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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

May 26, 2023 6:52 PM


Based in Kuala Lumpur, Rory O'Connor and Dominika Szymanska are passionate collectors who are drawn to ultra-contemporary art from possibly unexpected places. wtf? Spoke to Rory about the local art scene, and their collecting journey.

Rory O'Connor and Dominika Szymanska

After working in a contemporary art gallery in Dublin for two years, Rory felt a natural inclination to venture into the art world independently. He had been surrounded by fellow artists and attended numerous shows in Dublin, which sparked his desire to do more with it. Building on his experience, he pursued further education at Christie's Institute of Education and ultimately became an Art Consultant, collaborating with AucArt and private clients in Asia.

Rory's collecting journey took a significant turn about four years ago when he and his partner, Dominika Szymanska, fully committed to the art of collecting. Moving to Asia further fuelled their interest and passion, allowing them to delve into the art world more profoundly and thoroughly enjoy the experience. This newfound dedication brings them immense happiness and fulfilment. ‘It's something we will do forever, we're committed, and it gives us so much joy collecting artwork,’ Rory affirms.

However, one of his fondest memories is about a piece he collected earlier on. 'One of my earliest and most cherished acquisitions was a piece by Irish artist Richard Gorman titled 'Shuffle on Yellow 2009,'' Rory recalls. 'I had the pleasure of meeting Richard before, having come into the gallery and gone for a pint of Guinness with him. He's a senior artist based in Dalkey, Dublin, and represented by the esteemed Kerlin Gallery, which has a strong program and nurtures a lot of talented Irish and international artists.' 

Richard Gorman, Shuffle on yellow, 2009

When it comes to selecting artwork, Rory and Dominika are not driven by a specific theme or concept. ‘We’re mostly focused on artists in the Ultra Contemporary area of the art world, mostly young emerging artists where our eyes are fixed. We seem to have a greater number of female artists in our collection. I think female artists are creating some of the greatest artwork today.' 

Rory at Art SG

As passionate collectors, Rory and Dominika actively engage with the art world beyond their own collection. They value the relationships and friendships cultivated within the art community, finding joy in connecting with fellow collectors, dealers, and art enthusiasts. 

These connections often lead to opportunities to view private collections, which they eagerly embrace. 'In June, we're heading to Hanoi to view a young collector's collection of Contemporary Vietnamese art,' Rory shares. 'To be honest, I don't know this area of the art world, and this excites me to see and learn more about the artists and their practices.'

Based in Kuala Lumpur since 2019, Rory has witnessed the city's art scene evolving and striving to establish its presence in the international marketplace. Situated between the art market hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore, Kuala Lumpur possesses the necessary access and potential for artistic growth and recognition.

Dominika in the National Art Gallery of Malaysia

Concluding our conversation, Rory shares some tips for aspiring art collectors. He emphasizes the importance of responsibility in art collecting. Beyond the acquisition of artwork, collectors have a duty to care for and preserve their collection. 'Another aspect of collecting art that many don't think about, collecting art is a big responsibility,' Rory advises. 'You have to really look after what you have.' He cautions against solely following trends, as they come and go, leading to badly impacting the market for the artists. Instead, he suggests honing one's eye by exploring artworks from diverse regions, attending shows, and visiting museums.

He also suggests not only researching the usual aspects, such as the art scene of London and New York but also finds found promising talent emerging outside those cities. ‘One country in particular that I’ve seen some great talent spring from in recent times is Poland.’ For example, Rory's latest acquisitions is a captivating artwork by Polish artist Julia Kowalska, which was featured in a group show at The Curators Room in Barcelona curated by his  friend Thom Oosterhof (whose collecting journey you can read here).

Julia Kowalska, Untitled, 2023.

You can follow Rory on Instagram.

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