By: Verne Maree
It’s never too soon nor too late to start your own art collection, believes British art consultant Anna Layard. At the Mount Sinai townhouse where she and James live with their three children, she tells Verne Maree about her collection, her career, and the launch of Art Equity at this month’s Affordable Art Fair 2012.
Anna and I quickly bond over a cup of coffee and the serendipitous discovery that – for both of us – our Nespresso coffee-machines were the best presents we ever bought for our husbands.
This family townhouse in a terraced row is deceptively big in relation to its street-side façade, with plenty of space, light and white walls. So it works well as an art gallery and is also an ideal family home for Harry (10), Grace (8) and Evie (2).
“James and I always wanted three children,” says Anna, “so moving to Singapore after 11 years in Australia was the perfect opportunity to complete our family. That’s the beauty of expat life here; it would just have been too difficult in Sydney. Needless to say, Evie keeps us all on our toes.”
How did you become an art consultant? Are you an artist?
No, I’m an art historian. I studied art history and architecture through a brilliant programme at the UK’s Manchester University, after which I ran The City Gallery, a place in London’s banking district that specialised in Royal Academicians and Scottish colourists – established, late career, mainly British artists.
In Sydney, I ran an emerging-art gallery in Rushcutter’s Bay, and, after that, was for eight years the art director and curator at a European Masters gallery in Sydney. We specialised in everyone from Rembrandt right through to Dalí, Matisse and Chagall. That was a phenomenal opportunity and experience!
In 2007, I set up my own art consultancy and did some great projects for companies like LendLease, for example – putting art into their new-builds, both corporate and residential.
What does an art consultant do?
Depending on whether my clients are private or corporate, I would go into their homes or offices to establish their criteria: the size of their walls, their budget, what appeals to them, their investment goals. From that basis, I would source the artwork for them. I’m all about finding artwork that evokes passion in you, that sparks a reaction. I’m not an interior décor adviser: I’m not going to look for a picture to match your sofa. But if I do my job properly, the sofa will have gone long before the artwork does. If you love something, you will always find a place for it.
What brought you to Singapore and how did you find it?
James’s management consulting career took us to Sydney in 1997, and brought us here in 2009. Instead of returning to the UK, we felt that Asia was where it was all happening and Singapore was a good place to be.
Sydney is an incredible city to live in, and the most important events of our lives happened there: getting engaged, marrying, having our first two children and becoming citizens. It was hard to leave, especially as my 18-month-young consultancy was going so well.
It helped that we instantly made a wonderful network of friends in Singapore. Living at the Great World City serviced apartments, we met about 20 other newly arrived families – we’re still in touch with most of them. I and my closest friend here had our third children at the same time.
After GWC serviced apartments, was this your first rental home?
No, we started off more centrally in Chatsworth Road. But we wanted a place where Harry and Gracie could safely just run outside and play. These townhouses are part of the Ridgewood condo complex, with access to its gardens, playgrounds, pool and other sports facilities. There’s even a bar, and three restaurants! Everything is very convenient, and we feel we’ve got the work-life balance right.
How long after moving to Singapore did you climb back into the art consultancy saddle?
About four months, once we’d settled in and Harry and Grace were happily ensconced in the Australian International School. My business here was different from what it had been in Sydney: less corporate, more individualised and interiors-based, and mainly oriented towards the expat community. But that community is wonderfully tight-knit, so when people like what you do, they spread the word.
Tell us about your own collection.
It’s completely eclectic, as you will see. I’m a great believer in having all sorts of art media in your home, everything from photography to oils and sculpture. Together, they create a beautiful synergy. Everything you see here has a story behind it and its own special place in our home. I’m always collecting; some of the works on the wall are for sale, so the house works as an art gallery too. It’s a nice way to live!
I acquired the Matisse above the sofa while I worked in the European Masters gallery in Sydney. On the opposite wall is one of Marcel Heijnen’s incredibly painterly photographs of urban reflections. He does everything within the camera: nothing is Photoshopped.
