*This blog is written by Rolf von Bueren
I made my first substantial profit at the age of 19, when Volkswagen in Germany went public. At that time, Germany had just the lost war, so nobody in my family and immediate group of friends and relatives had any thought of booking the rationed shares, so I was collecting their quota and booking a large number at 2 shares per person, which yielded substantial profits on the same day without having paid a single penny. The value of the shares tripled in one day, and I sold immediately and the debit/credit process in my savings account was completed on the evening of the issue.
Proudly, I bought 4 engravings by 19th century German artist, Paul Weber. They are still in our wall and I see them every day.
Paul Weber’s Portrait
My father had taught me that paintings, drawings and art should look back at me when hung up, otherwise it would just be “expensive wallpaper”.
In Thailand, the first artist we met was Theo Meier from Basel, Switzerland. He had followed Gaugain to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, and on the way back to Europe, had stopped in Bali where he stayed for more than 20 years. He moved to Thailand at the invitation of Prince Sanidh Prayurasakdi Rangsit. He originally lived in Hua Hin where he met his Thai wife, but by the time I met him, he had already settled in Chiangmai, in a cluster of charming Thai houses along the Mae Ping river.
Theo Meier 1929 (left) 1928 (right)
Theo Meier 1932
Theo Meier -Self Portrait ( 1929 )
Theo Meier with a portrait of my elder son Sri on the right
Theo was quite a personality, and several books have been written about him. He was down to earth in a Swiss way, loved cooking, and he entertained every day. These were boozy affairs, when old yarns were spun about famous people he had met, and was still meeting. There was Charlie Chaplin whom he had met in Bali, and so many other really big names who had waltzed through Theo’s dining room.
I offered to arrange an exhibition for him at my house in Bangkok and offered to sell the paintings I had bought, under the condition that they would be replaced. The exhibition went well and all the paintings were sold, ours and Theo's. That was in the early eighties, around 40 years ago. Very recently, I ran into Harvey Levy, a lawyer, and he told me that he had just sold through a Christie’s auction the Theo painting he bought for a small price in our exhibition 40 years ago, at more than USD 400,000.
Upon his death, his paintings had become rare, and fetched very respectable prices.
Theo introduced us to Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, his painter friend from Sanur, Bali. Theo called him “Molch” which is German for “salamander”, and the name stuck for us too. We had seen Molch many times during on numerous trips to Bali, and had bought paintings from him over the years to support him. Whenever we went back and asked Molch how he was, he told us that the money from the last purchases had bought him a wife and a bicycle, and both had run away after 3 days and he was broke again! We bought paintings from him again and again, purely in good faith.
A Portrait of “Molch” Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, by Theo Meier in 1974
Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai
One day, my son, Sri, was talking to a collector in Bali, who told him proudly that he had just acquired an Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai. It suddenly occurred to him that Molch and Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai were one and the same, and I immediately swept through our house to discover over 30 paintings of his! Who would have expected that this constantly broke artist would one day have a museum under his own name – the Ida Bagus Nyoma Rai museum – in Ubud!
Thawan Duchanee was the next artist we met in Bangkok, and I have written about him in my previous blog. (My Life and Times with Thawan Duchanee).One of his exhibitions was even attacked by students who disapproved of Thawan’s use of Buddhist motifs in his work, and destroyed a number of his paintings. Now, after his death, there is a major project underway to compile all his works, publish a book and hold a major exhibition of his life’s work.
At about the same time, I met Chalermchai Kositpipat, a highly intelligent and bubbly northern Thai artist from Chiang Rai, the same hometown as Thawan, and a good friend of his. When we bumped into each other again recently, Chalermchai reminded me that I arranged the first exhibition for him at the Montien Hotel in Bangkok, which I had completely forgotten about.
Chalermchai is famous for his temple in Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun, also known as “The White Temple”. Like Thawan Duchanee, Chalermchai is one of Thailand’s National Artists.
