Mak­ing art ac­ces­si­ble

Ken Gallery’s mis­sion is al­low the pub­lic to ex­pe­ri­ence and be in­spired by art.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By TER­ENCE TOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

MEN­TION fine art, and the neigh­bour­hood of Ta­man Tun Dr Is­mail in Kuala Lumpur, may not im­me­di­ately spring to mind.

But that may soon be about to change. The newly-opened pub­lic art space Ken Gallery, which con­tains over 100 works from some of the finest Malaysian artists, has opened in the heart of this sub­ur­ban sprawl.

Ken Gallery, lo­cated at Me­nara Ken, is also a free ad­mis­sion gallery.

The gallery, fea­tur­ing lo­cal clas­sics dat­ing back to the 1950s to con­tem­po­rary edgi­ness by emerg­ing young ta­lent, is a tes­ta­ment to the di­ver­sity and scope of Malaysian art.

“We want ev­ery­one to have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­i­pate and be in­spired by the arts. And Ken Gallery will serve as an­other plat­form to en­gage the com­mu­nity. We do not want to see art­works go­ing into stor­age and never see­ing the light of day. We want the good works of artists to be ex­pe­ri­enced and ap­pre­ci­ated,” says Datuk Kenny Tan, the gallery’s founder chair­man.

Tan, the chair­man of prop­erty de­vel­op­ment firm Ken Hold­ings Bhd, is a spe­cial­ist en­gi­neer by pro­fes­sion.

The sprightly and en­er­getic man is full of amus­ing anec­dotes about his art col­lec­tion, which he started in the 1980s.

He opened Ken Gallery, which boasts 1,858 sq m of space, last month. The gallery is di­vided into four halls with dif­fer­ent sec­tions namely main hall, The Trail, Ori­en­tal Pavil­ion and a con­ser­va­tion cen­tre.

“The Kenny Tan col­lec­tion is a per­sonal one and this in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion presents a se­lec­tion of over 100 Malaysian artists, draw­ing ex­am­ples from the ear­li­est known painters to the cel­e­brated mod­ernists and con­tin­ues with the con­tem­po­rary and avant garde ex­pres­sions by the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of artists,” writes Syed Na­bil, who cu­rated the ex­hi­bi­tion, in the Ken Gallery cat­a­logue.

The main hall fea­tures works from Yong Mun Sen, Ah­mad Zakii Anwar, Anuren­dra Je­gadeva, Bayu Utomo Rad­jikin, Datuk Chuah Thean Teng, Gan Chin Lee, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, Khalil Ibrahim, Jalaini Abu Has­san, Long Thien Shih, Datuk Ta­jud­din is­mail and Zulk­i­fli Yu­soff.

“There is def­i­nitely a lot of ta­lent in Malaysia. But there needs to be more plat­forms for them,” says Tan, 60.

One of his favourite pieces in the col­lec­tion is a large un­ti­tled 1959 oil paint­ing by Jo­hor-born pi­o­neer artist Chia Yu Chian. It shows a large crowd of peo­ple, many of them fam­i­lies, en­joy­ing them­selves in a park.

“You can see peo­ple had fun in those days. Those were sim­pler times. It’s how Malaysia used to be, and I feel this is how Malaysia should be. So much har­mony, so much hap­pi­ness,” he adds.

The high­light of the space, how­ever, is a set of rare paint­ings from famed painter Ab­dul Lat­iff Mo­hidin, which Tan ac­quired a few years ago.

“I have al­ways been a fan of the artist, and it is not every day that one has the chance to ac­quire his works. So when I got a call that th­ese pieces were avail­able, I im­me­di­ately can­celled my meet­ings to go straight to the owner and view th­ese works.”

Th­ese works Pesta Laut/Un­ti­tled (1962) and Palm Leaf/Un­ti­tled (1963) are no­table be­cause they are dou­ble-sided, with dif­fer­ent art on each side of the can­vas. Tan be­lieves th­ese are the only works by this artist of this na­ture. Also, in­ter­est­ing is how th­ese works pre­date Ab­dul Lat­iff’s best known work Pago Pago (1964) yet con­tain many si­m­il­iar el­e­ments to it.

