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Budi Tek. Photo: Yuz Foundation.
Budi Tek. Photo: Yuz Foundation.

Budi Tek (1957–2022)

Contemporary art collector and philanthropist Budjiardo “Budi” Tek, the influential founder of Shanghai’s Yuz Museum who elevated the presence of Chinese and Asian art on the global stage, died March 18 in Hong Kong at the age of sixty-five following a six-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Since beginning to collect in 2004, Tek consistently brought to attention not only art made in China in the politically volatile decade spanning 1985–1995, to which he was especially drawn, but the work of young and emerging contemporary Chinese artists. Tek was additionally instrumental in bringing international contemporary art to China, much of it by Western artists—such as Italian sculptor Maurizo Cattelan, whose 2000 Untitled (The Tree of Life) occupies the center of Yuz Museum Shanghai—influenced by Chinese art.

Born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents, Tek grew up in Singapore, eventually making his fortune as president and director of Indonesian poultry company Sierad Produce, which sold everything from chicken feed to live birds to processed meat. Despite his success, he told LEAP in 2013, he noted that in Indonesia in the latter half of the past century, Chinese immigrants and their descendants were regarded as lesser. Seeking to disprove the notion that Chinese people weren’t cultured, Tek in 2008 established the private Yuz Museum in Jakarta (the institution has since shuttered). Eight years later, he established the much larger Yuz Museum Shanghai, repurposing and abandoned aircraft hangar in the West Bund district, which had not yet become the bustling arts hub it is today. A fan of what he called “mega artworks,” massive sculptures and installations that are notoriously difficult to show, Tek quickly put the 9,000-square-foot space in the service of such works, held in his 1,500-piece collection. Among those he displayed were Xu Bing’s tiger skin fashioned from 600,000 cigarettes, from the artist’s 2004 Tobacco Project;  Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s 2009 Freedom, a colossal mechanical installation featuring a wildly whipping rubber hose; and Adel Abdessemed’s 2008 installation Like Mother Like Son, comprising three wingless jet planes braided together. Exhibitions hosted by Yuz Museum Shanghai include those featuring emerging multimedia artists Chen Ke and Ni Youyu as well as major shows of Western artists including Alberto Giacometti, KAWS, and Andy Warhol. The institution twice displayed Random International’s immersive Rain Room, which Tek especially loved; at his death, a landmark show of work by Yoshitomo Nara, organized in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and Qatar Museums, had just opened.

Tek, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after inaugurating Yuz Museum Shanghai, had long sought to cement his legacy by taking the institution public, a move that reflected what many characterized as his typically generous nature. Yuz Museum in 2018 entered a partnership with LACMA via which the two institutions shared artworks and teamed up on curatorial efforts; Quatar Museums entered this alliance in 2019. Though the pandemic, tightening restrictions in China, and Tek’s illnesss significantly slowed progress toward Yuz Museum becoming public, LACMA last year staged the well-regarded “Legacies of Exchange: Chinese Contemporary Art from the Yuz Foundation,” featuring a number of works from Tek’s personal collection. On March 7, it was announced that Tek had donated seven works from the show to LACMA, among them paintings by Zhou Tiehai and Yu Youhan, an installation by Qiu Anxiong installation, and Ai Weiwei’s 2011 Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.

A devout Christian, Tek described collecting as “an exercise in endurance; it is the faith, hope, and love of an artistic life.” In addition to his work with the Yuz musuems, he was a member of Asia-Pacific and a collector member of Tate Britain. Tek was anointed an Officer of the Legion of Honor of France in 2017. “My life is going to be ending—everybody’s life is ending—but the artworks will have a much longer lifespan than us, because they recorded history,” he told Artnet News in 2019. “It’s very special for me to be the keeper of this history.”