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Secondary Ambition

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Ibrahim Hussein – The Dream

One indicator of how far the Malaysian art market has come is the growth of its secondary market. While this has previously been confined to a select group where buying and selling are done through private dealings, Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers will be stepping up to organise the first professionally run auction for Malaysian art on 8 August 2010 at Wisma Bentley, Petaling Jaya. This annual event seeks to redress the absence of a strong and transparent secondary market. We speak with Lee Mei Young about the ambition, scale and the whys of an art auction dedicated exclusively to Malaysian art.

ARTERI: Do you think the upcoming Henry Butcher art auction signals the maturation of a secondary market for Malaysian art? Why is this a good time to start an auction?

HBAA: Yes, to a certain degree, as we’ve come a long way (especially in the development of our primary art market) to warrant a need for our own auction market. Although we see the secondary art market in Malaysia as still evolving and far from maturing, we feel this is a good time to start an auction as the need for a stronger secondary market is more evident than ever before.  An auction is a very suitable avenue for encouraging art appreciation and investment (transparency makes it easier for “newbies” to enter the market). The auction market is now performing very well in other countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, let alone the West.

Chang Fee Ming – Kathmandu Market Scene

ARTERI: What spurred this venture into our secondary art market?

HBAA: It all started when our directors who are art lovers themselves saw that transactions of Malaysian art in public auction are few and far between, even by established auctioneers like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The absence of a strong and transparent secondary market has in a way limited the growth of art collection in Malaysia as well as institutional buying and investment in Malaysian art. We felt this should not be the case as Malaysia has some of the most talented artists around, both veteran and young, and their works are of such quality that they deserve more attention
from art lovers and collectors beyond the confines of our country.

Henry Butcher Malaysia, having had decades of assets auctioning experience, aspires to help rectify this situation by providing an open platform for sale and purchase of art pieces for galleries, collectors and investors. Thus the birth of HB Art Auction.

ARTERI: Having recently come out of the global economic recession. What kind of response are you anticipating from the buying public? In your opinion, did the recession ever affect the Malaysian art market?

HBAA: The recession did affect the global art market but only for a short period. It has now bounced back with a vengeance as can be seen from the recent major auctions overseas that have set record prices. We believe a good piece of art is a rather resilient form of investment, as by virtue of its unniqueness and scarcity, art has been a form of investment that has continually proven to really “stand the test of time” and consistently appreciates in value, relatively unaffected by global economic situations.

Lee Joo For – Man’s State

ARTERI: What are some of the highlight pieces in your upcoming August auction?

HBAA: As the majority of works are sourced from the secondary market, the works are tilted more to the pioneers and veterans, although a good brace of younger artists with more contemporary works are also put on the block. The top attraction is a rare 1969 Ibrahim Hussein which has travelled around the world with its previous owners and have now returned to Malaysia after 40 years.

Other highlights include a rare batik by Chuah Thean Teng; a 1993 Hoessein Enas pastel (done just after he had a bypass operation, two years before his death); a 1987 Chang Fee Ming watercolour painted live on the streets of Kathmandu; a unique double painting of Khoo Sui Hoe’s Shadow Man figures painted over a previous work from his Rock series; a 1963 etching print by Lee Joo For depicting man’s inner struggles, a contemporary theme (probably considered bold for his days) that remains relevant to our society today; a very attractive piece from Yusof Ghani’s first Topeng series; and a rare Lim Kim Hai watercolour of the French countryside done in 1985.

ARTERI: What is your estimated auction sales target?

HBAA: We are targeting to put on offer 60-80 works for the August 8th auction. We have yet to set our final sales target as works are still coming in (closing date for selection of works is 1st July), although from what we have on hand, it looks promising that we are well on our way to achieving an estimated sales of RM1 mil.

Yusof Ghani – Panji Panji

ARTERI: In terms of professional service, what can Henry Butcher Art auction offer to Malaysian art collectors? What kind of expertise can your team bring to the industry?

HBAA: We have been in the auction business for decades and bring with us a wealth of experience in assets auctioning. As for the art market, we will bring about increased transparency and provide an open platform for quality art pieces to change hands within a safe environment. We place a strong emphasis on research and writing and take great pains to document as much as we can for every artpiece that passes our hands, especially for early works which had somehow eluded documentation.

Through this auction, we also hope to promote the development of a full fledge secondary art market in Malaysia. The auction will set price benchmarks for artists and their works at particular periods of their career, redress past anomalies, create a truly credible secondary market and enhance artists’ credibility.

ARTERI: What are some of the distinctive and unique elements of Malaysian modern and contemporary art that you want to promote and create awareness through the auction?

HBAA: We hope that through the auction, art lovers and collectors alike, and even the Malaysian public and the world will begin to see how versatile and talented our local artists really are. Malaysia is very much a cultural melting pot and our artists are influenced by many elements of our local culture. Their works are often executed with masterful skills yet infused with a uniquely Malaysian flavour. We hope that our auctions would one day feature not just paintings, but also help promote and create awareness of the full range of artistic pursuits offered by Malaysian artists, from batik to print, photography to digital works, mixed media to video, to sculpture to installations etc etc. When it comes to art, the
sky should be the limit and we hope to play a small part in encouraging that awareness and appreciation. In time to come, we hope the auctions will help raise the profile and positioning of Malaysian artists, whereby Malaysian Art would emerge a brand in its own right, and no longer be looked upon as being inferior to some of our more aggressive neighbours.

Chuah Thean Teng – Two Cockerel and a Hen

ARTERI: Is the auction focusing largely on Malaysian artists? Will Henry Butcher Auction look to Southeast Asian modern and contemporary in the future given that there are quite a few collectors who also collect works from the region?

HBAA: Our vision is to help promote Malaysian art, hence we will focus on our home market initially to build up a strong base here. Our aim is to eventually bring our local artists and their artworks to the attention of foreign collectors and investors from the region and beyond, thereby helping to raise the profile and positioning of Malaysian art on the international scene.

Hossein Enas – Peasant Girl


Prelude Exhibition: Art Auction Malaysia will be on view at Wisma Bentley Music from 19 – 27 June 2010 and will travel to Alpha Utara Gallery in Penang from 3 – 7 July 2010.


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