Treasure trove of art gems for public access

A large oil on canvas landscape by Indonesian artist Sudjono Abdullah titled ‘Harvest’.

WITH the Penang State Art Gallery (PSAG) open again following the conditional movement control order, art lovers have an opportunity to gaze upon some rare masterpieces.

Its third floor space in Dewan Sri Pinang is currently exhibiting some 330 artworks which Datuk Dr Tan Chee Khuan recently donated to its permanent collection.

Of those, 105 are by pioneers of Malaysian art such as Abdullah Ariff, Datuk Chuah Thean Teng, Kuo Ju Ping, Khaw Sia, Lee Cheng Yong, Datuk Mohd Hoessein Enas, Datuk Tay Hooi Keat and Yong Mun Sen.

Such highly valued works would typically be in private collections and less accessible to the wider public, which makes this a chance not to be missed.

Notable pieces include a pair of ink and colour paintings — Kuo’s undated ‘Tiger’ and Yong’s ‘Orchids’ from 1920 — which Dr Tan acquired around 30 years ago.

“Kuo is better known for his oils and watercolours, and this is believed to be his only Chinese-styled painting extant. Chinese ink works by Yong are also very rare, ” the art philanthropist pointed out.

He made sure to include such museum-quality pieces among his endowment as he realised that pioneering and famous local artists were under-represented in the PSAG’s permanent collection.

Dr Tan currently serves as PSAG’s board chairman, but has been a member of the committee in various capacities since 1992.

“I started donating important works to help build up PSAG’s collection as part of my social responsibility. With the latest batch, the total number of pioneer artists’ works stands at 128.

“This is the most for any museum or state gallery in Malaysia, ” said the longtime art collector, who reckons having bought and sold some 2,000 pieces over the years.

He became a collector in 1981 after starting a private psychiatric practice in Penang. He had always loved art and started buying once he was able to afford it.

“I invest heavily on pioneer artists who are mostly from Penang. Many of them were unknown to the art public back then, so I got them cheaply. After I promoted their pioneering work and

contributions to the local art scene, prices went up, ” he revealed. Also on display are two water-

colours by Abdullah Ariff — ‘Tanjung Bungah Village’ from 1954 and the undated ‘Limestone Hills’.

“Prior to this, the gallery did not have any of Abdullah Ariff’s works. They have risen steeply in value in recent years. I donated two as the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur also has two, ” Dr Tan said.

From Datuk Mohd Hoessein Enas is a limited edition 1993 print titled ‘K.D. Sri Selangor at St John’s Island, 1981’, signed by both the artist and commandant of the navy ship.

Dr Tan also donated a rare sketch titled ‘Leaving Penang’, done by Englishman George Lewis back in 1860. He bought it in London by chance when browsing an art shop specialising in old paintings.

He shared, “My aim is to give local art lovers the chance to see a wider range of paintings that they may not have seen before.

“For example, Khaw Sia is well-known for his orchids but he also painted portraits, still life and different series of landscapes, some with lines and shading.”

Not content with just owning such works, Dr Tan also wanted to know more about the artists who made them. Finding it hard to acquire information, he starting writing his own books.

“I wanted to provide all the information possible for myself and the art public. It was also to discredit some unfair criticism from certain parties who didn’t like what I was doing as I didn’t have an art degree, ” he pointed out.

The donation also includes works from other established names such as Amron Omar, Chang Fee Ming, Choo Beng Teong, Eric Peris, Fauzan Omar and Jalaini Abu Bakar.

There is also a section by foreign painters such as Roland Strasser, Rudolf Bonnet, Dr David Kwo, Abdullah Suriosubroto, Sudjono Abdullah, Prudencio Lamarrosa, Jeff Dixon and Edgar Doctor.

Dr Tan added, “Art has the ability to make people happy.

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it’s all the more reason to give people an avenue to enjoy something beautiful and nourish the mind.”

The exhibition’s opening on Nov 8 saw the unveiling of an accompanying 210-page monograph documenting all the donated pieces.

The show was originally slated to run from Nov 2 to 30 but was postponed due to the CMCO in Penang. It has now been extended to Dec 31 instead.

Viewing hours are 9am to 5pm Saturday to Thursday. It is closed on Friday and public holidays. Admission is free. All standard operating procedures are in effect.

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