Asian audience is very quick at absorbing information and developing their own tastes,” Tang said. He and Cheung are looking to capitalize on recent shifts in the post-pandemic market while serving as “eyes and ears on the ground” for collectors in a rapidly changing global art economy.
The duo’s seasoned pedigree stands to help in that quest. The son of David Tang, the late Hong Kong fashion retailer, Ed Tang rose to widespread recognition while at the closely watched Art Agency, Partners division of Sotheby’s, where he worked until the end of 2020. “Last year being [my] 10th year in the business, I just thought it was right to step back and make my own mark,” Tang said of his decision to leave the auction world. Meanwhile, Cheung, a public relations operative in Hong Kong, has forged ties to insitutions such as London’s Serpentine Galleries and the Tate museum network, as well as Hong Kong’s soon-to-open M+ museum. (Cheung is on Tate’s Asian Pacific Art acquisitions committee, were Tang formerly served.) Both are collectors. With his husband, former Sotheby’s executive John Auerbach, Tang owns works by Dahn Vo, Richard Prince, Wade Guyton, Salman Toor and others. Cheung, for his part, is newer to the game.
With an established network of institutional and market ties, Tang and Cheung have set their sights set on a new generation of emerging collectors. “Collecting contemporary art is not as deeply engrained in Asia as it has been in Europe and America,” said Tang.
So far, Art-Bureau currently works with close to 20 private clients based in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, and elsewhere. According to Tang, the firm has placed works by Shara Hughes, Henry Taylor, Mark Grotjahn, Jonas Wood, Cai Guo-Qiang, Cecily Brown, Nicolas Party, and Lenz Geerk with collectors. “Some are more mature and of course have deeper pockets, but some are only beginning,” he said.
Art-Bureau is also teaming up with the blue-chip gallery Sprüth Magers (which has spaces in Berlin, London, and Los Angeles) to mount a digital exhibition for Art Basel Hong Kong. For a presentation titled “Go Figure?!,” Tang and Cheung selected nine emerging artists to feature alongside 15 established names from the gallery’s roster, including Cao Fei, Lenz Geerk, and Rosemarie Trockel (whose work Tang himself collects).
Experts in the field said that Art-Bureau is poised for success. “They are much more serious and knowledgeable compared to most of their peers,” said Patricia Crockett, a Hong Kong–based director at Sprüth Magers. Joel Wachs, a contemporary art collector who heads the Andy Warhol Foundation and has known Tang for years, said that Tang’s support of museums sets him apart from his peers. In 2020, for example, Tang donated funds to the Whitney Museum for the acquisition of New York artist Salman Toor’s 2019 painting Bar Boy, which formed the centerpiece of the artist’s breakout show there—an example of Tang’s forward-thinking sensibility, according to Wachs. “I think he will do very well at what he’s set out to do,” Wachs said.
Tang and Cheung are coming to the fore in an era when Hong Kong’s art market has become ones of the industry’s bright spots. In the past decade, with the presence of Art Basel, international galleries have arrived in the city, and record-breaking marquee auctions have attracted a class of new buyers from around Asia. And while art advisers abound in the West, they are rarer in Asia. Tang and Cheung are hoping that Art-Bureau will fill that gap.
“The role of the adviser has been central to a lot of very important collections built over the past decades,” Tang said, while emphasizing Art-Bureau’s focus on young collectors. “Our goal is to slowly build up these relationships. We want to be alongside them as they mature.”