The Art Trio exhibition brings to light gems from three prominent collectors.
A NEW art space. Three major pioneering art collectors. Two floors of art. With the collectors coming from the country’s finance circles, the recent Art Trio exhibition launch at Curate@SENI art space in Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur brought to light an array of gems from these distinguished private collections.
For the first time, art patrons Tun Daim Zainuddin, 76, Tan Sri Azman Hashim, 75, and Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin, 79, have come together to exhibit an anthology of Malaysian and South-East Asian artworks under one roof. Thirty three works (11 from each collector) made the Art Trio exhibition list, which marked a high profile start for Henry Butcher Auctioneers’ Curate@SENI art space. There was a high degree of public interest at the launch, taking into account the large number of historical pieces on parade.
For art enthusiasts, this was exciting since it’s unlikely most people will get invited to view the vaults or private homes of these banking high-rollers. Significantly, these were collections amassed through the decades and some of the museum-quality works were lip-smacking gems by the great Modernist masters from South-East Asian art.
Daim, a former Finance Minister, and Kamarul had helmed Rakyat First Merchant Bank and Bank Bumiputra respectively, while Azman heads the AmBank Group conglomerate. Kamarul and Azman also headed the National Art Gallery’s (NAG) Board of Trustees in 1976-85 and 1985-1991 respectively.
Based on factors such as rarity, provenance, time and significance of the works, and sheer personal bias, I managed to pick a personal Top 10.
The pieces I narrowed down come from the early 1950s right up to 1980. Unwittingly obvious is the strong narrative of the Asian woman mystique or ideal. Whether docile, demure, submissive, sensual, vulnerable or strong, the feminine form and spirit made an impression at the Art Trio exhibition.
1 Belgian-born, Bali-based artist Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres’s sun-dappled tapestry of joyful and quiet rhythms of lithe-bodied Balinese damsels still holds great interest. Often in the cast is his muse and later wife, Ni Polok, as seen by the small-format 44cm x 54cm Women By The Beach.
2 For an erotic splash by the river or waterfall, Basoeki Abdullah is an artiste to set the pulse racing. But at the Art Trio exhibition, stands a mysterious porcelain beauty, demure and elegant in a blue cheongsam and with a sexy mole just above her upper-lip, with a diamond-studded emerald pendant to boot. Basoeki’s The Emerald Pendant piece reflects a mood of unease, as seen by the woman’s awkward clasp of her hands.
3 More towards the Mother Earth goddess model is Fernando Cueto Amorsolo’s Bathing By The Stream (1957), with two round-faced, brown-skinned nubile women without the costumes identifiable of Pinoy heritage, in a symbolic cleansing ritual. For this artist, women loom large over the wide expanses of pastoral landscapes, often with a brilliant sunlight beating down.
4 Hendra Gunawan (1918-1983), founding activist artist of Persagi (Association of Indonesian Painters) and Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (Lekra), is known for his dominant stylised Javanese women (often a mother). They come voluptuous and big-bosomed and with a lansing (curvaceous) figure, graceful puppet-like arms, brightly coloured clothes and web feet with widely-spaced toes. Here, Woman And Child At The Beach (1980) has all the hallmarks of his figurative stock.
5 Georgette Chen Liying (Zhejiang, China, 1906 – Singapore, 1993) is the most cosmopolitan of the Singapore pioneers, having studied art in Shanghai, Paris and New York. Her Malay Woman is clad in a floral blouse with plaited gathers in the centre and a scarf showing the front part of her well-coiffured hair, exuding kampung simplicity. This work was done between 1950-53 when she taught at a high school in Penang, before her second marriage to Dr Ho Yung Chi ended, and she joined the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art in Singapore until her retirement in 1981. She made regular painting excursions back to Malaysia with fellow artists and her students.
6 Khalil Ibrahim’s Two Nude Figures of nudes from his London days in the 1960s (St Martin’s School of Art, 1960-64) glimpses the tight anatomy of musculatures in his fishermen figures and later batiks, besides the foray into abstracts with interlocking figures. Here, the woman, who may be Caucasian, is lying in waiting on the floor.
7 Zulkifli Dahalan (1952-1977) made a huge impact in a short career with his red bare-forked figures as in his masterpiece, Separate Realities. This 1974 work from his major Di Dalam Ruang Rumah Series is the only other known existing piece – the other, in not-so-good condition, is in the collection of the late Rahime Harun, a former NAG director.
8 Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin got to know the great Affandi (1907-1990) when a friend asked him to pick the artist up at the Subang airport. It was on his third visit that he decided on the spur of the moment to paint Kamarul’s portrait because Kamarul’s then beard and personality jelled with his trademark wispy strokes. That was in 1971.
9 Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s (aka Ib) The Guitar Player (1960, oil on canvas), with the unusual Cubism idioms, was done when studying at the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting in London. Back then, he was at a creative overdrive with 22 oil paintings inspired by a disused prototype printing press and Sit Down Demonstration at Trafalgar on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Kamarul was Ib’s neighbour in London, where he was reading Law at Lincoln’s Inn (1955-1961).
10 The last slot is a toss up between Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s Pulse I (1978) and Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal’s Timang (1964), probably influenced by Hans Hofmann in his further studies in Chicago. But Ib has the edge with his signature fingerprint-mosaic parallel lines, which he developed in 1975 when Sim, whom he married a year later, gave him a set of graphic pens. Ib holds the Malaysian painting record when his Red, Orange and Core (1984) sold for RM797,500 at the Henry Butcher auction (May 2012).
For years, wealthy patrons and prominent collectors have largely been propping up the art scene here. They have amassed collections with significant historical worth and mention.
As a non-selling show, the Art Trio exhibition is a timely initiative by the Curate@Seni art space. These public shows will be held twice a year. It’s important for these major collectors to expose and (re)introduce the important works that they own, to aid research and scholarship as well as for greater public appreciation.
Such a spirit in recent years has resulted in eye-openers from the private collections of Zain Azahari, Sin Min/Too Hing Yeap, 30 ArtFriends, Yang Terutama (former ambassadors), Aliya & Farouk Khan, Rahime Harun and Datuk Dr Tan Chee Khuan.
To view the complete collection, go to the Art Trio exhibition. Curated by Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers director Sim Po-Lenn, the exhibition ends on March 31. Curate@SENI is at LG1-1, SENI Mont Kiara, 2a Changkat Duta Kiara, Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. For enquiries, 016-298 0852 or 016-273 3628. More info: www.curate.com.my.