Photo credit: TIEN YUAN WOON


Tien Yuan Woon, 35, also known as TY, is a second-generation leader managing his family-run food & beverage heritage brand, The Killiney Group. Under his leadership, he has been working to grow Killiney from a local household name to an international brand.

Tien Yuan is actively involved in his family’s Woon Brothers Foundation, which focuses on advancing art and education. In addition, he also has keen interests in real estate and foodtech. His biggest passion lies in his art collection.

As an avid art collector, Tien Yuan hopes to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the diverse cultures and heritages through the ancient artworks he collects. His passion has led him to pursue a postgraduate degree in the arts, as well as the setting up of his private art gallery located in central Singapore. Today, he shares some lessons he has learnt throughout his art collecting journey.

Art has no barriers, it is a universal language

I have come across artworks that tastefully blend elements of different religions and cultures into one object. Such artworks epitomise the philosophy that art has no barriers and should thus be seen as our universal language. Personally, I think this is very important, especially since we Singaporeans always feel proud being part of a multi-racial and multi-religion society. In fact, this was one of the main reasons that spurred me to set up my private art gallery Ajaya Gallery in 2018 with the aim of showcasing the diversity of artworks from different religions, all within the same space.

Every piece of artwork tells a story from the past, and it is a lesson for the future

For all ancient artefacts, each piece comes with so much inherited history and background story behind it. I see myself as a custodian of these artworks and try to learn more about them each day – studying its related history and striving hard to share as much information with others while displaying it. A unique story is formed at each of these touch points and all these new experiences add an intangible value as well as an unforgettable experience to each of these artworks that will stay and be passed on to the next generation. Through all these stories that we share, it becomes a lesson for posterity.

A gallery not only gets people to pay attention to the art, but also to the world

Apart from promoting art through the various artworks, another motivation for me to start a gallery is for it to serve as a platform for friends and visitors to kick-start new conversations and topics, as well as to explore and reflect upon the worlds of the past, and then start thinking of the current world that we live in. In other words, art serves as a bridge to link the past, the present and the future and it often leaves us pondering about the current state of affairs and what the future holds for humanity. Great food for thought!

Art, culture and heritage are invaluable and priceless, so we have to cherish them

Every piece of ancient artefact is unique and one of my endeavours as a custodian of art is to preserve it for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. Translating this beyond art, Singapore has so many inspiring stories about our unique blend of culture and heritage here despite our young age as a nation. Moreover, coupled with the fact that I am involved in a Singapore heritage brand with over 100 years of history, I do see myself in a good position to really promote these intangible aspects of life to a larger crowd and make sure we do our best to build a strong community to better understand and appreciate our past so that we can create a greater future!

There is beauty in imperfections

Since I largely collect ancient artefacts, they often come with inherited condition issues such as having various degrees of damage to the artwork. While some may view such imperfections as flaws, I prefer to see the beauty in it, as it makes the artefact unique and rare. To a larger extent, it showcases the transitional stages that the artwork had gone through over the years. Applying this to my personal life and work, it helps to serve as a reminder for myself to see things from various angles and to accept the beauty of life as it is.

There is beauty in everything, but not everyone is able to see it

Throughout the history of mankind, we can see that beauty is something very subjective. This holds true for collecting art as well. For a particular artwork, some may like it, while others might not. So one important lesson that we can all learn here is that there is actually an element of beauty in everything out there, but as the saying goes, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” Thus, we can only put our best foot forward in whatever we do. I am sure someone out there will appreciate our efforts.

Learn to collaborate and complement, not compete

Buying an artwork is not difficult, but the difficulty lies in forming a collection. In forming an art collection, I have learnt the important trait of acquiring the right artwork that can complement and enhance the whole collection. I really believe this philosophy can also be applied to our daily lives, where we should try to find potential collaborators to work together to create a “larger than one” outcome, instead of the outdated mentality of seeing everyone else as a competitor.

Learn to give

My family foundation has been contributing to both international and local art institutions. On a personal level, I am a strong supporter of charitable works because I think one can derive greater happiness by giving more. I also believe that long-term planning should be applied to philanthropy. Giving back should not be done only when one becomes older, established or has retired.

I set up a bursary at NUS Business School a few years back to provide support for students going on overseas student exchange programmes because I believe that students can learn so much more via such eye-opening experiences. By doing so, I hope to encourage my peers to give back to society as soon as they can. In addition, I also have plans in the future to donate part of my art collection to museums and art institutes so that more people can enjoy the beauty of these artworks.

As a family business, we think in generations, not quarters

Art collecting has taught me to appreciate the intangible, yet valuable lessons of having a long-term vision and the importance of commitment, as forming a collection is a long journey and endeavour. The beauty of such lessons lies in the fact that they can be applied to all businesses, and they constantly remind me to stay grounded, patient and committed for the long-term good of my family business. Besides, having a long-term plan for Killiney means we do not merely care about our quarterly financials, but more so on enhancing our heritage brand for future generations of Singaporeans to enjoy and be proud of.

This article was published on Apr 25, 2022

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