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Trove of seminal works
HE was buying art by Singapore artists at a time when few would give them a second look. Today, Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar has amassed an impressive collection of early works by now-famous contemporary artists such as Jimmy Ong, Henri Chen and Vincent Leow from the 1980s onwards.
These artists' works aren't seen much in the local art market today - but if you visit Mr Bedmar's spacious black and white bungalow off Mount Pleasant Road, you'll see them gracing the walls.
The director of architectural company Bedmar & Shi has been collecting South-east Asian art since he first came to Singapore in 1984 and settled here.
"People would often ask why I bought the art I did, which they also considered to be quite 'dark'," he chuckles, referring to works such as Jimmy Ong's The Toilet and Glorious, both 1989 works, done in charcoal and muted colours.
Those two works with Ong's signature bold strokes sit in the living room - perfect conversation pieces for his guests to bring up if ever in need of topics to discuss. He bought them from Ong's exhibition at the Goethe Institute in 1990, not just as an art lover but also because he knew the artist and was a part of the small artists' community in those days.
The 1980s and 1990s were after all known to be Singapore's cultural salad days, when artists dedicated themselves to their work even though there was no real demand for them yet.
"Thirty years ago, there wasn't much happening in Singapore, so every first Sunday of the month, we'd have a get-together and friends would bring other friends. There'd be visual artists and dancers and so on, and we'd talk about art," he reminisces. At one time, Mr Bedmar also lived in the black-and-white houses in Temenggong Road, with Henri Chen as a neighbour. He has two of Chen's works of lotuses, one employing his dry brush technique and liu bai, of leaving an empty space in the painting; and the other employing abstract expressionism. Both works are from 1990.
His art collection grew steadily, and included two works of Lee Kuan Yew by May Oon, two works by Sri Lankan artist Saskia Pintelon, and one each by Ketna Patel and Jeremy Sharma. "I like works that make a social commentary of some kind, although I bought these pieces out of instinct rather than by following a particular set of criteria," he shares. In general, he adds, he prefers art which is darker or monochromatic rather than very colourful works.
His tastes haven't changed much over the years. His one "departure" was a Jimmy Ong print which the artist did while in residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. Cranes is uncharacteristically colourful, showing a view of Harbourfront and Sentosa Island. "I got it because it is the view from Temenggong Road - and this is exactly what I saw when I was living there more than seven years ago," he recalls. He would have wanted to buy more works, except they were bought up by another local collector.
Another artist he admires is Ketna Patel, especially of her earlier works, such as Samsara, which is also up for sale.
While his house is big enough to house all his works, Mr Bedmar is planning to move to an apartment, which is why he's putting 23 paintings up for sale through the Art Apart Fair.
He had explored the auction route through Christie's and Sotheby's, but found it too inconvenient and unnecessarily expensive to send the paintings to Hong Kong.
"So when I got to know of Rosalind Lim of Art Apart Fair, she suggested the Private Collection sale," he shares.
Ms Lim proposed for Mr Bedmar to open his home for potential collectors to view the art, as it is in line with the fair's mode of showcasing art in hotel rooms to simulate the personal living space. Most of the works have a reserve price of S$S50,000 upwards.
At 61, Mr Bedmar is at the point of his life where he wants to pare down his possessions and maintain more of a minimalist's life, he shares. He's not completely clearing his art collection, of course. All, if not most, of the smaller pieces he'll be taking with him to the apartment. Then there is his large collection of cultural and antique artefacts as well, such as spirit houses from Bali and animal figurines.
In the fair's first Private Collection sale of its kind, interested buyers can register for the home viewing this October and next January 2016, and due to space constraints, only 300 will be invited to the home viewing.
However, a video shoot of the pieces in the house will be on show at the Art Apart Fair next week. Interested buyers can place their bids online.
Art Apart Fair 6th edition will be held at Parkroyal Pickering hotel from July 17-19. The Private Collection sale will happen at the Art Apart Fair 7th edition from Jan 22-24, 2016. For more information, please go to www.artapartfair.com