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  • Mei Anne Foo

The Interview: Pearl Lam, Doyenne Of Asia’s Contemporary Art Scene

I recount the story of the time Pearl Lam shared with me her journey from being just an art collector to Asia’s leading gallerist.

Pearl Lam

As a luxury lifestyle journalist, once based in Singapore, who has interviewed hundreds of influential people across the globe—from CEOs to art curators, master blenders to general managers—many of my friends have asked which of all these interviews I’ve conducted that’s been the most interesting.

Well, there were definitely a few. And that’s why I’m starting this new series called ‘The Interview’. And no, I did not interview Kim Jong-un during the 2018 North Korea–United States Singapore Summit—unfortunately.

But I did interview the supreme leader of Asia’s contemporary art scene: The one and only Pearl Lam. She is the owner of Pearl Lam Galleries, with brick-and-mortar presence in Hong Kong, China and Singapore.

Now, why was this interview interesting? Well, you see, Pearl Lam rarely gives interviews and from what I’ve heard, she just doesn’t like being questioned. I’ve seen firsthand how she’s lashed out at other reporters. I stuck around for a while after my session to only hear her raise her voice at a poor girl, who probably asked Pearl Lam about her eclectic fashion sense.

No doubt, Pearl Lam dresses like a diva. But I was more interested in the colours she chose to feature on her walls than on herself. The ice was completely broken when she brought up her recent trip to Warsaw. I told her about my own trip there almost ten years ago and how I’ve missed the city. We then bantered freely over her love for art and how she decided to monetise her passion—it was the perfect setting too because, if my memory serves me correctly, the interview was held within the artsy buzz of Art Stage Singapore 2017.

Between my questions and her answers, she’d slurp on a bowl of assam laksa. Pearl Lam gave a couple pearls of wisdom throughout the hour-long interview. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the art collector cum Asia’s leading gallerist:

“When I first fell in love with art, I did not aspire to open a physical gallery. I didn’t like the idea of working in the same single space from morning until night."

"The reason why I finally decided to open a permanent gallery was because many existing galleries in Shanghai in the early 2000s were displaying propaganda art, and I wasn’t interested in that at all. I wanted a platform to introduce and showcase other artists. Even then, I didn’t put much thought into the idea of making money. It took me some time to understand the importance of selling art."

"I was so afraid of being institutionalised and restricted that I somewhat limited the potential of my most important stakeholders — the artists. They went on to tell me that they didn’t want me to be the only collector of their artworks. That opened up my eyes."

"Contemporary art is not about a passport. Art is art. Art and the artist should be represented in a globalised context."

"You are learning about the person behind the brush. What you see on canvas is also likely not to be what you get in the artist’s persona. In this world of controversy and altercation, it is interesting how things are kept different. And it should be different."

"What’s the perpetual perk of being a gallerist? Well, I have first choice of which works to buy for my own personal art collection.”

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