28 November 2014

Phenomena @ Chin Thye Hin 振泰兴一号店

Visiting the Kepong Baru wet market on a weekend morning is a phenomenal event – navigate through crowd of cars and people, taste mango slices offered by the fruit seller, step on melted ice emitting a fishy smell, feel the texture of anchovies and potatoes, shout orders to the char kuay teow hawker, etc. One pastel green metal door along the street is quaint but not out of place, opening up to a flight of stairs strewn with crushed Styrofoam containers. Kang Mei Yi’s percipient intervention is well-placed to remind visitors, especially one whom just arrived from the marketplace, of one’s improvident attitude towards the disposable object. A supplementary exhibit by Gan Kwang Ze hangs from the joist, his bulbous knots made of black plastic bags, suspending the unnecessary aesthetic judgement cast upon a functional item. 

Installation views

“Phenomena” is the second group show organised this year by collective Ongoing Projects, offering a platform for young artists to exhibit and gain credibility. A non-conventional gallery fits the experimental nature and a youthful uncertainty that pervades the works, the diminished expectations setting the scene for an enjoyable viewing in the sunlit space. Kwang Ze’s ‘The Nest’ was last seen in a final year students’ exhibition, which include paintings by Grace Yeo Ning and Justin Low Yuan Koon also featured here. Bold outlines hamper the former’s presentation; the latter’s muted surrealism recalls the works of Gan Tee Sheng, but with better spacing between subjects. Positioning contributes significantly to the photograph’s impact in Ho Chee Jen’s series of “Roots or Branches”, which first and fifth panoramas offer a more salient perspective than the rest.

Ho Chee Jen - Roots or Branches V (2013)

The quarter-life crisis sentiment from “Knot” persists here, as Krystie Ng subjects Disney characters to modern-day scenarios, dispelling unrealistic fairy tale expectations in the process. Broken mirrors and wall writings resort to visual form as expressive technique, although it is amusing how Lee Sin Yee’s repeated jottings recall both Bart Simpson and Tracey Emin at the same time. Kepong native Chong Yi Lin builds a kaleidoscope with pictures captured at the pasar outside, projecting condensed yet vivid images in a delightful cycle. Constructing memories are a form of escapism necessary in the age of simulacra. As a twenty-something confronting harsh realities, however, retreating to the hustle and bustle of the wet market, may be the best remedy after all.

Digital collages from Chong Yi Lin - Kalos . Eidos . Skopeô (2014)

18 November 2014

Unicolour Or Black | Katak Rasa YES, is Simple Pie

Black & white marks local art during this year end, led by Minstrel Kuik's prize-winning drawing of ladies performing the Viennese Waltz on '16 Sept 1963'. The literally negative approach is seen also in Sabihis Pandi's diptych, among other attractive works like Chiang Lup Hong's 'Imaginary Landscape 1', and Azam Aris' caricatured crowd. Representational subjects form a contrast with the works hung on the organiser's walls - one awe-inspiring Ismail Zain digital collage, and a number of panoramic panels by Chin Kong Yee. Current and former prize winners show at "Catalysis", the Dasein graduates group's best work a powerful white triptych by Yeoh Choo Kuan. Many exhibits present figurative posturing, a sign of complacency that the college faculty should heed, in this current climate where pandering to collectors signifies the death of artistic creativity.

Sabihis Pandi - Ops Tersilap, Silap Mata (2014) [picture taken from Sabihis MD Pandi's Facebook page]

Research lecturer Pok Chong Boon creates a maze from newspaper strips at Wolo Hotel, as one with no regard of state-controlled media, strides straight through the imaginary veil to find dark reflections of prime ministers. More interesting is one white hanging jacket, and a flip through Andrew's PhD dissertation titled The Mind of the Everyday in Contemporary Fine Art and Zen Buddhist Practice. Another Dasein teacher Zac Lee paints fighting animals in his signature fluid style, but the monochromatic palette dampens the intended sardonicism, and the resulting images fail to impress. Downstairs, Shalini Ganendra displays selling works from a collector. A deliciously ironic painting of a cake by Shia Yih Yiing is complemented with a hanging nursery rhyme, while Yau Bee Ling's small depictions of family members are simple but heartfelt.

Yau Bee Ling's work at Shalini Ganendra Fine Art

Frog-inspired pictures provide more visual stimulation at Galeri Titikmerah, where Azeem Idzham supplements poetic prose beside his paintings to great effect. Black & white imbues an arcane quality into 'Pentas', and the smaller works fascinate with its relatively sparse but clearly drawn elements. Hollywood and Jack Kerouac references in Norberto Roldan's solo exhibition at Taksu prove dull, the monochromatic diptychs barely invoking nostalgia as compared to his wonderful assemblages also on display. Large self-portraits upstairs by Hisyamuddin Abdullah call into question, the role of this established gallery whose stable of young artists have been churning out increasingly big works, whilst exhibiting minimal artistic progress.

Azeem Idzham - Kotak Mati - Dongengan (2014)

One such artist is Fadilah Karim, who attempts to break the mould by blurring a lady's portrait in her triptych shown in "Suarasa 3". This approach takes after the isolated figures in Gan Tee Sheng's recent works, one artist also associated with Taksu. The UiTM graduates group show at Segaris Art Centre sees one clever construct representing the distracted urbanite. Technological preoccupations aside, Tengku Sabri Tengku Ibrahim's monotonous wooden sculptures, and Shahariah Roshdi's intricate installations, prove refreshing and modestly-scaled. Perhaps, one's visual contrast knob is turned to its maximum differential, in light of the colourful farce that is happening now at the National Visual Arts Gallery. High street fashion is paraded in KL museums, as artists retreat overseas to exhibit monochromatic woodcut prints, and black & white photographic diptychs.

