What I Buy & Why: Gallerist Nicole Schoeni on the Biggest Strokes of Luck in Her Collecting Career and Her Most Prized Possession

The Hong Kong-based dealer never has buyer's remorse—but there are some works that got away.

Nicole Schoeni, a collector and the owner of Schoeni Projects.

Art has been at the center of Nicole Schoeni’s life since the very beginning.

Her father, the late Manfred Schoeni, was the founder of Hong Kong’s influential Schoeni Art Gallery, which represented artists including Liu Ye, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang, and Zeng Fanzhi well before they skyrocketed to fame. 

While working at her father’s gallery, Schoeni focused her attention on the next generation of emerging Asian artists—a passion project that dovetailed with the building of her own collection.

This May, Schoeni kicked off her next chapter, founding Schoeni Projects, which has spaces in London and Hong Kong and will focus on cross-cultural exchange through an innovative series of collaborations. The first exhibition, “disCONNECT,” opens this month in Hong Kong, featuring 14 artists from seven countries.

We chatted with Schoeni about her collection, her latest initiatives, and which artworks got away.

Adam Neate, Striped T-Shirt (2008). Collection of Nicole Schoeni.

Adam Neate, Striped T-Shirt (2008). Collection of Nicole Schoeni.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

My first purchase was an Adam Neate artwork. Let’s just say I paid a substantial amount considering it was my first purchase. 

What was your most recent purchase?

My most recent additions to my collection are selected works from my inaugural show under Schoeni Projects, titled “disCONNECT.”

Participating artists included Alex Fakso, Isaac Cordal, [street art duo] Herakut, [graffiti artist] Mr. Cenz, and [street artist] Vhils, with many of the works responding directly to working under lockdown. Many will now be shown as part of an upcoming exhibition at Schoeni Projects in Hong Kong later this year.

Isaac Cordal, Isolated (2020). Courtesy of Nicole Schoeni.

Isaac Cordal, Isolated (2020). Courtesy of Nicole Schoeni.

How has luck influenced your career as a collector?

My luckiest moments as a collector are when I get to meet an artist I admire in person.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

I have a long wish list of artists that I hope to collect in general. I have already struck off one artist in particular for this year, which is Vhils.

Vhils, Camada Series 26 (2020). Courtesy of Nicole Schoeni.

Vhils, Camada Series 26 (2020). Courtesy of Nicole Schoeni.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

That would be an artwork by Zeng Fanzhi that I inherited from my late father’s collection.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

Frequently from the artists directly, but also from galleries at art fairs.

Zeng Feng Zhi, Mask (1998). Courtey of Nicole Schoeni.

Zeng Feng Zhi, Mask (1998). Courtey of Nicole Schoeni.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

One of my mottos is to live life without regrets, so no.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?

In Hong Kong currently, I have artists that we represented in the 2000s when I ran Schoeni Art Gallery and works by Zhao Fang and Ling Jian in our weekend home. In our bathroom, we have three pen-on-paper works by David Bray.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

Probably a sculpture by Zheng Lu, as it consists of hundreds of small components that need to be individually installed.

Ling Jian's Red—Vanitas (2007) hangs in Schoeni's weekend home in Lantau.

Ling Jian’s Red—Vanitas (2007) hangs in Schoeni’s weekend home in Lantau.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

Jenny Saville when she first debuted at Frieze, Kehinde Wiley, Sopheap Pich at an Asia Art Archive auction, and Mark Ryden, before he was famous, at a gallery in LA.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Without a doubt any triptych by Francis Bacon. A bit of a mission, given how large the work would be! 

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