San Francisco collector Wayee Chu on what venture capitalists and art collectors have in common


While art dealers still try to find a way to sustainably woo wealthy entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, the latest editions of San Francisco’s major art fairs, FOG Design + Art, now in its seventh year, and Untitled, now in its fourth year, are slated to open and run all weekend.

Both fairs have top-notch dealers exhibiting top-notch artwork and seem to be growing in popularity year after year. One collector said last year’s editions looked like a full-fledged art week, noting the plethora of gallery and private foundation exhibitions and events held alongside the fairs.

Indeed, fairs extend their reach. Last week, in a partnership between Untitled and the Battery arts club of San Francisco, Wayee Chu, collector and board member of SFMOMA, general partner of Reach Capital, a venture capital fund focused on early-stage education technology start-ups spoke at a panel on how private collections are built.

With her husband Ethan Beard, she collects works by artists such as LaToya Ruby Frazier, Arthur Jafa, Deanna Lawson, Derrick Adams, Matthew Wong and Vija Celmins, among others. Recent additions to their collection include examples of Jaune Quick-to-see Smith, Sheila Hicks, and Eamon Ore-Giron. But don’t ask Chu to pick your favorites: “Artworks are like your children,” she says. “I can’t pick a favorite.”

On the eve of the opening of the San Francisco show, we spoke with Chu about what she looks for in emerging artists, what her membership on the SFMOMA board has taught her, and how the investment can inform the collection.

Wayee Chu, third from left, on a panel hosted by Untitled and the Battery arts club.

How did you first get interested in art?

My parents both emigrated from China via Brazil and Macao. My mom studied art at the undergraduate level, but like most pragmatic Asian parents, she took a desk job and pursued her passion for art in another way. Growing up in Connecticut, near New York, we had access to so many wonderful art institutions, so it was an integral part of my education. My mother always urged me to be patient and present with art, and that planted a seed. But he It wasn’t until I was 20, when I moved to New York and was working in finance, that I tried to find other opportunities. Around the same time, I met my husband, whose sister started the Wooster Street Collective, in 2003, and their story really resonated with us. We started going to salons with [street artists] Shepard Fairey, Faile, JR and the London Police.

Tell us about a major acquisition you made.

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work on newspaper printing really pushed our thinking, The tyranny of common sense has reached its final stage, which came out around Trump’s election. We were drawn to his art because when you learn about his practice, you realize that it’s never linear or binary, and it’s really about bringing people together. It is never an isolated experience, even if you are alone with it. This piece has has anchored some of our thinking on how we want to collect.

How do you think your venture capital skills translate into collecting?

Generally speaking, whether you’re in venture capital or the startup ecosystem, in my mind, there are some similarities: how I’m attracted to founders is also how I look for emerging artists. It’s about pushing the boundaries. These founders and artists see what we could never see because it is their vocation. The Bay Area is always on innovation. But we have a very rigorous due diligence process, whether it’s [looking at] a startup or an artist. I see these parallels and I have experienced these parallels.

Do you feel like you are part of a collecting community in the Bay Area?

I have a small group, members of my generation. But everyone’s perspective is so deeply personal. There is a group that brings together around what SFMOMA and [museum patrons Doris and Donald Fisher] collected, and for good reason. They kind of led the charge and for a while put certain artists on the map. But I haven’t found any deep patterns or parallels. I feel like we’re supporting individual artists or focusing more thematically on emerging art and counter-narratives. Others are motivated purely by aesthetics, which is important when living with art. The art world is trying to find out who the buyers in the Bay Area are, and I don’t know, and I like it, I don’t know. They come out of the woods. Their decision making may not always follow traditional rule books.

How has being a member of the SFMOMA Board of Directors shaped your vision as a collector?

I want to be informed, I want to learn and I want to be inspired. I’m learning a ton by being on the SFMOMA board with these pivotal collectors. It gives you confidence to find your own identity. No great institution is perfect, but the effort and openness to wanting to change is genuine and honest. I think there is a need for criticism around institutions today, but some of them can be super unproductive. So you need to balance and ask the right questions while being productive and recognizing all the stakeholders and the hard work and commitment they have put in over the decades to create this institution.

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