Pok Chong Boon - Labeling Tags Attached to Clothing (2003)

15 November 2014

Pulse: 2H 2014 Art Auctions

Traders goggle over inflated dollar values of underestimated Awang Damit Ahmad works, as market manipulation activities continue for Kuo Ju Ping and Tajuddin Ismail paintings. Early August saw KL Lifestyle Art Space staging its Georgetown Festival edition in Bangsar South, where at least 18 pieces have appeared in its previous auctions, and 13 out of 84 offered lots were withdrawn. Subsequent editions see suspiciously high prices hammered down, as its reputation continues to take a beating. A Zulkifli Yusoff sold six months ago now transacts at a 38% discount, while an Ahmad Shukri Mohamed offered between RM 29 – 35,000 at The Edge Auction sold for RM 19,040 on the 8th of November. Major pieces by Abdullah Ariff and Yeoh Jin Leng fail to sell, although the RM 29,120 paid for a 2003 Cheong Laitong painting denotes a bargain.

Khoo Sui Hoe - Call of the Wild (1966)

Estimation of artwork prices remain as imprecise as ever, where a “Hijau” series painting by Yusof Ghani was estimated at RM 16 – 32,000 by KL Lifestyle Art Space, yet a similarly sized painting from the “Ombak” series was estimated at RM 45 – 70,000 by Masterpiece Malaysia. Both works went for RM 50,000++. The latter auction house sold an incredible 199 artworks in its October sale, many of which are undated in the catalogue. Chia Yu Chian’s Van Gogh-like orchids and Cheng Haw Chien’s colourful landscape attracted serious buyers, although the dumping of four works by Mat Ali Mat Som reveal the ugly side of art as disposable asset.  Contrasting fortunes for two ‘Gibbons’ paintings by Chen Wen Hsi indicate an authenticity issue that plagues the name, as traders move on beyond ‘C’-surnamed Singaporeans to promote Lim Tze Peng as the next investment-grade artist.

Chia Yu Chian - Still Life: Orchids (1977)

For its Malaysia Day edition, Henry Butcher conducts a successful trial in offering luxury items beyond paintings. A five-figure sum seemed fair for an exquisitely carved 17th century keris, but steep for a set of early 20th century porcelain tableware. Back to peddling large paintings in November, works by Chong Siew Ying and Ahmad Fuad Osman were hammered down for double its high estimates, while younger artists Ilham Fadhli and Ali Nurazmal Yusoff failed to sell. The "museum-quality masterpiece" cover lot by Syed Ahmad Jamal only achieved its low estimate of RM 160,000 before buyer's premium, yet a small Ibrahim Hussein collage attracted competitive bidding and eventually settled at a "whopping" RM 50,400. Lee Cheng Yong continues to do well in Henry Butcher auctions, although one does expect Ahmad Zakii Anwar to command higher prices.

Ilham Fadhli - The Late Greats (Not Too Late, Not That Great) (2010)

With 116 lots sold for a total of RM 2.98 million, the auctioneer should consider hiring one to write more professional press releases; It is, however, hard to disagree with the “astounding RM 123,200” paid for a Yong Mun Sen oil painting. The "participation of registered bidders from 11 countries" touts the global demand for Malaysian art, although it is unclear how many local works are headed overseas. Superlatives gloss over facts - “…Hossein Enas performed exceptionally well with all three works on offer (…) exceeded their lower estimates”. The portraitist is among the modern artists under-performing this auction season, along with Huang Yao and Keng Seng Choo. Nanyang artists continue to be popular, but works on batik see a dip in interest. As the Awang Damit show winds down, the next potential auction star is already being snapped up - Fauzulyusri, anyone?

Ahmad Shukri Mohamed - Playground Series (2002)

02 November 2014

Henry Butcher Malaysian & SEA Auction Preview @ Curate

Henry Butcher celebrates its fifth year as Malaysia’s art auction pioneer by offering 125 works, including 14 pieces contributed by Indonesian partner One East Larasati. 13 of its first 33 lots feature a woman’s portrait, among pastoral scenes that occupy the majority of the holdings. Great composition is seen in Chuah Thean Teng’s ‘Feeding the Cat’ and Tew Nai Tong’s ‘Market’, while Fung Yow Chork’s panoramic ‘Pasar Tani’ projects amazingly vibrant colours. Expressionist tendencies are less apparent, apart from some abstract works leading to the star lot, the swirling ‘Berenang’ by Syed Ahmad Jamal. A 2008 Awang Damit Ahmad work sold for USD 77,364 at Sotheby’s one month ago, and his powerful ‘Essence of Culture Series’ should keep the crowd waiting for the last lot, although the ridiculously low estimates implicate an irresponsible auctioneer.

Tew Nai Tong - Market (1989)

A pen sketch of some goats by Cheong Soo Pieng is touted as “a fine drawing” and assigned a five-figure estimate. Other interesting trends to watch are the escalating prices of Chen Wen Hsi, and the declining prices of Huang Yao. Two figurative drawings by Khalil Ibrahim set the tone, for a collection with great monochromatic and dark-coloured works. Ilham Fadhli’s surreal landscape broods with distinct details, while Andy Dewantoro’s ‘Keep the Dream Alive #1’ is downright sinister. His monoprint figures done at STPI aside, it has been a struggle to appreciate Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s body of work. However, the sensual collar illustrated in ‘Agenda Larut Malam’, convinces myself that the artist’s hyper-realist rendering does reveal certain truth about a visual picture. 

Ahmad Zakii Anwar - Agenda Larut Malam (2012)