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in Bangsar South, where at least 18 pieces have appeared in its previous auctions, and 13 out of 84 offered lots were withdrawn.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)