KUALA LUMPUR: To have big companies buy expensive artworks by famous artists is not something new.
In fact, in more developed countries, big companies are expected to do so as a way of supporting the arts and presenting a cultured image.
However, Malaysia Airlines’ purchase of three paintings worth RM1.55mil became a hot topic in the Dewan Negara on Tuesday and the spotlight is now on the artists concerned, the world famous Fernando Botero and Sophia Vari.
Colombian-born Botero, 73, has impressed many with his detailed portraits and sculptures of puffed-up figures – a skill he learnt as a youth while studying the voluminous styles of the Florentine painters Giotto and Massachio in Florence, Italy.
Once considered old-fashioned, Botero’s paintings may have sold for just US$20 (RM76) a piece at the marketplace in the 1950s but just last month, Sotheby's in New York sold his painting The Musicians for US$1.53mil (RM5.82mil).
Greek sculptor and painter Vari, 65, who is Botero’s wife, trained in the classical style at the Fine Arts School in Paris but achieved fame from works done in a more expressive style.
In what was regarded as a feat for the region’s arts scene, Botero and Vari exhibited their works in Singapore and Malaysia, respectively, from December last year to February this year.
According to Valentine Willie, co-founder of Valentine Willie Special Projects which is the sole agent for the artists in South-East Asia and Rumah Seni Nusantara Sdn Bhd which was set up to organise Vari’s exhibition, this would not have been possible without MAS which was the main sponsor.
Willie explained that as a main sponsor, it was normal for MAS to buy the three works from the exhibitions.
“It was a straightforward matter and since they were the main sponsor, we gave them a discount on the works’ market value.
“Other sponsors in Malaysia and Singapore also bought works from the exhibition.
“As for whether it was valid for MAS to have spent that amount to buy the works, that is not for me to say,” he added.
MAS bought Botero’s Still Life With Violin and Still Life With Lobster and Vari’s Coeur de L’Impenetrable at RM1.14mil, RM342,000 and RM75,000 respectively.
As to rumours that Still Life With Violin is not officially listed online as one of Botero’s artworks and is therefore a fake, Willie explained that the painting would not have been listed because it was created specifically for the Singapore exhibition.
Could MAS have settled for prints of these works that are sold much cheaper online?
“You don’t sponsor an exhibition and buy the poster, do you?” quipped Willie.
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