In pursuit of art, the importance of building your personal collection

by Ian Wang


Ian Wang
Photo provided
People who have experienced living and working far away from their hometown may feel the same: The farther away and the more time since you have left home, the more eager you are to know and to learn any and every detail that relates to your homeland. You feel so dear, so deep, and so emotional towards anything and everything, big or small, from your homeland. That was why I started collecting artworks created by artists of my homeland as a medium or vehicle for communication, expression, and socio-cultural exchange when I studied at Oxford University.

While serving as the president of Spurlock Museum's Board of Directors, I researched the history of the University of Illinois' first art collection at the museum. I learned how and why the University's first president, John Gregory, collected art and established the first art gallery/museum on campus.

From day one as UI president, John Gregory firmly believed that “man should be primarily educated as a human being and only secondary for his occupation.” Therefore, Gregory called for a university to produce “clear-headed, broad-breasted scholars, men of fully developed minds who would be valuable citizens capable of taking their places in legislative assemblies or other positions to which they might be called from their normal occupations.”

In other words, the University was to cultivate real men rather than technically trained professionals. His desire was to establish an institute firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition.

Profoundly influenced by Gregory’s vision and deliberation, I started focusing on collecting, researching, and exhibiting UI art (artworks created by University faculty, staff, and students) for the same purpose of cultivating “real men”.

After more than 25 years of pursuit, I have collected multiple thousand pieces of UI art, studied and written/published a few hundred articles in local, national, and international newspapers and magazines. So far, I have curated almost 100 art exhibitions at the University and local community galleries/venues. In the process, I have learned and enjoyed much about art in general and our UI art in particular, and developed a personal doctrine for collecting art. Concisely, my philosophy is:

1. Collect art interactively with artists is the most important and enjoyable way of studying/learning art deeply and directly from its creator.

2. Collect art systematically.

3. Collecting art comprehensively.

4. Collect art creatively.


A long-time resident of Champaign-Urbana, Ian Wang is an art historian and curator. Wang is currently providing an informative lecture series entitled "150 Plus Years UI Art Creation" for Tuesday At Ten at the Champaign Public Library at 10 am on Tuesdays through December 12.

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