Vietnam through the eyes of an art collector

Charged with leading the expansion of his employer's business Paul Hugentobler arrived in Vietnam in 1991. He found poverty and lack of infrastructure, but also open-minded leaders and a population that was eager to work. As he told a crowd of over 120 guests at a recent Asia Society Switzerland event in Zurich, he has since fallen in love with the country and seen his incredible development over the last decades from up close.

The event, held at the galleries of Hauser & Wirth, also marked the first time that Mr. Hugentobler's collection of modernist Vietnamese art was exhibited in public, and the launch of the accompanying book, written by art historian Louise Malcolm. As Mr. Hugentobler told the story, he originally got involved in collecting art out of boredom: Frustrated by the slow bureaucracy, he started seeking out art galleries in Hanoi in the early 1990s, and soon befriended a prominent art collector.

His venture into the emerging modern art scene of Vietnam quickly turned into much more than a distraction: It provided a unique view on a rapidly developing country with an open and energetic population. Collecting art also served as a lesson in how to do business in Asian countries: In order to close a deal, you first have to build a relationship.