26 Sep 2014

Duo brings the art and magic of Spain to Asia

Meet Benjamin Ng and Abigail Wong: lawyers, art lovers, and owners of Barnadas Huang, a Singapore-based gallery that specialises in contemporary art from Spain and Europe.

A Malaysian duo are making an impression in the regional art scene by helming a contemporary fine art gallery in Singapore, collecting art from across Europe and participating in art exhibitions – all while juggling full-time jobs.

Lawyers Benjamin Ng, 29 and Abigail Wong, 29, have been steadily working to build a profile for Barnadas Huang, a joint venture with leading Spanish art gallerist Jordi Barnadas. Just a month shy of its first anniversary in November, Barnadas Huang has already shown at several major art fairs including twice at the Asia Contemporary Art Show in Hong Kong.

The gallery offers art from names – Monica Dixon, Gabriel Schmitz, Didier Lourenco and Jesus Curia among others – at what Ng and Wong describe as “accessible, reasonable” prices.

Although the pair now spend their free time travelling to far-flung regions – they collect art from Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, France – the duo remain grounded and true to their Malaysian roots. Pahang-born Ng and Terengganu-born Wong both received scholarships to study law at Cambridge University, Britain and met there. Their paths continued to cross as they later both moved to Singapore for work and together, decided to start Barnadas Huang.

But why a gallery when there are far more lucrative, easy options at hand – a hipster cafe du jour, for instance? “Almost every lawyer I know wants to start a cafe or restaurant of their own,” says Ng, “despite the notoriously high closure rates. We thought we’d try something off the beaten track.”

Wong puts the decision up to a holiday in Barcelona they had treated themselves to. While shopping for souvenirs, they passed Consell de Cent, a beautiful side street, and came across Galeria Jordi Barnadas. “We spent the good part of an hour viewing the art and speaking to the owner of the gallery. Probably at the same moment, we both realised that there was a gap in the Asian art market for contemporary European art and proposed the idea of a joint venture to Jordi,” she says.

Embarking on this adventure resulted in having to learn all sorts of new skills from scratch, including sales, understanding different markets, social media, public relations, building partnerships – the list goes on. Currently, the duo are thrilled over their first formal foray into the Malaysian arts scene by way of Art Expo Malaysia 2014, which runs till Sept 28.

“We have always made it a key principle not to forget our roots or where we came from,” says Ng, adding that while Singapore had global recognition as an art hub, his goal had always been to introduce Barnadas Huang’s offerings to Malaysia. 

In fact, they hope to start a gallery in Malaysia soon. “We are exploring the possibility of starting a gallery in Kuala Lumpur,” says Wong.

Ng echoes this, saying the pair’s shared love for Malaysia was one of the reasons behind Barnadas Huang joining Art Expo Malaysia 2014. “My initial exposure to art took place in Malaysia via my father, and now, being gallerists ourselves, returning to Malaysia to show art that we have curated ourselves is something I am proud of and really looking forward to,” he says.

Barnadas Huang – which, like its founders, is young, relevant and fresh – also hopes to work with key Malaysian artists and gallerists to introduce Malaysian art to the rest of the world.

“Art doesn’t need to be expensive – you can always start with prints or pieces by younger artists. Second, people don’t think very much about art because they don’t actually pay attention to it. But once you start looking at art, understanding the artist, and developing your personal taste, you’ll realise that it is a very intriguing exercise because the pieces you end up collecting actually say a lot about you,” says Ng. 

“Art is always inextricably linked to the history of the world itself,” notes Wong.

Source: http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Entertainment/Arts/Frame-Up/2014/09/26/Duo-brings-the-art-and-magic-of-Spain-to-Asia/