IN­SIDE THE MAR­KET

In­dus­try ex­perts shed light on the South-east Asian art col­lect­ing scene.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents - TEXT KOH YUEN LIN

In­dus­try ex­perts shed light on the South- east Asian art col­lect­ing scene.

Not all of us have what it takes to be­come an art col­lec­tor like Petch Osathanu­grah, who owns one of the world’s largest col­lec­tions of Thai con­tem­po­rary paint­ings; or Haryanto Adikoe­soemo, the In­done­sia ty­coon who caught the at­ten­tion of the art world when he launched mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum Ma­can in Jakarta in 2017. And it’s not about the spend­ing power.

Col­lect­ing art is, well, an art. It is one that takes a keen un­der­stand­ing of out­ward el­e­ments – the his­tory of the mar­ket and its cur­rent trends, the forces at play, and movers and shak­ers that shape the scene. It is also in­ward-look­ing, for one to dis­cover one’s iden­tity as an art col­lec­tor. As the art scene in South-east Asia grows, there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to bol­ster your col­lec­tion. But which pieces to pick amid the myr­iad choices? We gather in­sights from in­dus­try in­sid­ers, the pan­el­lists of The Art Week Con­ver­sa­tions 2019 to be held this month, to es­tab­lish the con­text.

A RE­GION IN ME­TA­MOR­PHO­SIS

Pham Phuong Cuc – direc­tor of one of Viet­nam’s lead­ing gal­leries, CUC – de­scribes the South-east Asian art scene as one in its pubescent stage. “It has all the en­ergy, po­ten­tial, youth­ful­ness to burst out, yet lacks ma­tu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the form of good in­fra­struc­ture and stan­dard­ised prac­tice.” Sub­stan­ti­at­ing her point, she says: “Re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and roles of key play­ers – such as artists, gal­leries, cu­ra­tors and crit­ics – still over­lap one an­other. How­ever, through time, they will grow to defi ne their own po­si­tions and vi­sions for the fu­ture.”

Jimmy Chua, in­de­pen­dent art ad­viser and for­mer mem­ber of the Sin­ga­pore Na­tional Gallery’s Art Ac­qui­si­tion Com­mit­tee, also likens the re­gion’s art scene to a ju­nior col­lege stu­dent about to en­ter var­sity, with “some way to go be­fore it is con­sid­ered ma­ture”.

Be­ing in the nascent stage of de­vel­op­ment can present op­por­tu­ni­ties – along­side risks. “The emerg­ing Myan­mar art

scene pro­vides good col­lect­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. The prices of im­por­tant pi­o­neers like Khin Maung Yin, U Win Pe and Aung Myint are still af­ford­able,” high­lights Chua, who lived in Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City dur­ing his 30-year diplo­matic ca­reer.

“How­ever, the lack of doc­u­men­ta­tion in the early years has given rise to fakes in some South-east Asian mar­kets. Viet­nam is one such ex­am­ple, where re­pro­duc­tion of its mod­ern mas­ters’ works is a huge prob­lem.”

Cu­ra­tor and direc­tor of Af­ford­able Art Fair Camilla He­wit­son, how­ever, feels it is not pos­si­ble to paint all of South- east Asia with one broad stroke. What she has ob­served is that the re­gion, as a whole, is be­gin­ning to be

un­der­stood by the rest of the world, “and, so, now is the time to shine”.

Yet, whether or not the re­gion is poised for promi­nence, all the pan­el­lists agree that there is no bad time to start col­lect­ing art. “There is no such thing as be­ing early or late to the game,” says Pham. “There are many ways of col­lect­ing and build­ing a good col­lec­tion. Depend­ing on the col­lec­tor’s bud­get and col­lect­ing cri­te­ria, he or she could look for young emerg­ing artists or wellestab­lished ones, or a mix of both.”

Re­mark­ing that some might choose to en­ter the world of art col­lect­ing from the deep end, Chua says that while there is noth­ing wrong with it, one should prefer­ably go in with good ad­vis­ers – whether ex­pe­ri­enced col­lect­ing friends or pro­fes­sional art con­sul­tants.

OLD GUARDS AND NEW SPARKS

“As a re­gion with a post-colo­nial legacy, South- east Asia is still shap­ing its con­tem­po­rary art scene,” ob­serves He­wit­son. “That makes this part of the world an ex­cit­ing place to be, in the arts.” She cites the breadth and depth of re­gional artists’ in­flu­ences. “( Their) works are not just in­flu­enced by so­cial, and some­times, po­lit­i­cal is­sues, but also span a di­verse range of cul­tures and his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences.

“As each coun­try is dif­fer­ent from one an­other, the themes these artists present are usu­ally rel­e­vant to not only their own back­grounds, but also to their own per­sonal sto­ries. Glob­al­i­sa­tion and tech­nol­ogy also help to shape the trends, as a new gen­er­a­tion of artists play with new me­dia and dig­i­tal works such as video in­stal­la­tions.” Chua feels that the South- east Asian art mar­ket is healthy over­all. He says: “The In­done­sian, Malaysian and Sin­ga­pore mar­kets have cor­rected, which is good for gen­uine col­lec­tors; both Philip­pine and Viet­namese art are also do­ing well.”

The in­ter­est in the re­gion doesn’t just lie in the up-and-com­ing artists. Old mas­ters con­tinue to hold their value – works by Sin­ga­pore’s Liu Kang, Viet­nam’s lac­quer artist Pham Hau and “Fa­ther of In­done­sian Mod­ernism” S. Sud­jo­jono have of­ten fetched prices above their val­u­a­tion at auc­tions.

“Old mas­ters and mod­ernists like Raden Saleh, Amor­solo, U Ngwe Gaing, Soo Pieng and Le Pho are al­ways seen as safe bets by col­lec­tors and in­vestors,” says Chua, who ob­serves that the nou­veau riche and mid­dle-class Viet­namese have been mak­ing their pres­ence felt in Hong Kong auc­tions in re­cent times.

“It is no dif­fer­ent from the Chi­nese art scene, where the rich want to buy back their cul­ture. Con­tem­po­rary art is seen by these more con­ser­va­tive col­lec­tors as be­ing fickle and harder to col­lect and con­serve. Nev­er­the­less, there are a small grow­ing num­ber of col­lec­tors who pre­fer this genre.”

Pham also ob­serves a grow­ing num­ber of South-east Asian col­lec­tors with an in­ter­est in lo­cal artists and seek­ing con­tem­po­rary art­works with depth – a con­trast to a time when main buy­ers for art in the re­gion were ex­pa­tri­ates with a pref­er­ence for easyon-the- eye, dec­o­ra­tive pieces with ob­vi­ous cul­tural icons.

“Now we see col­lec­tors who are more at­ten­tive, well-pre­pared and knowl­edge­able,” says Pham. “It’s the re­sult of glob­al­i­sa­tion, which has cre­ated more chances for buy­ers to learn about re­gional art; and also that of more in­ter­na­tional art events wel­com­ing artists and col­lec­tors from all over the world.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on The Art Week Con­ver­sa­tions 2019, visit www.artweek.sg.

01 MASJID SE­RIES A dig­i­tal print on fab­ric by mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist Noor Iskan­dar. 02

02, 03, 04 CON­STRUCT­ING THE WORLD Hilmi Jo­handi’s works look at Sin­ga­pore so­ci­ety pre- and postin­de­pen­dence. 03

04

05

05 BE­TWEEN EARTH AND SKY Ali­cia Neo delves into so­cial is­sues in her pho­tog­ra­phy and videos.

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