While the main hall is a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion, Tan says it does not con­tain all the works in his col­lec­tion.

He also has plans to re­fresh the ex­hi­bi­tion every now and then.

The main hall also con­tains The Trail, a small walk­way which high­lights a col­lec­tion of highly-de­tailed, in­tri­cate Chi­nese porce­lain from the 1950s-60s. Many of them high­light scenes from China’s sto­ried past.

“I show th­ese be­cause they show how the coun­try de­vel­oped. I wanted to show peo­ple how China went from a com­mu­nist, farm­ing coun­try, to a mod­ern na­tion which will soon be­come one of the most de­vel­oped coun­tris in the world,” says Tan.

The Trail leads to the gallery’s Ori­en­tal Pav­il­lion, which show­cases a wide col­lec­tion of Malaysian brush paint­ings, and Ming Dy­nasty fur­ni­ture.

Near the en­trance of The Trail, how­ever, is a wide win­dow which of­fers a sweep­ing view of the neigh­bour­hood. It’s a re­minder to visi­tors not to take the beauty around them for granted.

“I wanted to show the scenery. I didn’t want to for­get to show peo­ple how beau­ti­ful Ta­man Tun is,” says Tan with a laugh.

Out­side the main hall are a col­lec­tion of smaller halls, which Tan uses for tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tions. They re­cently played host to Fan­tasy World, a show by Chi­nese artist Duxi, as well as Na­ture, Nat­u­rally by Perak-born artist Teh Yew Kiang.

Ac­cord­ing to Tan, th­ese halls are open to any artists or mem­bers of the pub­lic who wanted to host their own ex­hi­bi­tions. Also fea­tured at the gallery is a Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre, which is ded­i­cated to the preser­va­tion of cul­tural her­itage for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

It is led by Prof Lin Huan Shen from the Depart­ment of Cul­tural Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion at the Na­tional Yun­lin Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Tai­wan.

“I think we need more con­ser­va­tion cen­tres in this coun­try. We don’t have enough, and they play an im­por­tant role. Most peo­ple ne­glect this as­pect. Artists know to paint their works, and col­lec­tors know how to buy them. But who main­tains their art? Who man­ages the up­keep?” says Tan.

“It would be so un­fair if we ac­ci­den­tally de­stroy a mas­ter­piece just be­cause it’s not taken care of prop­erly.”

Tan is def­i­nitely a firm be­liever in Malaysian art ta­lent.

“Hope­fully, one day, if a for­eigner comes to our coun­try and sees our lo­cal art, peo­ple will tell him or her to go to the main hall of Ken Gallery. Then I would have suc­ceeded in my mis­sion. I still have a long way to go, and I need a lot of sup­port on the way. But I hope to achieve that in my life­time,” con­cludes Tan with a smile.

Ken Gallery is lo­cated at Level M, Me­nara Ken TTDI, 37, Jalan Burhanud­din Helmi, Ta­man Tun Dr Is­mail in KL. It is open daily from 11am-6pm. For more info, call 03-7727 9933 or email con­tact@ ken hold­ings. com.my. Visit: ken­hold­ings.com.my.

A close-up of a porce­lain vase from China on dis­play at Ken Gallery’s The Trail area. — NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star

Ken Gallery founder Datuk Kenny Tan points out one of his favourite pieces, an un­ti­tled 1959 work by Chia Yu Chian. — NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star

A vis­i­tor ex­am­ines Gan Chin Lee’s Por­trait Scape Of Con­tem­po­rary Mi­gra­tion (2014) at the main hall of Ken Gallery in KL. The gallery fea­tures over 100 Malaysian works, dat­ing back to the 1950s. — Ber­nama

Visi­tors in front of Teh Yew Kiang’s Nat­u­ral Bond paint­ings, which were fea­tured in his Na­ture, Nat­u­rally ex­hi­bi­tion last month. — Ber­nama

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