On the Poetics of Collecting with Kim & Lito Camacho

Jose Isidro N. (Lito) Camacho is a Managing Director in the Asia Pacific Division of Credit Suisse, based in Singapore. He is also the Vice Chairman for Credit Suisse Asia Pacific.

Mr Camacho joined Credit Suisse in March 2005 after a distinguished career in government and international banking. He was Secretary of Finance for the Philippines in 2001-2003. Prior to that, Mr Camacho was the Secretary of Energy for the Philippines. He was formerly Chairman of Land Bank Philippines, PDIC, PhilExim, Home Guaranty Corporation, NPC, PSALM, Transco, Privatization Council, Capital Market Development Council, and National  Credit Council Philippines. Prior to joining the government, Mr Camacho was a Managing Director and Chief Country Officer for Deutsche Bank, Philippines. Before that, he was with Bankers Trust Company for over 22 years in New York, Japan, Hong Kong, Philippines and Singapore.

Mr Camacho is currently a Director of SymAsia Foundation (Singapore), a board member of the National Gallery Singapore, and a Founding Member of Asia Peace and Reconciliation Council. He is also the Non-Executive Chairman of Sun Life of Canada (Philippines), a board member of Sun Life Grepa Financial, Inc (Philippines), Sun Life Malaysia Assurance Bhd, Sun Life Malaysia Takaful Bhd, a Senior Advisor to The Boston Consulting Group (Singapore) and a Member of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) International Advisory Panel. He was previously a board member of National Heritage Board of Singapore (2007-2013), member of the Securities Industry Council of Singapore (2010-2017) and member of the Group of Experts of the ASEAN Capital Markets Forum. Mr

Camacho was also formerly the Chief Executive Officer of Credit Suisse Singapore (2007-2016).

Kim Camacho is a 1980 graduate of the Harvard Business School and a 1977 cum laude economics graduate from Radcliffe College, Harvard University. She worked for Seagrams Latin America in New York, the National Development Company of the Philippines and founded an award-winning fashion accessories manufacturing and exporting company, Detalles de Roberta, Inc. After working briefly in property development, she opened the Sotheby’s representative office in the Philippines in 2001. She and her husband have been collecting art since 1981. Today, their collection has some of the most important works of Yayoi Kusama, who is widely considered the world’s most popular contemporary artist. They also collected Gutai art before Gutai was widely acclaimed in the Guggenheim New York exhibition. Their video art collection contains the largest teamLab collection in private hands. They also have a major collection of the American Abstract Expressionist Alfonso Ossorio. They regularly lend to museums and art exhibitions around the world. She and Lito Camacho have 6 children, 2 of whom are noted artists. She now considers herself a full time art collector. Kim was an advisor to the National Gallery of Singapore (NGS) in 2014 and chaired the art auction for NGS in 2018. Kim has been a trustee of the Yuchengco Museum in Makati since 2005. Kim and Lito are also members of the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee of the Tate in the U.K.

Your collection has over the years developed into somewhat of a regional, even international phenomenon with a special inclusion of modern and contemporary works of Japanese artists. Did you envision such a geographically rich development in your collection when you began your collecting journey, or did it evolve as such over time?

We must say that this journey and practice evolved over time. We started collecting works by Filipino artists in 1981. Then, our interest expanded to include Vietnamese and Indo-European artists in 2000. In 2005, we began collecting works by Yayoi Kusama and other international artists, including more Japanese artists like Nobuyoshi Araki. In 2006, we started collecting Filipino contemporary artists, especially artworks of our children, Bea Camacho and Enzo Camacho and later, works of David Medalla, Roberto Chabet, Santi Bose, Norberto Roldan and a few others. In 2012, we started collecting Gutai artists, Toko Shinoda, and German artists Michael Krebber and Jutta Koether, as well as video works of the Japanese art collective teamLab. In 2014 or so, we started collecting major works of Alfonso Ossorio, an American Abstract Expressionist. In 2016, we started buying some Indonesian artworks plus Ashley Bickerton’s works. In 2018, we started collecting Tishan Hsu and Noriyuki Haraguchi and, finally, in 2020, we added Vasillakis Takis to our collection. Of course, during all this time, we continued to grow our Kusama collection. Looking back, we can say that our interests are really aligned, wide ranging and deeply intentional.

Developing sincere and rich relationships with the artists you collect seems to be of significant importance to your practice of art collecting. How do these relationships affect the way you view and value works of art?

Kim & Lito with artist Tishan Hsu in his studio in New York City. Photo courtesy of Kim & Lito Camacho.

We very much enjoy meeting artists and getting to know them personally. It gives us a better insight into their works of art, creative processes, inspirations and influences, and what they are trying to express. This makes art collecting much more exciting and meaningful for us. This personal relationship and knowledge adds to the stories of many of the artworks in our collection, and it gives them a greater, more textured meaning and value to us.

In the talk, Collectors’ Insights, held at STPI Gallery in January 2019, Lito used the phrase “a museum with bedrooms” to describe your private residence in Manila. The idea of making your collection accessible to a wider audience was also highlighted during this session. Have you ever considered setting up a public space to exhibit your collection? Why or why not? 

Kim & Lito’s art collection at home. Photo courtesy of Kim & Lito Camacho.

We have not considered and will not likely consider establishing a public space for our collection. Both of us have been actively involved in public museums and only know too well the complications and financial resources required to build and maintain such public spaces. We also think of our art collection as very much a part of our everyday lives, and enjoy having them with us in our homes which include our art storage. We do lend artworks often for public exhibitions, both in Manila and internationally. We also often host many friends from all over the world in our Manila home for visits and receptions to view the collection. These events provide great opportunities to share the collection with a diverse and growing audience.

With the buying and collecting of art made especially convenient through digital means today, would you say that the social aspect of collecting has changed for you in any way? 

For one, the social aspect of interacting with gallerists, artists, curators, and other collectors has disappeared with the vaporisation of art fairs, gallery openings, and museum events. It is definitely something we miss greatly, as we enjoy interacting and conversing with people who are actively involved in the art scene.

Your ‘Artists on Vacation’ programme seems quite different from the orthodox format of an artist residency; such an immersive, almost leisurely arrangement also seems exceptionally beneficial for artists otherwise afflicted by the often overwhelming pace of the commercial art industry. What inspired the development of this programme? Were you responding to a lack, in terms of forms of support for artists, that you perceived in the Filipino art scene?

Kim & Lito’s farm which they use for their ‘Artists on Vacation’ programme. Photo courtesy of Kim & Lito Camacho.

Having a full-time artist in the family gives us a close-up look on the lives and pressures of artists and curators. Our artist son Enzo and his art partner, Amy Lien, have been fortunate to have had a few artist-in-residence programmes but we have also seen the pressures they have had to experience in applying for these programmes and to complete the required projects. We are also well aware of the need for artists (and curators, too) to find the time and space to have a break, re-energise themselves, get new inspirations, and, hopefully, find new languages to express their art without the pressures of producing. As we have a farm in the Philippines with suitable facilities and support staff, we thought it would be both fun and helpful to invite artists and curators to reside in the farm over a period of time to chill and work, if they wish to, with no obligations. Half seriously, we refer to it as our “artist-on-vacation” programme and we have had four artists to date.