Growing in numbers

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 14 Sep 2013

O. Don Peris’ Portrait of My Wife In Her Wedding Dress (1933), National Visual Arts Gallery Malaysia. Peris was a pioneer Malaysian artist, who arrived in British Malaya as an immigrant from Sri Lanka in 1920.

Art Expo Malaysia 2013 returns as a leading destination for art collectors, curators and for new emerging galleries to get noticed.

IT is a backhand honour of sorts that the international Art Expo Malaysia (AEM), now in its seventh year, is the longest running uninterrupted art fair in South East Asia!

With a fast-changing scenario hogged by the A-listed Art Basel Hong Kong (2013) and the much hyped Singapore Art Stage (since 2011)/Singapore Biennale (since 2006), the costs and stakes have become higher. Those three events mentioned are heavily government-funded, collaborated and driven, with both Hong Kong and Singapore boasting one of the finest state-of-the-art arts ecosystem anywhere. Kuala Lumpur does not even have one approaching a truly international-class convention centre, although it is in the pipeline – to replace Matrade.

The AEM is the brainchild of art entrepreneur Datuk Vincent T.C. Sim, who raised seed-funds for the AEM through the sales of some of his art collections in the China market and mortgaging certain properties.

Miao Xiaochun’s Limitless series, with his innovative digital grand-narratives, will be one of China’s highlights.

The AEM may not have the A-list flavours such as Murakami, Hirst or Koons (not that we could or dare show the more explicit Koons here), but there’s really no lacking of “heroes”. The AEM has shown over time, M.F. Husain, Andy Warhol (a suite of Warhol silkscreens was sold for RM2mil), Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Antoni Tapies, Liu Hai-Su, Li Ke-Ran, Zao Wou-Ki, Yayoi Kusama, Miao Xiao-Chun, Wang Xi-Jing, Yue Min-Jun, Fang Li-Jun, Wang Guan-Yi, ChenYi-Fei and Prof Li Chi-Mao.

From the saucer-eyed list, it could be seen that the AEM draws a lot of its strength from art impulses and expressions from China, which is still enjoying unprecedented and protracted boom as the top art market in the world.

Again, this year, its China Pavilion has a bewildering array of contemporary art, some in the ink-brush medium.

Besides groups such as Perpetum (eight artists) and the Szechuan New Wave led by Feng Zheng-Jie, there are the crème de la crème from art institutions such as China National Academy of Painting, the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, and the Shaanxi Artists Association led by the Grand Master Prof Wang Xi-Jing. Also included are the works of Hong Kong’s Lingnan master Liu Meng Kuan.

O. Don Peris’ Portrait of My Wife In Her Wedding Dress (1933), National Visual Arts Gallery Malaysia. Peris was a pioneer Malaysian artist, who arrived in British Malaya as an immigrant from Sri Lanka in 1920.

The biggest drawcard, as always since 2009 marking the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China, will be the extraordinarily gifted Miao Xiaochun, with his innovative digital grand-narratives often referencing great European cultural canons, with this year’s offering called Limitless.

For a selection of great Chinese brushworks, few could equal the great “hong”, Chit Fung Art of Hong Kong which has lined up works by Wang Xi-Jing, Pang Gong-Kai, Li Xiao-Ke and Jia Yu-Fu, and Taiwan’s William Art Salon apart from a host of Singapore-based galleries known for their international cosmopolitan buffet.

Without funding or other strategic support and with the local galleries understandably sceptical then, the AEM banked on an artist-run booth in the first edition, but eventually opted for bona-fide galleries with own physical spaces and even some vetting.

Today, 18 leading local galleries who are the movers and shakers in art are solidly behind AEM. The statistics speak for itself: The AEM has attracted a total of 370 participating artists in 60 galleries from 26 countries.

Among the highlights are a specially curated exhibition of contemporary art by Core Design Gallery, the Henry Butcher Art Auction booth on its upcoming (Sept 22) auction and a November auction, and the MAD’s (Museum of Art and Design) showcase of the great Singapore pioneer Chen Wen-Xi (1906-1991).

Following the success last year, the ATR Gallery of Spain, an AEM stalwart since 2007, will have three rare maquettes by Joan Miro (1893-1983), winner (Graphic Art) in the 1954 Venice Biennale, done in his Son Boter studio-estate in Mallorca, Spain. There will also be works of Picasso (1881-1973) and the gifted young sculptor Jesus Curia.

To offer glimpses of a wider spectrum of art, the AEM has pioneered the Embassy’s Row, with a record 10 pavilions this year dedicated to Belgium (Joelle de Lame), Brazil (Andres Mendes and Juan Parada), Colombia (Yolanda Velasquez), Cuba (Enrique Wong), Ecuador (Jorge Porras), Iran (Hojat Ranjibar), Italy (Luca Idili), Kazakhstan, The Philippines (the indigenous group called Free Exponents of the Arts and Culture), and Switzerland (Nicholas Imhof).

The AEM had also innovated the Special Tribute Pavilion for Living Legend Artists which previously honoured Datuk Chuah Thean Teng (1912-2008), Chung Chen Sun, Li Chi Mao, Jang Soon-Up and Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal.

Also participating are artists from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Britain, India, South Korea, France, Russia, Myanmar, Hungary and Japan.

Increased awareness and appreciation of art can be seen in the higher visitorships every year, something unheard of a decade ago, and this may be due to the fact that entrance to the AEM is free – one of the very few, if not arguably the only one in the world.

Indeed, it’s probably its brand of friendly/family-orientated art-tertainment, that sets it apart even from the so-called “big boys” of the art world. It is just what Sim has envisioned – an art marketplace for appreciation and commerce, networking and camaraderie.

The AEM is sponsored by Secret Recipe and Wang Xi-Jing, and supported by the Tourism and Culture Ministry and the National Visual Arts Gallery. It is under the patronage of the Raja Muda and the Raja Puan Muda of Perlis.

Art Expo Malaysia 2013 will be held at the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, from Sept 19-21: 10.30am to 7.30pm; Sept 22: 10.30am to 6pm. Admission is free. Free shuttle buses at specified times are available to and fro KL Sentral and Matrade. For details, call (03) 7728 3677.

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Growing in numbers


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