Sir David Tang, Art Aficionado and Pioneering Collector of Chinese Contemporary Art, Dies at Age 63

Sir David Tang, Hong Kong entrepreneur and socialite, has died at age 63 after a struggle with liver cancer. Best known as the founder of the China Club and luxury fashion brand Shanghai Tang, he was also a pioneering collector of Chinese contemporary art. He was praised for his contribution to acting as a bridge between Chinese contemporary art and the world. 

China Club in Hong Kong

Showing a diversity from paintings to sculptures, Tang’s collection covers a wide range of artworks by Chinese contemporary artists. He bought a majority of his collection from exhibitions curated by Johnson Chang, a curator and art dealer of Chinese contemporary art, also a close friend of Sir David Tang. Tang's collection of over 350 pieces is housed in the China Club, an art-heavy private member club and restaurant.

A photo of Johnson Chang

Sir David Tang had always been unreservedly supportive of emerging Chinese artists and devoted to bringing Chinese contemporary art to the international stage. With his extraordinary network of influential people around the world, Tang offered great assistance to rising talents like Ju Ming and Zeng Fanzhi. 

Zeng Fanzhi, a Chinese painter, was a beneficiary of Tang’s support. He once sold a painting from his “Mask Series” to Sir David Tang for US$4000 before becoming a famous artist as he is now. The painting depicting a man in a suit was hanged on a stairway wall in the China Club and attracted the attention from celebrities like Leslie Cheung, as highly recommended by Tang. To emphasize the rarity of the painting, Tang even bought a US$5000 frame to put Zeng’s painting on it.

A picture of Zeng Fanzhi

Leslie Chang standing next to a Zeng's painting in the China Club

With the boost from Tang, Zeng’s artworks have gained popularity among art lovers and collectors, and later become highly sought after items at auction. One of Zeng’s paintings, the Last Supper, was sold for HK$180m (US$23m) at Sotheby's in 2013, setting a record as the first Chinese contemporary artwork that sold over HK$100m (US$12.78m). "Mask Series 1996 No. 6", also created by Zeng, was sold for HK$105m (US$13.42m) at Poly Auction Hong Kong early this year.

Zeng Fanzhi's The Last Supper at Sotheby's in 2013

Zeng Fanzhi's Mask Series 1996 No. 6 at Poly Auction in 2017

Sir David Tang also offered his help to another artist, Ju Ming, a Taiwanese sculptor. In 1991, Sir David Tang secure an exhibition showcasing the artist’s artworks at Southbank Centre in London and later in Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was after the exhibition that Ju earned recognition and made his name to the Western art world.

A photo of Ju Ming

Ju Ming Museum in Taiwan

Tang’s China Club also serves as a platform to display contemporary artworks. A pair of rooster and hen sculptures that created by Ju was lent to the China Club for its inaugural opening in 1991 and was on display for 15 years until 2006. The sculptures later went to auction at Sotheby’s in 2015 and were sold for HK$1.875m (US$240,000) with buyer’s premium.

A pair of rooster and hen sculptures by Ju Ming at Sotheby's in 2015

Sir David Tang had a lifelong passion for art and had taken up several roles, such as patron of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation, director of Asia Art Archive, trustee of the Royal Academy of Arts and chairman of the Asia-Pacific Acquisition Committee of the Tate Modern. He will always be remembered as an ardent art supporter.