Political correctness enemy of good art says Valentine Willie – BFM podcast

SOUTHEAST ASIAN CONTEMPORARY ART COLLECTING ART

In a June 2010 podcasted interview with Malaysian business station BFM, Valentine Willie, founder of Southeast Asian-based gallery Valentine Willie Fine Art, Willie explains how artworks are priced, why international reputations aren’t always necessary for artists and why he would sack the staff of The National Art Gallery of Malaysia.

WONG Hoy Cheong, In search of faraway places (from 'Migrants' series), 1996, charcoal, photocopy transfer and collage on paper scroll, three panels: 204.5 x 151cm (each); 204.5 x 453cm (overall). Image from visualarts.qld.gov.au.

WONG Hoy Cheong, In search of faraway places (from 'Migrants' series), 1996, charcoal, photocopy transfer and collage on paper scroll, three panels: 204.5 x 151cm (each); 204.5 x 453cm (overall). Image from visualarts.qld.gov.au.

Click below to listen to the interview (26m:34s), or listen to it on BFM.



We’ve selected a few choice quotes to give you an idea of why we think this interview is an oldie but a goodie…

Valentine Willie on Southeast Asian contemporary art:

You know, compared to prices in China, Southeast Asia’s relatively cheap and it’s new. … With Southeast Asia there’s ten little countries that have a very different take on things and that makes for an interesting culture to look at and to collect.

Gallery view, Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show (Imcas), 2009, artwork from Farouk Khan collection. Image from plushasia.com.

Gallery view, Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show (Imcas), 2009, artwork from Farouk Khan collection. Image from plushasia.com.

Valentine Willie on pricing art:

There is no formula [for pricing a piece of art]. Size is one factor, the artist’s reputation is another factor, how long [the artist has] been in the business is a factor, many things.


[How much the artist’s last piece of art sold for is] a kind of benchmark. You work around that figure. It doesn’t have to match that.


Yes, it’s quite … common practice [for artists to raise their price by ten to fifteen percent every year] but also healthier. In the last three [or] four years, before the recession, prices were going up by leaps and bounds, by a thousand percent. That was the art boom and [it was] not healthy, not sustainable.

Firstly you must dispel this idea that price has anything to do with quality. Price is really a function of the market itself, supply and demand, who is in vogue now, who is popular now. We, like every other kind of lifestyle industry, are susceptible to trends and hype as much as the next person. So, firstly, you need to dispel that because [an artwork has] a lower price, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worse. By the same token, it works the other way.

Chong Siew Ying, 'Trace', 2002, oil on vellum, 60 x 400 cm. Image from vwfa.net.

Chong Siew Ying, 'Trace', 2002, oil on vellum, 60 x 400 cm. Image from vwfa.net.

Valentine Willie on international reputation:

There’s this terrible terrible standard that we hold not only artists to, that they must make it big overseas, as if that is the only validation. What about domestic [recognition]? I mean, [some Malaysian artists] are hugely successful here and that’s plenty enough for most artists. They don’t need to be showing in MoMA and Tate to validate what they do and we also shouldn’t use that as a kind of necessary benchmark.

I’m not discouraging artists from going [overseas]. In fact, I try to encourage them to show overseas to expand their audience. What we shouldn’t do is make that the be all and end all of a career. Some artists are very happy just selling and showing in Malaysia and for very good reason because they deal with Malaysia, they deal with a particular audience.

Valentine Willie on Malaysian art institutions:

I haven’t been [to The National Art Gallery of Malaysia] … for almost a year, mainly because there isn’t anything there that I want to go and see. They haven’t really made the effort to engage with the public or do something interesting. It’s a shame because they do have a collection that deserves to be seen. I’d sack the lot of them and get new people to run it.

There is a lot of [figurative work] in The National Art Gallery but I think in the next few years they’re not going to surface… because it ‘provokes’, I suppose, which is really the function of art. It should provoke,… otherwise why bother. But then, you know, [it’s a] government institution.

Rajinder Singh, 'Muse I, 2007, mixed media on canvas, 74"x 65", in the collection of Aliya and Farouk Khan. Image from sightoracle.blogspot.com.

Rajinder Singh, 'Muse I, 2007, mixed media on canvas, 74"x 65", in the collection of Aliya and Farouk Khan. Image from sightoracle.blogspot.com.

Valentine Willie on what to look for in an artwork:

Firstly, obviously with any artist you look for the skill: Can they paint? Do they understand colour? Can they draw a straight line? And apart from that, you look at… what are the things they’re painting? Why are they painting what they paint? Is it an interesting question? Is there something I should re-look at?

KN/HH

Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, Malaysian artists, gallerists/dealers

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