BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors

Gary Yeh

Founder of ArtDrunk and Young Collector

Gary Yeh at the ICA Miami
Gary Yeh at the ICA Miami
Cinga Samson Studio in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Gary Yeh
Cinga Samson Studio in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Gary Yeh

You are only 26 years old and already a proactive consumer of art, both with collecting and entrepreneurial activities. Pre-covid, were you traveling frequently for the purpose of following the art world or did you focus more on attending shows locally?

I’ve always loved traveling, and as soon as I quit my full-time, corporate job to pursue growing ArtDrunk, I had the freedom to travel anywhere the art world took me. That included going to most of the global art fairs, the Venice Biennale, spending many months in Asia, and even visiting South Africa for the first time for an artist studio visit. I can’t say it was good for my health — my body rarely knew what time zone it was in! But it was one of the most rewarding years of my life to let art lead the way while I experienced cultures from all over the world.

Tell us a bit about your initiative ArtDrunk. Further, why the name?

ArtDrunk started as an Instagram account when I was still in college. The name came about because I thought it was rather cheeky to be “drunk on art” rather than drunk in the more standard sense as a student. Since then, ArtDrunk has taken on a broader identity as a media company with the mission of sharing the cultural and emotional power of art with all, with a specific focus on millennials. Art has had such a profound impact on my life, I want to share what it has to offer with my peers.

ArtDrunk works towards that goal by creating content on platforms where millennials are already consuming media — such as Instagram, YouTube, and email newsletters. I’m also keen on presenting art with a more friendly, approachable tone, which is also a play on ArtDrunk — providing an unfiltered voice on art.

ArtDrunk Instagram
ArtDrunk Instagram
ArtDrunk Newsletter on Julie Curtiss from November 27, 2020
ArtDrunk Newsletter on Julie Curtiss from November 27, 2020
Still from Shara Hughes interview on ArtDrunk's YouTube
Still from Shara Hughes interview on ArtDrunk's YouTube

Navigating the fast-paced art world as a young entrepreneur, do you believe that you can well react and ensure that ArtDrunk stays contemporary and current, influenced by the art market?

It’s actually important for ArtDrunk to stay independent from the art market. Of course, some of my content involves attending art fairs, but I believe strongly in a mission around “art for art’s sake.” I’d love to build a reputation of working with today’s top contemporary artists while having the platform to support younger, more emerging artists who have yet to hit the mainstream. In that sense, ArtDrunk isn’t just following what is current but playing an active role in supporting what will be “current” in the future.

Your university studies were in Art History and Economics. What was the most recent fair you visited before Covid-19 lockdowns? In your opinion, what did the presented artworks reveal about the trends and market?

The most recent fair I visited before lockdowns was Independent New York. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember that much from the fair. Most fairs had started to blend together for me, seeing the same artists and galleries regardless of the city. What I’m more interested in now is what the fairs will be like post-Covid. I miss the socializing aspect. The parties and dinners can be draining, but there's nothing like a fair to bring all of your friends together from around the world. The first major fair to reopen might also offer trends as to how artists have responded to this pandemic in their work.

You bought your first artwork during your sophomore year in college in 2015, how does Instagram apply (a) to you as a collector and (b) as a company founder?

The first artwork I bought was off of Instagram. It was a 2-meter painting that I found scrolling through the hashtag #contemporaryart. Instagram still applies to me today as a collector in that I use it to see what shows are on view or to see which artists my other collector friends are actively looking at. While I have yet to buy anything else on a whim off of Instagram, it is certainly a resource for me to discover new artists.

As for being a company founder, I use Instagram to stay in touch with and meet new people. It’s incredible how easy it is to feel part of a community through the use of direct messages.

Gary Yeh filming at Rannva Kunoy's Studio in London
Gary Yeh filming at Rannva Kunoy's Studio in London

Are you doing anything specifically now with your online presence to respond to our crisis?

At the start of the pandemic, I needed to take a step back and slow down. Most galleries and media companies were pumping out content like never before, but I felt it was oversaturating the online space. It was much more a focus on quantity rather than quality of content.

Part of stepping back was also taking a much needed break after jumping into the art world deep end last year. I had experienced so much in such a short period, I sort of lost hold of why I quit my job to pursue ArtDrunk in the first place. There was a lot of pressure earlier this year to support the art world through my platform, but it was necessary for me to think longer term as to what role ArtDrunk will play in this industry.

In your opinion/experience, is the decision to buy a piece of art intertwined with the context it is presented in?

Collecting art is an immensely personal experience for me. So when I collect, it’s more about the stories I can share about each piece, such as a personal relationship with the artist. For example, with that first painting I bought off of Instagram, I’m always reminded of getting to meet the artist in Oslo, staying at his home for one night, and venturing throughout the city for the best fish and chips and bread I had ever had. Or with another artist, I was gifted a small drawing after filming at his studio in Korea. The day started off by having BBQ at a local restaurant, then visiting three of his four studios, learning about his process and background along the way. I still haven’t gotten it framed, but it’s absolutely a piece I will cherish for years to come, knowing that those wonderful memories will rush back everytime I look at the piece.

