Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou tends to excel at whatever he puts his mind to. He’s one of Asia’s best-known singers, the director of an award-winning movie and a magician with his own Netflix series. But when it came to collecting art, Chou wasn’t, by his own admission, instantly successful.
His first foray into the art world began in Paris’ Le Marais neighborhood, an area renowned for its mish-mash of galleries, boutiques and bars. There, a three-dimensional, stereoscopic work caught his attention, so he purchased it and brought it back home to Taiwan.
He thought the piece was “super cool” at the time, he recalled in a video interview from Taipei. But his art-savvy friends didn’t agree. “They said they would introduce me to a good art adviser,” joked Chou, who buried the artwork in a warehouse and hasn’t taken it out since.
From pianos to art
Chou is seemingly obsessed with nice things. He accumulates rare wines, watches and cars, though his affinity for collecting began in an unusual place: his fascination with Europe.
Long before his first ill-fated art purchase in Paris, he had amassed a collection of European antiquities and ornate pianos. When he encounters antique pianos, the singer imagines everyone who has played it before him, he said. As a classically trained musician, Chou says he’s drawn to European architecture and furnishings — so much so that he and his wife, Taiwanese Australian actress Hannah Quinliven, chose a castle in Yorkshire, England, as the venue for their 2015 wedding.
“I don’t know if it’s because I learned classical piano when I was a child, or (if) it’s a past life connection,” he said.
Jay Chou with an antique piano on the set of his directorial debut, “Secret.” The instrument was displayed at Hong Kong’s K11 Musea mall ahead of the Jay Chou x Sotheby’s auction series. Credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s x Enviseam
When Chou decided to begin collecting art seriously, he started big. His first purchase was a work by Basquiat, an artist he admitted to not knowing much about. The celebrated painter was “the first artist I was exposed to” as a collector, the singer said.
Chou was initially intrigued by the artwork’s extravagant price tag, but the more he learned about Basquiat, the more he fell in love with his work. “Basquiat (was) a pure artist, without commercial motives. He (was) like a child, directly expressing feelings in his paintings,” Chou explained, likening it to how Picasso’s works “transcend technique.”
Since that purchase, Chou has committed to his expensive new hobby. “I’ve spent almost all my earnings from my concerts on artworks,” he said.
How do you fall in love with art?
According to Chou’s friend Jazz Li, CEO of art collective Enviseam (a collaborator on the Sotheby’s sale, alongside Hong Kong’s K11 Group), the star is a “really passionate guy” and the same applies to his “crazy” approach to collecting art. “Sometimes I (tell him) calm down,” Li said. “He gets very excited when he tries to buy something.”
Chou said that seeing Richard Prince’s “Runaway Nurse” had a “deep impact” on him. Credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s x Enviseam
“Some people put their assets in real estate, sports cars, luxurious clothes, different (categories of collectibles),” Chou said. “But for me, art is the most important asset class.”
Though art is very much an investment for Chou, he still purchases pieces with a view to displaying them at his home. Occasionally, he has interior designers mock up plans to display special artworks in his property, though as his collection grows, pieces have also gone into storage.
But for Chou, hanging art on the wall is not only a way to beautify his house. It has another purpose altogether: “Living with art inspires you to make more money,” he said, “and to buy more art.”
Imagining the future
While Chou is drawn to big names, he has a “strong desire” to support emerging artists. He can relate, he said, having spent the early part of his career songwriting and producing for other musicians behind the scenes, before releasing his breakout solo album “Jay” in 2000.
“People tend to look at big names like Jia Aili and Zao Wou-Ki,” he said, referencing two prominent Asian artists. He compared collecting to running a record label, adding: “Everybody Is always looking at the big music stars, and they don’t tend to get to see the more emerging singers.”
Jay Chou reading an art book in a promotional shot for his recent collaboration with Sotheby’s. Credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s x Enviseam
And at home, Chou is also an artistic benefactor of sorts: His children Romeo and Hathaway have started painting. Just as his own mother nurtured his love for art, Chou proudly shares his children’s passion on social media — from 3-year-old Romeo’s introduction to art appreciation to the family’s chaotic home art studio. (“For the inception of the artist, don’t be afraid of dirtying your home,” he captioned the latter.)
Chou reported that both children are drawn to his favorite artists. During our video call, the star proudly shows off his daughter’s latest project: a sketch of Chou sitting in front of a Basquiat. His wife, Quinliven, has found various places around the house to display the kids’ works amid blue-chip masterpieces, and Chou has even incorporated their art into his clothing line, Phantaci.
Having not had time to learn to paint when he was a child, Chou said he wants to “make up for the lost opportunity” with his own children. As for whether they can make it as professionals, Chou reflected: “The path to becoming an artist is hard.”
“If my children could work at Sotheby’s, that wouldn’t be too bad,” he joked.