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.
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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 define 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 well- established 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 easy- on-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.
Curating a South-east Asian collection.
PAINTING THE TOWN RED
Panellists of The Art Week Conversations 2019 spotlight emerging Singaporean talent.
ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI
A multi-disciplinary artist who intertwines fact and fiction to create conceptually ambitious and aesthetically immersive narratives that challenge the notion of truth, Zhao often questions the ever-shifting boundaries of science, art, history and politics in his work. The Singaporean has exhibited at the Jakarta, Moscow and Sydney biennales in 2016 and 2017, and Les Rencontres d’Arles, France, 2015. He was awarded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in 2010.
Through photography, video and participatory workshops, Neo addresses social issues such as globalisation and immigration. Her artworks have been exhibited at various international festivals and galleries such as the Singapore Art Museum, the International Orange Photo Festival in China, and the Noorderlicht International Photo Festival in the Netherlands.
The multidisciplinary artist is also a researcher who explores Islamic aesthetics and spirituality. Iskandar has exhibited in Singapore as well as internationally, including in London, Valencia, Pingyao, Belfast and Bandung.
A finalist of the 2018 President’s Young Talents award and recipient of the Young Artist Award 2018, Johandi is a painter who examines Singapore society pre- and post- independence. The Lasalle College of the Arts graduate has participated in numerous exhibitions in Singapore.