Chalermchai Kositpipat’s Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
Bali seemed to be a magnet for artists from various corners of the world, and over the years we met quite a few of them there.
The Italian-Argentine artist Alessandro Kokocinski was a fantastic personality. We met him in an exhibition at the Italian Consulate in Hong Kong. He was born in a refugee camp in Italy to a Russian mother and grew up in Argentina and was incredibly gifted, of a most gentle nature but wild in life. He loved to cook and to restore old buildings in the original style but with a modern twist, and we saw him off and on over a period of 40 years. He spent time with us in Bangkok, we travelled together to Angkor Wat and we visited him in Italy where he had converted a former cardinal’s stately palace into a most charming residence. The visits to Alessandro in Italy were always highlights in terms of good food and wine and wonderful surroundings. He lived the life of dreams which he painted at night. We lived with him through some of the tragedies of his love life.
While staying with us in Bangkok, he offered to paint something for us, and Helen suggested her kitchen fridge, which he did. After the fridge broke down, we removed the doors and hung them on our wall, where they are still today.
My Fridge Door Alessandro Kokocinski
We gave 2 exhibitions for him in Bangkok, both of which were rather successful in spite of the prices which were high for the local market. Some professional collectors with a keen eye like Chai Sophonpanich picked up some of the paintings, and we still have some in stock.
However, he had an incurable eye disease and it was devastating to see a painter go blind and turn into a sculptor to use his hands as his eyes. And it was extremely sad to see him finally go to a cosmic address.
His daughter, Maya Kokocinski Molero, has inherited his talent and does the most beautiful oil portraits. Our house is full of her portraits of everybody in the family, and some of the Bangkok socialites are the proud owners of their own Maya portraits.
Maya Kokocinski Molero
Another well-known artist we met in Bali was Jewish German artist Mati Klarwein, who was famous for his surreal and psychedelic album covers for Miles Davis, Earth Wind & Fire, Leonard Bernstein, Malcolm X and Herbie Hancock amongst others. At one time he came to stay in our house to paint Helen. I also travelled to see him in Mallorca, but we could not locate him, and I never saw him again.
In Bali, we also met the likes of Spanish/American artist Don Antonio Maria Blanco and controversial Australian artist and diarist Donald Friend, all of whom enjoy international repute.
Collecting art is a hot subject today and the younger generation in Thailand is already diversifying their investments into art, though few go beyond the bracket of Euros 50,000 per piece. There are exceptions, however.
A certain society lady I met at ART Singapore was staring intently at a modern Chinese painting. The seller was asking nearly half a million US dollars, and during the course of our conversation the lady reminded me of my former joint venture with Manfred Schoeni, the famous Hong Kong-based Swiss art dealer who had represented this very painter. At that time, she had bought 2 of his paintings in Bangkok for less than USD 50,000! The negotiation in Singapore was not a success, which was a shame, since the same painter is now selling his work at half a million dollars!
In any case, my joint venture with Manfred was sadly dissolved when he was killed in the Philippines. At the time of his death, he had 8 famous Chinese artists under contract whose work later sold at a million dollars each!
Collecting art is a case of having a good eye, good taste, good timing, and more often than not, good luck. After all, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. A friend in Germany who invited Thawan Duchanee to paint murals in his towers also collected paintings by CY Twombly, canvasses full of scribbles which he bought at USD 20,000-30,000 each. I was bewildered! Why would he spend so much money on scribbles? Today each painting is worth millions of dollars and he has 30-40 of them! Talk about hitting the nail on the head!
For me, looking at art is not compulsory or a must; it’s a way of life. When arriving in a city, a visit to a museum is usually included. I may jog through the galleries and suddenly stop in front of a piece which looks back at me, and I hang around for a while to be able to absorb its essence. Just as our body is a reflection of what we eat, so our mind is a reflection of what we see and hear and smell.
And that is the beauty of art.