Hong Kong; Sydney
James Lie began collecting around seven years ago: “No fairy tale beginning or fast track family heritage here,” he said, humbly describing how he got his start. “For someone like me [who] did not receive a formal education in art, I follow the Chinese philosophy of ‘10,000 scrolls are no better than 10,000 miles of journey.’”
Lie first got into art via architecture and “trying to understand the Australian modernist architect Harry Seidler’s plans,” he said of a figure whose projects across Sydney include major commissions by Frank Stella (Grosvenor Place) and Alexander Calder and Sol LeWitt (Australia Square). As Lie realized he wanted to start buying art, he attended some art fairs for a couple years, where he met “a number of kind individuals willing to teach and guide me.”
Residing in both Hong Kong and Sydney, Lie said he has an equal affinity to support artists from both scenes. One such artist is Australian Daniel Boyd, whose 2019 painting Untitled (YMKSMRWAKP) he considers a cornerstone of his collection. “The painting is based on a 19th-century photograph of a man wearing a breastplate inscribed ‘King Sandy,’ a name given by British settlers who tried to monitor and understand the aborigines. Boyd recreates the image into a work of art to get rid of the Eurocentric perspective,” Lie said. Earlier this year, Boyd had a major survey at the Gropius Bau in Berlin, to which Lie loaned Untitled (YMKSMRWAKP).
Other important works include Stuffed Air (2016), a portrait by London-based, Hong Kong–born artist Firenze Lai, whose practice “represents the current interesting times of Hong Kong,” as well as Peter Hujar’s portrait Paul Thek in Black T-Shirt (1975). “The intimacy from their romantic and productive relationship can still be felt through Hujar’s lens,” Lie said of the photograph. “One day I would love to have a piece from Thek’s Technological Reliquaries series to complete the picture.”
When buying new works by emerging artists—a recent acquisition is Chinese artist Chen Zuo’s painting Wild Dogs (2018–23)—Lie said he has a couple simple guiding questions: “Does the practice speak to me? Where will the artist be in 10 years?” And part of Lie’s journey as a collector has been to absorb as much art history as he can, primarily by visiting the homes of other collectors as well as major institutions around the world, including the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien in Austria, the Kistefos Museum in Norway, and the Lina Bo Bardi–designed Museu de Arte de São Paulo in Brazil. “I admire seasoned collectors who have a through line in their collection, be it a particular period or a movement,” he said. “In the next few years, I am hoping to shape my collection into a more defined scope. The role of a collector should be a conduit of culture and a recorder of our time.”
A version of this article appears in the 2023 ARTnews Top 200 Collectors issue.