With a balance of commerce and contemporary cool, Art Expo Malaysia 2013 exceeded expectations.
WOULD you plonk RM200,000 on a small pumpkin? It’s no ordinary pumpkin, actually. It’s a work from famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the outrageous Grandma of Pop Art. This work featured at Japan’s Yod Kogure booth (alongside a Damien Hirst – his Skulls work) at the recent Art Expo Malaysia 2013 at Matrade Exhibition & Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur (Sept 19-22).
By far, it was the most successful edition of Art Expo Malaysia, especially in terms of sales.
At 84, the frail but flamboyant Yayoi is said not to be able to paint any longer, although Singapore’s Cultural Medallion artist Lim Tze Peng (at artist-gallerist Terence Teo’s Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery), who is 90, still wields a very mean brush. But at the Art Basel Hong Kong last May, I met a Yayoi “Cosplay” wannabe (with a toyboy in tow) who looked like her, dressed like her but was not her, but who claimed to be a close friend of Yayoi and said that Yayoi could still paint.
While these Silent-Generation (those born between the 1930s and 1940s) art treasures are revered with a price to match, the seventh edition of Art Expo Malaysia (AEM) will be remembered for the Big “C” – as in “Contemporary.” Yes, while the last two years have seen a perceptible transition, the money in 2013 was on the Big “C.”
AEM project co-director Sim Po-Lenn revealed: “This year’s AEM registered a significant uptick in sales from both the local and foreign galleries, and a few have confirmed returning next year, and have asked for a bigger booth!”
That the leading local galleries were taking part in full force this time after a bout of folding-arms hesitancy, was a vindication of the AEM, which essentially is organised for them – to help them showcase Malaysian art and those from other countries, on a one-global platform. They must have been pleased with the overall robust sales record.
After all, the Singapore galleries – which are far more international and cosmopolitan – have been clued in about this AEM event years ago, and they are part of the AEM’s growth and success stories and their own success.
The AEM has inadvertently branded itself as an “Art Fair With A Face, And A Heart” and much of its success is based on a cultivated culture of goodwill (after-hours fraternising) and “partnership”, in that the organisers also tried to help make it worth the while of the paying exhibitors.
But on the second day of the AEM, a seismic shock hit the Henry Butcher Art Auction booth, when it announced that the sole single consignor of The Modernist auction had controversially and unprecedentedly withdrawn from the much-awaited Sept 22 auction.
It is now concentrating on its main Nov 3 auction. Two other auctioneers, KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS) and Masterpiece, had also taken up booths at the AEM to advertise their auctions on Sept 21 and Oct 13 respectively.
Interest was still there on the old and deceased such as Yayoi, Chen Yi-Fei, M.F. Husain, Li Chi Mao but the Big C was calling the shots. The accent was on “Art In The Here and Now”, with the bewildering array of Hyper-Realism; pseudo-Pop in a playful whimsical way; space-gobblers/transgressors; caricature Fantasy-Gothic and other soul-excoriating works. But they all shared one thing in common: BIG!
The bold double-header from Malaysia’s Core Design Gallery, which featured Zulkifli Yusoff and Hamir Soib, made heads turn at the exhibition billed under the “Great Malaysian Contemporary Art” banner. With a stellar cast that also had Multhalib Musa, Eng Hwe Chu, Shoosie Sulaiman and Husin Hourmain, it was really what the works were about that counted, and impressed most!
Other leading local galleries such as G13, Artemis, Segaris, Pelita Hati, NN Gallery and RA Fine Arts had a fine parade of their own stable of artists, revealing a trend towards exclusivity to certain artists. This is only for the better, but not so workable on the ground, in the open cat-scratch-cat business level. Others such as Yahong Art Gallery and EQ Art focused on one artist, with Yahong’s Chuah Seow Keng being the batik-art heir of the great House of Teng (world-acknowledged batik-art founder Datuk Chuah Thean Teng) who was taking part alone for the fifth year; and EQ being the collagist Eric Quah. Another, Malaysian-born Wenchi Lucas, who had a booth, is a naturalised Briton now.
Benny Oentoro’s ArtXchange Gallery (Indonesia) has been a huge draw since 2011, and among its star performers this year were Heri Dono, Agung Mangu Putra, Jange Rae (Evi Muheriyawan), Masagoeng and Suwandi Waeng.
The more popular artists were Gustavo Charif (Fuman Art, France/KL), the Minimalist Masayuki Tsubota (H-Art Beat, Japan), Rudi Mardijanto and I Bagus Purwa (H Gallery, Indonesia), Val (Redsea Gallery, Singapore), Kim Eun-Ok (Zoom Gallery, South Korea), Edo Pillo and Kim MyingYoung (Art Front Gallery, Singapore).
Not everything was a BUY-BUY frenzy. It had become like an annual James Bond/007 treat with the Miao Xiao-Chun 3D animatrix – a truly stupendous animation theatre of pure genius. This year’s offering was Limitless. It was part of the AEM’s expanding China Pavilion – apart from the individual booths of Chinoiserie from Chit Fung Art (Li Xiaoke, Jia YouFu, Wang XiJing, PanGongkai, Li DingCheng); William Art Salon, where its Duxi had finally come home after several years of promotion, and the MAD Museum of Art and Design’s tribute to Chen Wen-Hsi (1906-1991).
Elsewhere, Blue Dots Art had China’s rising star 31-year-old sculptor Chen Jin Qing, with his cutesy sculptures based on the face of his young son – a Chinese version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Then, there was also Zi Peng (Y2 Arts) with his jade-centred works – with one piece mocking Damien Hirst’s shark (The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living).
Apart from the special booths for Wang Xi Jing, there was also the Li Chi Mao Museum. Others in the China Pavilion were Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, China National Academy of Painting, Shaanxi Artists Association, Szechuan New Wave, 6th Ring International Art Zone (Beijing), Perpetuum, and a tribute to Hong Kong’s Liu Meng Kuan.
Spain’s ATR Gallery, which has been with the AEM since the inaugural expo in 2007, has painstakingly promoted Jesus Curia to the huge success he is now.
The best statement of the man’s pedigree was his half bust sculpture with his trademark androgynous figure (with wings spread out). From the success of a special series of prints by the great Joan Miro (1893-1983) and prints by Pablo Picasso, ATR had gone more ambitious by bringing in three rare Miro marquettes done at the Mallorca studio. Making his debut was another established Spanish artist-sculptor Gines Serran Pagan, whose works are increasingly inspired by the cultures of the Asia-Pacific.
The Embassy Zone – dedicated to countries whose artists were rarely seen in these parts – also proved popular. Booths from Brazil, Colombia, Cuba (Enrique Wong Dias), Ecuador, Iran, Kazakhstan and Italy were among the more visited destinations from the 10 participating countries.