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There is nothing that amuses me more than reading Apollo magazine flattering very wealthy collectors in terms of their taste using a panoply of euphemisms. In the current Issue, the article titled ‘Master of Ceremony’ features Taiwanese collector, Robert Tsao. The interviewer Susan Moore introduces us to the collector in the following way: ‘Robert Tsao is often described as one of the world’s great collectors of Chinese art, but even this accolade does him something of an injustice. For what is perhaps most remarkable about this astute Taiwanese-born collector is not only the superb quality of his collection but also the diversity of his interests, and the thoughtfulness of his engagement with all works of art’.

So from the very beginning we have an astute, deep and thoughtful ‘Renaissance’ man who clearly thinks a lot of himself for he chose to place himself in front of a large contemporary waterfall painting by the Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju (b.1958) and beside a Chinese painted marble Buddha of the Northern Qi dynasty (around 550-77). Both, collector and deity, share the same pose. The only difference is that the collector still has his hands attached to his body. The image is an image of enthronement. This man thinks himself as an emperor of sorts.

What attracted me to this article is his idea of authenticity (not fake) in works of art and of beauty. He says that ‘if works can touch you they have something in common, no matter whether they are ancient or modern, Eastern or Western’. This phrase is uttered in his principal residence in Taipei where he has built a ‘display room’ for his tomb art and archaic bronzes and early ceramics.

The rest of the interview is dedicated to how he could not recognise forgeries at the beginning (ancient jade carvings) but now, after studying the jades in the National Palace Museum in Taipei he can tell what is what and also knowledge was his. He can tell from an original and a fake because the former ‘is solemn, mysterious and awe-inspiring’. I wonder how he can tell the difference if both look the same.

Then he says: ‘I believe that all human eyes can differentiate between the beautiful and the ugly. The key word in art, and in collecting is comparison. People may find it hard to judge what is good or bad in absolute terms, but if you let them compare two objects, they will all choose the right piece’. What? So connoisseurship functions like democracy? I don’t think so. Besides the idea of beauty in that statement is so complicated and one wonders what makes this kind of ‘knowledge-owning’, ‘beauty-discerning’ wonder man know what the fuck he is talking about. Just a thought.

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