Private Art Collections Opened Up to Public in New Exhibit

Each one of the paintings going on display at a new exhibition in Phnom Penh tonight was acquired by a Cambodian man or woman out of love: love of the work and regard for the artist, who was also Cambodian.

Which is what makes the latest show at Java Cafe and Gallery—featuring works by Cambodian artists from several generations and lent by the 22 Cambodian owners—so special.

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Yean Reaksmey, left, and Dana Langlois discuss the placement of paintings on Tuesday for an exhibition at Java Cafe and Gallery in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Dana Langlois, Java’s artistic director, came up with the idea for the show when it dawned on her that she knew several Cambodians who were acquiring artworks from Cambodian contemporary artists and yet, she said, “Across the community…even among the arts community, I think very little is known about Cambodians who collect art.”

The collectors Java approached were happy to lend their works. The biggest difficulty for organizers was coming up with a title for the exhibition, Ms. Langlois said.

When Java curator Yean Reaksmey started talking to the owners, it became clear that they did not want to be labeled “collectors,” a term that implied speculation for them, he said.

“In a way, they’re not only collecting artworks, they’re collecting friendships, they’re collecting narratives,” he said. “They like to buy artworks: They love the story behind it, they love the people.”

Ms. Langlois and Mr. Reak­smey decided on the title “The Object(s) of Collecting,” a play on words referring both to what and why people collect.

The exhibition features one or two works by each collector, including a painting by Oeur Sokuntevy, one of Cambodia’s leading female artists, belonging to writer Leakthina Ollier, and a rare painting by the late artist Nhek Dim from the 1960s provided by Youk Chhang of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

There is also a portrait of a female prisoner of the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison by the late artist Vann Nath, which belongs to filmmaker Rithy Panh, who featured the artist in his documentary “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine.”

Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona contributed one of her paintings by the late Svay Ken, whom she befriended in the 1990s in the early days of his painting career. And artist Chan Vitharin provided a painting by his father, Chan Lay Heng, an architect and artist who survived the Khmer Rouge regime and taught at the Royal University of Fine Arts until his death in 2011.

Some of the works have never been seen in public before, while others are being shown for the first time to a new generation

Ms. Langlois and Mr. Reak­smey plan to publish a booklet on the collectors’ paintings to inspire other Cambodians to acquire the work of the country’s own artists.

“We like to call this exhibition a conversation, and we want this conversation to continue,” Mr. Reaksmey said.

The Object(s) of Collecting

Where: Java Café and Gallery, 56 Sihanouk Blvd

When: Tonight, 6:30 p.m.

Until: April 30

Price: Free

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