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Budi Tek, Influential Collector Whose Private Museum Helped Bring Contemporary Asian Art to International Stage, Has Died at 65

Budiardjo “Budi” Tek, an influential collector who founded two private art museums in Asia and created an unprecedented partnership with two international institutions all the while helping to create space for contemporary Asian art on the global stage, died at 65 on March 18 in Hong Kong.

According to an obituary that Tek’s family posted online on Saturday, the cause of death was pancreatic cancer, which he had been battling with for the past six years. The obituary was shared on Instagram by Ashok Adiceam, a former director of Tek’s Yuz Museum in Shanghai.

“As one of Asia’s top collector, Mr. Tek collects but never hesitates to share. He spends his lifetime cultivating talents endlessly,” his family’s statement reads.

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A three-story building along a canal.

Tek was one of the most prodigious collectors of contemporary art in Asia, focusing particularly on Chinese and Asian art, though his collection also included major works from the West. His rise on the international collecting scene was swift. He began collecting in 2004, founded his Yuz Foundation in 2007, and, in 2014, opened the Yuz Museum in Shanghai. He appeared on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list each year between 2012 and 2017. 

“Your eye for collecting, the legacy you leave behind, your business acumen and the manner in which you battled cancer is an inspiration to us all,” wrote Jonathan Crockett, Phillips’s chairman of Asia, wrote on his Instagram of Tek’s passing.

The Yuz Museum went on to become hugely influential both within China and abroad. In 2018, Tek announced at a panel discussion in Hong Kong an unprecedented move: the Yuz would form a partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Soon thereafter, the Qatar Museums in Doha agreed to develop programming with those two museums. Tek planned to eventually to donate his holdings to the partnership formed between the three institutions.

A part of the ongoing partnership between the two institutions is the Yuz Museum’s current exhibition of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, which opened at LACMA in April 2021. It is the first exhibition to show at both LACMA and the Yuz.

“Budi was a true patron and a true friend to artists,” said Marc Glimcher, president and CEO of Pace Gallery, which represents Nara. “He helped establish Shanghai as a global art center by creating the Yuz Museum, a true 21st-century model, where an individual’s patronage and involvement benefited the entire city.”

Budiardjo Tek was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia to Chinese parents. He eventually headed up PT Sierad Produce Tbk, a poultry company.

During his lifetime, he amassed what can only be described as a monumental collection of contemporary art; his holdings eventually included more than 1,500 artworks, many of which were monumental in scale. Adel Abdessemed’s Like Mother, Like Son (2008), for example, is composed of three airplanes woven together. In 2006, Tek opened the Yuz Museum in Jakarta, Indonesia, and in 2014, he opened a second, much larger branch of the institution in Shanghai.

Unlike most of the hundreds of private art museums that have sprouted up in China in recent years, Tek’s was fashioned from a significant collection. In Shanghai, the Yuz has mounted landmark exhibitions, including ones of Giacometti and Warhol. In partnering with another institution on the Pacific Rim, like LACMA, Tek was looking to create an institution that would outlive him. The cross-national partnership would ensure that a public museum could steward the holdings a private one—a difficult proposition in China.

He once said, “[I]f you look around New York, you have the Frick, the Whitney, the Guggenheim—all of these were once private museums. I wanted the Yuz Museum to also one day become a public institution.”

In partnering with the Qatar Museums, Tek understood the risks he was taking by collaborating with an institution in a Muslim-majority country, at a time when China was cracking down on Islam. In 2019, he told the South China Morning Post, “We have a strong cultural authority here and they will review our programs,” referring to officials in China. “We have a good relationship with them and we make sure the shows will be in the interest of the public rather than damaging public interest.”

In addition to these major partnerships, Tek was also involved with Tate Britain in as an Asia-Pacific member and collector member. In 2017, he was awarded France’s Officer of the Legion of Honor.

Due to his illness, Tek was on a mission in recent years to create a lasting legacy. In 2019, he told Artnet News, “Because I got pancreatic cancer three years ago—and I’m still alive three years on, and I intend to survive long into the coming years—the urge in my heart is to do something before I’m gone.”

He added, “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. It’s very special for me to be the keeper of this history.”

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