The Franks-Suss Collection

Image: Wang Qingsong, ‘Competition’, C-print, 150x85cm, 2004

Image: Wang Qingsong, ‘Competition’, C-print, 150x85cm, 2004


The Franks-Suss Collection | London, UK


Simon Franks and Rob Suss are opening the doors to their collection of contemporary art for the first time. The collection was started in 2002 with Tamar Arnon and Eli Zagury advising on acquisitions and acting as curators. The Franks – Suss Collection now comprises nearly 150 works of various media including paintings, photographs, sculpture and video, approximately 60 of which feature in this exhibition.

The collection’s main focus is on China, but features many artists from wider Asia and over the years has expanded to include works from the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. Zagury is a specialist in Chinese and Japanese art whilst Arnon’s work focuses on Europe and the Americas.

The close support of artists is a founding principle of the collection. Both curators have built up relationships with artists and their dealers in each of the countries represented. Franks also explains that there is a ‘strong focus on the output from London’s leading art schools’. Many of the works were commissioned or acquired directly from the artists, or purchased at first exhibitions or graduate shows.

In the exhibition we see works by young artists alongside works by mid-career and established artists. For a number of these, the Franks – Suss exhibition will be the first time their work has been seen in England. There are also iconic works by Wang Qinsong and Zeng Fanzhi who are now well-known internationally and whose work sells at the very top of the market. Works by Michael Armitage and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom are among those bought directly from the artists’ degree shows. In each and every case, Arnon explains that they back “those artists who are in it for the long run, and who maintain artistic integrity”.

There are several major works that are keystones to the collection. Franks explains that these works were also bought from the artists ‘when they were yet to be discovered or on the cusp of recognition’. Zeng Fanzhi’s ‘Francis Bacon’ is one such work – a signature piece by a highly coveted artist. Pieces of similar importance would be hard to find now, and there is a certain thrill that it was purchased before prices for Zeng Fanzhi’s work soared. But the value of the work, and the reason that it is so representative of the collection, is because it exhibits the three elements that both the collectors and curators prize above all. Franks summarises these elements as “genuine artistic skill and technical brilliance, an innovative and original concept and a challenging or aesthetically pleasing look.”

The selection of works is always informed by these firm principles, but over time several themes have developed within the collection. Some of these are directed by the collectors’ taste, such as Franks’ passion for photography. There are a number of photographic works by Wang Qingsong, including ‘Competition’ and ‘Billboard’. These vast, complex scenes staged on the scale of movie sets encapsulate the practical skill that both collectors and curators value so highly.

Other strands in the collection have developed from the collectors’ and curators’ vision of what is new and exciting in the art world, such as graffiti art. They had not intended to amass works inspired by street art, but recognised an interesting theme developing. Coming across strong examples, such as Michael Sweet’s technically exceptional wood burning work ‘Untitled’, space was made for several works in the collection.

The exhibition is a rare chance to enjoy works that, for their scale, or medium cannot often be on display. Large-scale paintings, such as Jia Ali’s crisp and haunting ‘The Wasteland II’, and Michael Armitage’s vibrant, textured ‘Chui’ are displayed alongside video works and performance pieces by Emma Louise Boulding and Sepideh Saii. Arnon explains that future exhibitions will be more tightly curated around a theme. This first exhibition is a celebration of the collection as it stands, while giving the collectors a chance to consider how to move forward. And most importantly, it is an opportunity to give back to the artists themselves.

The subsequent success of many of the artists represented in the collection has validated the choices that Franks, Suss, Arnon and Zagury have made, and has injected further energy and confidence into their vision for the collection. There is a clear joy and passion for contemporary art driving both collectors and curators. In Zagury’s words ‘Our search for talent, the new and not yet discovered continues apace’. 

NB. This article first appeared on in August 2010 and is currently offline due to archiving.