A Report on KL’s 2013 Monsoon Cycle of Art Auctions 2013 (Pt. 1 of 2)

Note: An attempt to write an auction summary report about art auctions in Malaysia, where such reports are not available. Written in mid-November 2013.

Unabated, Malaysian art auction fever fuelled Masterpiece’s South East Asian Modern sale on a Sunday afternoon at Sheraton Imperial, which realized RM 3,610,750 for the astounding 152 lots it sold. The total scored closer to the higher end of the RM 2.83-4.27 million pre-sale estimates as five works fetched over RM 100,000, and another five over RM 50,000. Only 8 out of 160 lots were bought in, as the firesale achieved an amazing 5 percent buy-in rate by lot, and 14 percent by value. The afternoon’s highlight belongs to Ibrahim Hussein’s “Val Bon” (1985), a busy picture featuring the artist’s signature sinuous lines, which drew a number of bids before expiring at RM 594,000 (est. RM 350-500,000). The work was just recently sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in May 2013 for HKD 870,000 (RM 358,941), signalling a remarkably quick turnover of a 50% return for the enterprising owner, even after subtracting the buyer’s premium.

3 stylistically different works by Indonesian master Lee Man Fong were offered and snapped up, nabbing the auction house a cool total of RM 239,800. Singaporean pioneers fared excellently, as Chen Wen Hsi’s “Gibbons” sold for double its highest estimates at RM 90,200. Two muted and melancholic works by Cheong Soo Pieng stole the show, “Fishing Village” (1974) selling for RM 95,700 (est. RM 18-26,000) and “Washing in the River” also quadrupling its estimates at RM 154,000 (est. RM 20-30,000). Despite brisk sales, the long afternoon also had its share of battlefield casualties, where Soo Pieng’s conventional Balinese scene (est. RM 80-150,000) and Latiff Mohidin’s abstract expressionist work from the “Voyage” series (est. RM 250-350,000) were bought in. Cover lot “Offering Preparation in Bali” by Khaw Sia easily broke the artist’s record at auction, going for RM 220,000 (est. RM 180-260,000), following onto the existing popularity of Nanyang-style works.

Khoo Sui Hoe – Around the Moon (1972), sold for RM 93,500 (est. RM 18-30,000) at Henry Butcher Malaysian & Southeast Asian Art Auction, Lot 17, 3 November 2013

Henry Butcher recovers from the unfortunate last-minute retraction of “The Modernist” September auction, to outperform its high pre-sale estimates at its Malaysian and Southeast Asian sale. Total proceeds came in at RM 4,268,500, with three works selling over RM 100,000, with a buy-in rate of 3 percent by lot and 4 percent by value. 19 lots belonged to Indonesian auction house Larasati, as local collectors clamour over the Southeast Asian works on offer. Despite the foreign flavour, Rome-based Malaysian artist H.H. Lim’s “Flying Image in Blue Project” (2011) sold for RM 121,000 (est. RM 40-60,000) in his auction debut. An Australian collector registered a high return for a well-preserved rotunda by Khoo Sui Hoe, which went for RM 93,500, tripling its high estimates of RM 30,000. A prime example on the quality front was Chang Fee Ming’s beautiful watercolour “Monsoon Has Gone” (1990) which sold for RM 209,000, the Balinese scene capturing the heart of a prominent collector willing to shell out double the amount of its RM 100,000 high estimates. A Choong Kam Kow oil painting (est. RM 50-70,000) was a significant buy-in, but that did not dampen the overall upbeat mood in another successful outing for the pioneer Malaysian auction house.

Despite only one-year old, KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS) has organised 6 art auctions to date, selling RM 1,859,660 of Malaysian modern and contemporary art in this November 2013 session. The tally fell right between the middle of its poorly estimated RM 1.16-2.32 million pre-sale figures, where all but two of the 76 lots offered found buyers for a top-class buy-in rate of 3 percent by lot and 4 percent by value. Thin in quality, high-priced acrylic paintings include Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s “Red Legong” (2000) which went for RM 137,500 (est. RM 50-110,000) and Ibrahim Hussein’s “Untitled” (1977) that sold for RM 300,800 (est. RM 160-400,000). A set of four scrolls by Zhao Shao’Ang last sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in November 2006 for HKD 384,000 (RM 158,429), where it was offered as 4 separate lots across two auctions by KLAS, which total sales summed up to RM 216,700 for the crafty owner.

Zhao Shao’Ang – Flowers and Birds (1978), sold for HKD 384,000 (RM 158,429) at Christie’s Fine Modern and Contemporary Chinese Paintings Auction, Lot 894, 27 November 2006