Clinton Ng: Speed Art - Art Collector

Issue 45, July - September 2008

Clinton Ng’s diverse and energetic collection of work by 50 leading edge contemporary artists was compiled in just five years, writes Carrie Miller. His self-assured approach to the work extended to the method he used to find and acquire most of it: the internet.

Clinton Ng was looking for some light relief from the rigours of his doctoral studies a few years ago when he stumbled upon a diversion that’s now a serious pursuit in its own right. “Research into my PhD was hard going, often draining, frequently unrewarding”, Ng recalls. His escape? “Surfing art on the internet and visiting art galleries”.

The Sydney-based medical specialist quickly found himself dealt into the high-stakes collecting game when a friend introduced him to the work of John Coburn. His first purchase – a Coburn gouache – was “like a spark which set off the flame”, says Ng.

He began his collection cautiously, buying modest works on paper, but soon moved on to bigger purchases – large-scale paintings by Tim Maguire, Dale Frank, Susan Norrie, Ben Quilty and Michael Zavros, as well as major sculptural pieces by Ricky Swallow, Fiona Hall, Patricia Piccinini and Lionel Bawden.

And recently Ng demonstrated the confidence of the more mature collector he’s become by investing in “more challenging or edgy work, including conceptual art”. One of the most high-profile examples of this in Ng’s current collection is the video work of Shaun Gladwell, which he describes as “elegant, incredibly beautiful - a hypnotic dance with gravity”. The collector has also been quick to recognise artists on the rise, reflected in his acquisition of works by current critical favourites, Daniel Boyd and Sam Leach.

While there’s still an intuitive element to his purchases – he continues to buy work that he “responds to” on a personal level – Ng has learnt through “seeing a lot of art, reading, listening and thinking” to identify works “of significance both in the context of my collection and also in relation to Australian art history”. The result is a diverse and energetic collection of the work of more than 50 artists assembled over just five years, which combines modishness with critical depth.

The collector’s self-assured approach extends to the method by which he acquires the majority of his work: directly from the internet. As Ng explains: “I often cannot make it physically to a preview of a ‘hot artist’ opening interstate. The net makes this possible. If I believe in the artist and the dealer, I buy the work!”

There’s no doubt Ng is addicted to collecting. But it’s an addiction grounded in a fundamental belief about the deeper significance of what he’s acquiring – his generous lending policy to public galleries and support of local, emerging artists and art institutions is evidence of this. Ng’s collection of leading-edge contemporary art reflects his belief that art offers us “a way of seeing the world” that articulates with life’s purpose generally: “Art is all about life. Art is my engagement with the world. Art speaks of the beauty of creation, spirituality, history, the human experience, but also the world of today with all its joy, challenges, and uncertainty.”

As for the future, Ng says he “feels privileged to be entrusted with my collection”, has “a desire to share it with others” and so will continue to seek out opportunities for making his collection available to the public. He also hopes to move into collecting Chinese contemporary art.

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