Inside the Mind of A Collector

By August 26, 2016 Industry No Comments

An Interview with Fine-Art Curator Kelly Sueda

How do you make a bold statement? Make art that speaks louder than words.

Edward Hopper once stated, “If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.” Throughout history, this mastery of showing without saying is part of what has defined greatness in fine artists. A fine-art curator and artist in his own right, Kelly Sueda knows how to make art speak.

Creating a story with a work of fine art takes a certain kind of talent. But, carefully choosing the right collection of such pieces to tell a series of tales requires an extra level of expertise. As a painter, Sueda brings a technical perspective to the context of curating. As a curator, he’s able to analyze his work in careful detail and broad strokes.

From picking out Picassos to investing time in local artists, Sueda continues to build a diverse paintbox of artists for his collections. In his latest curation endeavor for Honolulu-based residential development Park Lane Ala Moana, Sueda is bringing local and international art together with pieces from the likes of Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama and Lionel Walden.

As a team of creatives and art enthusiasts, we couldn’t wait to chat with the man behind some of our favorite contemporary collective and individual visual stories.

Kelly Sueda

What inspired you to curate art?

Ever since I was a little kid, I collected baseball cards and bottle caps; I had this collector mentality growing up. While earning my Bachelor’s in an art degree in college, I would frequent a lot of art galleries. At graduation time, my father said, “Hey, as a present for you, I’d like to buy you a car for graduation.” I had a car at the time already, and asked, “Instead of a car, can I take the money to buy the car and use it to buy art instead?” I then went to galleries that I was frequenting all the time and started buying my first art collection.

What is something about you that would surprise most people?

I have a shoe fetish. I look for the funkiest shoes I can find. Sometimes I have shoes that I never wear – I literally have shoes that I bought and they still have the tags on them and I’ve never worn them. I’m the male version of Imelda Marcos, I love shoes.

What factors do you consider when choosing the pieces you want to add to the Park Lane Collection?

From Walden to Warhol, I wanted to fill the collection with everything in-between, from the best regional artists we could find to European, Asian and American art that we could get our hands on. We looked at the people who shifted art history, like Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Martin and Yayoi Kusama. The developers of Park Lane Ala Moana and myself are always conscious of using Hawaii-based artists for Hawaii-based projects because it has such a sense of place. It’s great to have regional artists represented in a local setting.

What goals, either personal or professional, do you hope to achieve in the next five years?

A long term goal of mine really is to get public artwork exposure. I want to educate people so they don’t feel intimidated by art … art needs to feel approachable. When people go into galleries, it often feels so high-brow, and I want to change that.

How do you plan to achieve those goals?

I get private companies that own public spaces to buy art. For instance, I’m doing a project with [Honolulu-based] Ala Moana Center right now that’s going to go into the most visited shopping mall in the world. There are 42 million visitors annually that go through Ala Moana. The initial goal is to get  artwork into a private corporation in a setting where a lot of people can see it. I’m also a trustee of the Honolulu Museum of Art, and we have a wonderful art school there called Linekona. They offer art classes to both the youth and to adults. We want to offer something to the Title IX schools where art programs were taken out. These schools come to us, and we teach art and have the materials on-hand  as a service to the community.

How do you define a great piece of art?

To me, a great piece of art is one that moves you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Picasso’s blue period or something like that, even though those are certainly considered masterpieces. It communicates a message, it moves someone to emotion – that, to me, is a phenomenal piece of artwork.


How do your Hawaii roots inform your job as a curator?

Coming from Hawaii, there wasn’t a lot of exposure growing up to what was going on in the art world in New York or Europe. There was no internet at the time, just reading magazines and getting inspired by things that you read and saw. In Hawaii you weren’t exposed to learning more about all the movements and the current state of art.

A lot of times, Hawaii is such a small island chain that we don’t get out and get international exposure that the local art deserves. I’m proud to say that our work from Hawaii can stand up next to work from all over the world that’s written about in periodicals or on the internet.


Tell me about one of the most challenging moments of your career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

The challenges have always been more technical than selective. Recently, I had a project where we had to do a big mural on a wall at a hospital. There was scaffolding involved and a scheduled time limit. Logistics and timing have sometimes proved daunting.

Also, sometimes the work the artist starts to do might turn bad, or I personally don’t like the work that the artist is beginning to create. Then, the challenge is, ‘how do we fix this problem?’ What do we do when a piece of artwork is 90 percent finished  but we didn’t like it? How do we make it work? Those things keep me up at night.

What are you reading / watching / listening to right now?

I really love non-fiction. I’m often reading artist catalogues. I’m also into documentaries. I just watched a film about Noma, a documentary on the restaurant by Rene Redzepi, and the challenges he faced with running the restaurant while becoming No. 1 chef in the world. Recently, Rene came to Hawaii, and I had the pleasure of spending about two weeks with him while he was in town. We talked about life. I consider him to be a creative genius, even though he doesn’t consider himself that.

I’m interested in hearing about the struggles people at the top of their field, like Rene, have endured because they go through the same struggles that I do. Everything’s relative.


If you had one piece of advice for someone looking to break into the world of art curation, what would it be?

Try to find the best examples, know the work well and do your homework on the art. Spark up relationships. Be honest about the work and think creatively. It’s okay to think outside of the box and stretch yourself.

Most artists just stay artists and most collectors just stay collectors. Mine was a unique path. Being an artist really helped my career with the curation side of it. I might look at art slightly different than other collectors because I first approach a work of art technically. I find the composition so fascinating, whereas other people might be looking at the person, the movement, the dates, or the colors. It’s a slightly different approach I bring to the table.


We’re so inspired. Thank you, Kelly!

Do you have a favorite fine art connoisseur or art installation you think we should feature? We want to hear your opinion! Drop us a comment or email

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