Art auctions appear to be a bankable and profitable platform for investors

  • Business
  • Saturday, 01 Dec 2012

Thanasan: ‘You could say art moves faster than property.’ Behind him is local artist Abdul Latif Mohidin’s ‘Landscape Rimba’, valued at half a million ringgit.

With many investment opportunities present in the market, investors across the nation may be figuring out where best to park their cash.

Try art, suggests KL Lifestyle Art Space founder Datuk Gary Thanasan, a long-time aficionado who forayed into the highly untapped local market about three years ago.

The art dealer has in his keep an art piece by renowned local artist Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, which the gentleman himself sold to Thanasan for RM100,000 about two years ago just before the artist passed away.

Today, that piece is worth over RM300,000. That, Thanasan says, is the potential art holds.

Several months ago, he organised the Malaysian and Indonesian Modern Contemporary Art Auction 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, where over 200 registrants flocked in.

118 art works 100 Malaysian, the balance Indonesian were brought in, and 87% of it was sold for RM2.76 mil.

The success was so pleasing to Thanasan that he has organised another auction, the Malaysian Modern and Contemporary Art Auction 2012, which will happen tomorrow at the Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur.

So far, there are several dozen registrants, including bidders from Singapore, who will be participating via telephone. A slew of walk-ins are expected.

(Essentially, there are three ways to be a part of an auction be present, or register for the absentee or phone bid.)

Malaysia is certainly a late-bloomer in the local art auction scene but the public's interest over the last couple of years have hinted at the potential in this industry.

Understandably so.

Canvas art

Local artist Yusof Ghani's 1999 “Siri Segerak Sketch II” sold for RM500 at one point.

Today, it's valued at RM6,500, and bidding will start at RM3,500 at the auction.

A 1995 oil on canvas art piece by renowned artist Abdul Latiff Mohidin greets visitors at Thanasan's auction showroom in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, where he keeps all 108 pieces that will be auctioned tomorrow.

Monikered “Landscape Rimba”, it's valued at half a million ringgit, by far the most valuable ware of this lot. Bidding for it starts at RM350,000.

“It's important work for the Rimba series that's documented by the Petronas Gallery,” Thanasan says.

“Start small and bring it up over time. Test it out and see if it works for you.”

All 108 art pieces for tomorrow's auction are sitting in his KL Lifestyle Art Space showroom in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

Among the pieces are works by world-renowned artists such as Datuk Hoessein Enas, Srihadi Soedarsono and Datuk Ibrahim Hussein.

Art by Datuk Sharifah Fatimah, one of the few female artists in the local industry, will also feature in the auction.

Thanasan points out that her work is collected by major institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum, Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan as well as Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Gallery.

Not all local items are saleable internationally, he notes, save for exceptionally well-marketed artists like Abdul Latiff Mohidin and Chuah Thean Teng.

Like property, which sells by establishment of location, art pieces are priced by the notability of its creator.

Most expensive piece

“The better the artist, the better their craft will appeal,” says a local collector, a medical professional, who has over the last two years purchased pieces ranging between RM10,000 and RM200,000.

His most expensive piece, an oil on canvas item by renowned artist Yusof Ghani in 1975, as well as the other sizeable ones, are not likely be traded anytime soon.

The “smaller ones”, those that fall within the RM10,000 ambit, can be traded for a 10 per cent profit after a year, he reckons.

Auction casualties, on the other hand, are sometimes purchased afterwards at the lower bidding value plus a 10 per cent premium.

Often, they make it to the next auction, like a noteworthy Srihadi Soedarsono oil on canvas piece, worth RM121,000 at that time.

It was surprising, given that the Indonesian artist's works usually made their way to the presidents' homes, institutions and such.

It was eventually consigned to Masterpiece Auction in Singapore, where it was sold for RM195,000.

Thanasan advises: “If you're looking to invest, look out for good names. Start small and test it out.”

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