Luxury Jeweller Lauren Khoo On How To Start Building A Truly Personal Art Collection

Meet the new generation of art world players who don't fall into the industry's traditional roles. Here, luxury jeweller and art collector Lauren Khoo shares her tips on how to start building an art collection – from avoiding the hype to buying from female artists.

You know this architectural studies and visual arts-trained independent luxury jeweller for her witty designs that draw inspiration from the likes of Jeff Koons and gummy bears. More recently, she made headlines for designing four pieces for Oscar de la Renta’s Spring/Summer 2020 show – her first runway project – adding to her list of accolades that includes being the first Singapore designer to be stocked at Moda Operandi and Dover Street Market.

Her other beloved pursuit that only those who follow her personal (and private) Instagram account might get a hint of: travelling the world to collect art. While regular posts of her willowy, often Cecilie Bahnsen-clad frame poised in front of gallery walls might have all the makings of the intellectual girl’s OOTD moment, she’s a serious art aficionado (runs in the family, she says) who started her collection eight years ago at age 25.

American Pop Artist Richard Prince's Untitled (original), 2012, is one of Khoo's favourite pieces from her own collection.

Her first purchase: Tracey Emin’s I Can’t Believe How Much I Loved You neon light sculpture, which she acquired from the Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York. “There’s just something so poetic and heartbreaking about it; the feelings that run through a viewer’s mind when they first lay eyes on it,” she explains.

While art collectors (and Khoo) can be notoriously private, she’s also intent on dispelling preconceptions that collecting art is an elitist, intimidating affair. Here, her tips on starting a collection, honed through years of experience:

Buy based on love, not financial returns

“I believe that true art collectors buy because they desire to wake up to their pieces every morning. Liking a work and whether it has the potential to increase in value isn’t mutually exclusive. If the latter happens, then great. How an artist performs in the secondary market (where art is resold) is a good indication of how the art market – not collectors – responds to their work.”

Get the feels, then do your homework

“Most of the time when collecting art, there’ll be something that triggers a feeling – it could be an artist’s belief or even their background that jolts something in you. And when something catches my eye, I’ll research the artist. It’s also good to know an artist’s CV as it gives a good indication of their career (progression).”

Look for clarity & context

“How substantial a piece of artwork is has nothing to do with its value. In my opinion, a substantial work by an artist is one that’s representative, clear, strong, distinctive and should be studied in relation to where it stands within the artist’s portfolio. A piece that I recently acquired for under US$10,000 (S$13,700) is a drawing by (Canadian contemporary painter) Marcel Dzama that’s a clear representation of his ouvre, and one of the strongest work I’ve come across from that series.”

Like this? Check out the abstract artist inspired by fashion, and have a peek into the psyche of art curator Anmari Van Nieuwenhove.


Make sure it’s current

“A good piece of art is relevant to our times and will continue to maintain its relevance. A good piece of art will stand the test of time. An artwork that becomes irrelevant or outdated is not a good one.”

Don’t get caught in the hype

“A mistake that beginners tend to make is buying with their ears, instead of eyes. The art industry can be an exciting arena – crazy prices and lots of hype. It can be challenging to find a real gem amid all that noise. And never rush or feel pressured into committing to a work. It’s important to first define a clear vision for your collection – one that doesn’t have any coherence is not a strong collection. After all, collecting is a lifelong pursuit.”

Price really is relative

“The price of an artwork depends on several factors such as size and medium. For example, a unique painting and an editioned photograph by the same artist would differ in price. The work of an emerging artist in his or her thirties who is represented by a young gallery would (usually) range between US$10,000 and US$20,000.”

One of Khoo's favourites from her own collection: Germain-French abstract painter Han's hartung's Untitled, 1976.

Don't get scammed

“For primary market works (where an artwork is sold for the first time), go through a reputable gallery. Having a trusting relationship with art professionals is valuable as they can offer their expertise and advice. For the secondary market, study the artwork’s provenance and request supporting documentation such as certificate of authenticity and condition reports.”

Get educated

“Visit galleries that offer exhibitions of emerging and established artists, and connect with art professionals as they’re the gateway to artists and artworks. Museums offer a different experience – you get to see in person major works and large-scale exhibitions that are less commercial and highly educational. Remember that there are now many different channels to buy art. You can easily find decorative or editioned artworks online, where purchasing is a click away. With social media, you can reach out to artists with no gallery representation directly. For established artists, liaise with the galleries that work closest with them. Hong Kong has the most vibrant gallery scene in Asia with notable galleries including Lehmann Maupin, Perrotin Gallery, Gagosian, Pace Gallery, David Zwirner, White Cube, Levy Gorvy and Ben Brown.

Buy female and regional

“There’s a strong focus on female artists at the moment, be they young and emerging, or overlooked names that are being rediscovered. In 2019, many museum exhibitions showed exclusively female artists or were curated around feminism, and galleries exhibited more female artists. Meanwhile, South-east Asia is an upcoming region rich in culture and history boasting many good artists who are underexposed and undervalued.”

This article first appeared in the January 2020 print issue of FEMALE. 

This article is originally published on Female Singapore.

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