AUCTION SOUTH EAST ASIAN ART 2008
Sotheby’s autumn sales in Hong Kong were grim apart from the South East Asian sale which provided some much needed relief. The success of the sale prompted an ebullient quip from Sotheby’s entertaining auctioneer Chin Yeow : “Is there a financial meltdown out there because I am not feeling it. The banks should ask our bidders if they need money!”
The sale included Malaysian, Filipino, Singaporean and Vietnamese art but was dominated by Indonesian works. Bidding was thin for Vietnamese lots and these attracted interest mainly from Paris. In contrast the Filipino and in particular the Indonesian lots attracted fierce bidding wars from bidders on all continents.
The works which attracted most interest included those by I Nyoman Masriadi, Agus Suwage, Rudy Mantofani and FX Harsano.
Two Indonesian markets: modern/colonial and contemporary/popular
Information about Indonesian art is notoriously difficult to come by. Helen Spanjaard, a Dutch art academic specialising in Indonesian art (one of only two in the world who speak English she says), explains that there are two distinct markets for Indonesian works – the colonial/Dutch influenced body of works eg Affandi and the new generation mostly born in the seventies.
“There is established buying support for the colonial works mostly from Chinese Indonesian collectors who compete with one another to drive up prices”. There is a second much more international market for the seventies generation artists. Dr Spanjaard notes that those works which are particularly popular are reminiscent of Chinese pop art or refer to popular cultural influences such as cartoons, superheros, flat stylisation, fantasy.
This was certainly borne out in the sale. Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi’s The Man From Bantul (The Final Round), 2000, lot 838, an impressive triptych of a fight painted in a flat stylised manner sold for HK$7,820,000 (US$1,000,725) after lively bidding, five times its high estimate of HK$1-1.5 million.
A number of other works by Masriadi fetched impressive prices including Petualanganku Berakhir Setelah Ketemu Ibumu (My Adventure Ended After I Met Your Mother), which sold for HK$2,900,000 (US$371,113) (lot 895, est. HK$250/350,000), and Too Small, which achieved HK$1,820,000 (US$232,905) (lot 808, est. HK$250/350,000), both bringing many times their high estimates. These works featured flat images with cartoon-style poses and speech bubbles.
Sotheby’s again set a record for the work of Rudi Mantofani (b. 1973) following the record price achieved
in its series of spring 2008 sales last season. Pohon-Pohon Langit (Sky Trees) sold for HK$3,020,000
(US$386,469), bringing almost eight times its high estimate (lot 868, est. HK$280,000 – $380,000). Mantofani is known for his surreal fantasy landscapes in which for example trees are clouds and shadows are holes.
Artist records were also broken for Dipo Andy and Jumaldi Alfi. More abstract contemporary works and by for example Yunizar, Putu Satawijaya and the moderns also attracted interest but to a lesser extent.
Filipino artists who did well in this sale included Geraldine Javier, Ronald Ventura, Annie Cabigting, Yasmin Sison and Lirio Salvador.
Why is South East Asian art so popular now?
Some commentators note that there is a structural issue which is affecting the art market. Today’s buyers are more speculative than at any time in the history of art buying and that the interest in South East Asian works is coming from former buyers of Chinese art who are looking for the next hot trend. Others note that the sale was a success because prices of South East Asian art are relatively cheap compared with other markets.
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