Have you bought any/many works through online viewing rooms?

Not yet.

Pat Steir at Taipei Dangdai Art Fair. Photo by Gary Yeh
Pat Steir at Taipei Dangdai Art Fair. Photo by Gary Yeh
Jenny Holzer at MMCA Seoul. Photo by Gary Yeh
Jenny Holzer at MMCA Seoul. Photo by Gary Yeh

What advice do you have to share with fellow young collectors or anyone interested to start collecting?

Take your time! There’s really no rush to jump into collecting until you’ve started to develop your own tastes. And that’s really only possible once you’ve seen a ton of art. While I won’t go so far as to say I’ve regretted any purchases, I often think about what I could’ve added to my collection instead a year, or even a few months, later. Even now, my tastes still change. It has taken five years to really start to see themes emerge in what I like and what I don’t. It’s part of the collecting fun to make mistakes, but at the same time I’d much rather just live with things I love forever.

Who are some of the collectors or which collections have most inspired you thus far on your journey?

One of my dreams is to open an art space. Hard to say what form exactly that will take, but I’m constantly inspired by Mitchell and Emily Wei Rales of Glenstone. Their attention to detail in both collecting masterworks and creating an architectural marvel for experiencing art is everything I aspire to in the future. There’s a certain meditative quality to Glenstone that aligns perfectly with how I approach art as a way to slow down and disconnect from the digital world.

Artworks by Jonathan Monk and Lee Bae in Gary Yeh's Collection
Artworks by Jonathan Monk and Lee Bae in Gary Yeh's Collection

More Information on ArtDrunk and on Instagram

Insiders (54)

WATCH: The Best of the BMW Art Guide

Where will you travel next to explore art?

Maike Cruse

2020 Gallery Weekend Berlin

Johann König

Messe in St. Agnes

PArt - Producers Art Platform

A crisis initiative to help artists directly affected by the pandemic

Barbara Moore

CEO of Biennale of Sydney

Unique Collector’s Item

by Independent Collectors

Alix Dana

Fair Director at Independent

When Collectors are Able to Commission

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Juliet Kothe and Julia Rust

Initiators of Collection Night, Berlin

Marie-Anne McQuay

Curator of Wales in Venice, 58th Venice Biennale 2019

Dorothy and Herb Vogel

Two extraordinary art collectors

Heather Hubbs

Director at NADA

Every Art Collection Needs Space

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Collecting Art with François Pinault

Rudolf Stingel at Palazzo Grassi

A Common Ground

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Touria El Glaoui

Founding Director of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Caroline Vos

Director at Amsterdam Art Weekend

Hidden Collections

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Daniel Hug

Fair Director at Art Cologne

The Role of the Art Fair

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Nicole Berry

Executive Director of The Armory Show

Peter Bläuer

Director at LISTE

A Brush Against Nature

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Ilaria Bonacossa

Director of Artissima

Excessiveness, the Latent Danger of Collecting Art

by Independent Collectors

Jo Stella-Sawicka

Artistic Director at Frieze

Florence Bourgeois

Director at Paris Photo

Where Artists Can Work More Playfully

by Christiane Meixner

Specifically Commissioned

by Silvia Anna Barrilà

Manuela Mozo

Executive Director of UNTITLED, ART Miami and San Francisco

Important Museums and Private Collections

by Christiane Meixner

Susanna Corchia

Director of the Barcelona Gallery Weekend

Emilia van Lynden

Artistic Director at Unseen, Amsterdam

Carlos Urroz

Director at ARCOmadrid

Shoe Smudges Streaked Across the White Walls

by Christiane Meixner

Amanda Coulson

Director at VOLTA Basel

Douwe Cramer

Director at Singapore Contemporary

Art and Architecture – Attractive Allies

by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas

Jo Baring

Curator of Sculpture Series, Masterpiece London

Bidders and Buyers

by Christiane Meixner

Anne Vierstraete

Managing Director at Art Brussels

Nanna Hjortenberg

Director at CHART

The Crucial Role of the New

by Independent Collectors

Makers and Believers

On Art History’s Most Famous Patrons

The Past is Back

And collectors are buying it up

Are Artists the Better Curators?

On the diminishing boundary between professions in the art world

The Digital Museum

On the importance of the museum’s web presence

The Man in the Middle

On the curator’s private and public engagements

A Private Matter?

On the importance of physical space for the value of art

Off the Wall

How museums contribute to the worth of artworks

Where to Go Next?

The fragmentation of Manhattan’s gallery scene

To Buy or Not to Buy

Collectors on their experiences of letting an artwork slip away

How to Pass On a Passion

On long-term challenges for new private museums