Sydney artist Scott Petrie did this bold abstract in beautiful blues – it’s my family’s favourite, maybe because it reminds us of Australia. It’s part of Scott’s Ocean series. I love the textures going through it, and the general freedom and spontaneity of all his work.
On our travels we picked up this intricately carved sheep’s skull, now hung next to a Balinese totem-esque sculpture that we found in the back of an antique shop and paid about $7 for; we wondered if we’d get it through Australian Customs, as they really don’t like anything organic or dusty. It’s paired with an old gatepost from the UK.
This collage portrait in the passage of an Asian boy is by Melburnian artist Belinda Fox, who now lives here. She’s been in the Top 50 list of most collectable Australian artists and is a wonderful print-maker.
Is this a Chagall?
Yes, it’s a lithograph, a self-portrait titled Inspiration. It was James and my present to each other on our first wedding anniversary.
On the same wall are two miniaturist Balinese paintings: my thesis was on Balinese art and culture, and – wonderfully for me – the university sponsored me to go out to Bali and do the research. Art is so much part of Balinese life that they don’t even have a separate word for art. It was amazing to discover how their art combines everything from textiles to dance to architecture, and how indivisible these all are from the culture; the beautiful Balinese trinity of art, religion and culture.
In Gracie’s bedroom is another Chagall, a painting of two lovers; and a poster of Justin Bieber on the adjacent wall. I try to keep it all nicely curated!
This must be Harry’s bedroom.
Yes, the fussball table is his pride and joy. Last year, he asked for Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night for his birthday, and a friend of mine was able to do this one for us. On the landing is a Picasso linocut, one of my most treasured pieces, and another by James’s father.
How do you feel about your new role as executive director of Art Equity, to launch their Asian business?
It’s a huge change for me. I’ll still have my consultancy, but I’ve pared it right back to a handful of artists that I’m really passionate about, including Scott Petrie, Marcel Heijnen, Melinda Schawel, Noya Pawlyn and Belinda Fox.
Launching Art Equity is a great thrill – this is a very exciting time for the arts, and particularly so in Singapore. Art may not be the first investment people make; but with the global financial crisis, it’s a viable option for people looking to diversify their investments. Investment art needs to be bought wisely, of course, with all factors taken into account. We’ve just launched in London’s Mayfair, too.
When collecting art, we want to encourage and educate people to go beyond the obvious, but you need to be informed in order to collect astutely. At Art Equity there are four pillars to our business: a representative art gallery showing some of the most exciting artists globally; our education arm; an art advisory house; and we set up and manage investment portfolios.
Though the Sydney art market has been affected by the GFC, and a number of galleries there have shut down, it’s completely the opposite here. How wonderful it is to be in a place where the government is committed to investing in the arts and to making Singapore the arts hub for the entire region. The recent conversion of Gillman Barracks into the Gillman Village arts space is just one example.
What’s your relationship with the Affordable Art Fair?
Art Equity has had connections with Singapore for a number of years, and we do a lot of seminars for the private banking industry here and across Asia. We thought the AAF would be a great place to launch, and we’re delighted to be its official education partner, because its views align perfectly with our own: that education and quality, rather than large amounts of money, are key to creating an inspiring art collection. During the fair, we’ll be running two public lectures a day.
We’ll be showcasing Australia-based Chinese artists David Chang and Chen Ping, alongside Scandinavian artists Morten Lassen and Søren Solkær Starbird.
What do you have lined up for next year?
Throughout 2013 we’ll be arranging pop-up exhibitions with leading Australian and international artists, holding a series of educational and investment seminars, and working with the Australian High Commission and AustCham to promote Australian art.
86 Club Street
The Art Room (arts workshop)
Asia Amour (clothing for women and children)
The Cufflink Club (for cocktails)
6 Jiak Chuan Road
Dragons Rugby Club (very family-friendly)
Esquina (for tapas)
16 Jiak Chuan Road
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