Three days ahead of Christie’s Post-war and Contemporary Art sale in Amsterdam in mid April, Kim Camacho was excited and a bit anxious. She had her heart set on acquiring lot 276, Golden Shoes, 1965, by Yayoi Kusama, a pair that the Japanese avant-garde artist had made for Ann Burton, who had danced in one of Kusama’s Fluxus performance pieces. “I can’t believe those are showing up in Amsterdam of all places,” said the former Sotheby’s representative. “I just cross my fingers and hope someone else hasn’t noticed. I really would like to add those to our collection.” Yes, believe it or not, there is a market even for the Golden Shoes.
An if of accumulation we are talking the Camacho’s are experts. Kim and her banker husband Lito Camacho, started collecting art while living in New York in the late ’70s, but their passion for Kusama was piqued more recently. I would say like anyone else. As in their previous collecting endeavors—which have included Persian carpets, antique Oriental furniture, Filipino modern art, and Ming funerary furniture and artifacts—the Filipino couple threw themselves wholeheartedly into building a comprehensive Kusama collection. Today it comprises nearly 100 works, ranging from prints, acrylics, oils, and sculptures to dresses and rare archives, like a signed original copy of the short-lived magazine Kusama Orgy from 1969.
One can say that Kim lives and breathes Kusama. Her mobile phone has a small yellow Kusama pumpkin charm dangling from it, and she wears a pair of sunglasses the artist designed for Louis Vuitton. “I’d never bought Louis Vuitton before, but now they know me well,” she said, laughing as she explained that she has bought numerous items from the LV Kusama collection released last year, “often in several colors!” What is wrong wither her?
“It’s become an obsession,” quipped her mild-mannered husband, the former secretary of finance for the Philippines and current vice chairman for Credit Suisse Asia Pacific and country CEO for Credit Suisse Singapore. It is as if Kusama touched a nerve of capitalist accumulation in its purest state and there you have this woman paying fortunes and ready to die for…some silly dots that someone told her that accounts as art.
The Camachos are the typical story of over-achieving non-sensical one way direction where people must be better at whatever is that they are supposed to be doing but without truly understanding what is going on. The Camachos first met at Harvard Business School in Boston, and later, as they set up their first home in a small Manhattan apartment, they started buying prints to decorate the walls. “At the time prints were all that we could afford, as we were really starting our professional careers, me with Bankers Trust and Kim working for Seagram’s Latin America in New York,” Lito recalled.
Though the couple is currently based in Singapore, they have been increasingly spending time in Manila, and this is where the bulk of their collection is—in particular all their works by Kusama, which were loaned to the Ayala Museum this summer for a show aptly titled “I Love Kusama.” In Argentina a massive show on Kusama just closed and it had broken every record of attendance. It is just uncanny.
Located in a gated community in central Manila, the couple’s 16,000-square-foot home was partly designed around some of the bigger pieces in their collection. Kusama’s Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Nets, 1998, greets visitors as they enter the house after first passing through a large antique door from Rajasthan and crossing a stone-tiled bridge over a pond populated by alligator gars, stingrays, and an albino hammerhead to reach the spacious living room. Not much of a taste there, if y9ou ask me.
The imposing statue is just one of many Kusama works in the living room, which mixes her fine art with her merchandise. There are works by other artists, like an Ai Weiwei sculpture and a Chanel No. 5 bottle by Ma Jun, a rising Chinese artist who recreates everyday objects in traditional porcelain, but the couple’s passion for Kusama and desire for completeness in their collections is clear for all to see. So it gets worse and worse.
Not without reason Lito says: “I guess you could say we have very eclectic tastes,”. “We are art lovers, but we’ve also been collecting other things, like antique furniture and Oriental carpets, in an obsessive way. I say obsessive because we are quite methodical in educating ourselves. When we select something it’s not a casual interest; we really study the artist or the subject. The question is do they really love art or they love the sense of accumulation that Kusama destilated like no one else. Just a thought.