Asian Art Dominates at Malaysia Expo

Heri Dono's kinetic installation from the gilt-edged international collection of world elite collector Datuk Noor Azman Nurdin.

Francis Bacon's Figure At A Wash Basin (1977) etching and aquatint on paper (Spain's ATR Gallery).

Jeff Koons' porcelain Balloon Monkey (Blue) from Romantique Gallery.

Whimsical figurines by Kunihiko Nohara in Gallery UG in the Japanese Pavilion.

Bike Art by Kana Uchida in Gallery UG in the Japanese Pavilion.

The economic prognosis for art in South-East Asia may still be relatively soft, but the plethora of new mega international events certainly begs belief. That may be one reason existing outfits like Art Expo Malaysia Plus (AEM+), now in its 12th year as the longest-running uninterrupted art fair in South-East Asia, felt galvanised to up the ante in order to survive the uncompromising international-fairs musical chairs.

Held on October 12-14 (VIP Nite on October 11), AEM+12 ignited more engagement for an ostensibly edgier visual-intellectual propulsion beyond the semantics of lucre. Art fairs in Malaysia are still not a money-making enterprise though.

This year, fair director Sim Po Jinn retuned the operational formula to include new, more serious and embracing platforms such as the Art Talks, the Japan Pavilion, the Collectors Corner (Datuk Noor Azman Nurdin and Datuk Marcus Tan) and thematic focus/solos and delineated spaces in the Project Room and the SEa (Special Education Area of Curatorial) Project.

This was a banner year for Asia at AEM+, with reputable Asian galleries making up 83% of the 65 galleries from 22 countries.

As many as 36 exhibitors (41%) were from South-East Asia. Top Malaysian galleries, including Wei-Ling Gallery, were represented for the first time.

Touted as Malaysian art auction's potential first Million-Ringgit Painting.

Among the 23 newcomers representing 35% of the total were Trish Gallery (Myanmar), EStyle Art Gallery (Taiwan), Spence Gallery (Canada), DC Arte (Switzerland) and Space 1326 (South Korea).

If you were looking for Japan’s next big names, you could well have found them in the Japan Pavilion, under the umbrella of the Japan Association of Contemporary Art and showcasing some 40 artists from eight galleries. Contemporary icons such as Takeshi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and Yoshitomo Nara, besides the Gutai artists like Jiro Yoshihara and Kazuo Shiraga, had shone in past AEMs.

The “Scan Art” of Gallery Ishikawa’s Hiroki Yoshida, simulating a kind of digital wallet and identity-branding, combines art and technology in an uneasy cohabitation; while Kohei Yamada (Kinosho Kikaku) doubles as a Japanese bendot Rosenquist like Nara-like caricatures with stripes. As figurines go, the whimsical cotton-puff fauna of artist-sculptor Kunihiko Nohara (Gallery UG, which had featured since 2016) and the equally weird mock anthropological wooden sculptures of Akihiro Fujimoto (Gallery Ishikawa) were eye-catching, besides the delicate mythical objects of Yasuhiro Asai (Gallery Hanakagesho). Others who were interesting were Kana Uchida with Pop-anime bike and Yoshikazu Hiramatzu (Gallery UG), Takeshi Harada (Gallery Seek), Yuji Takahashi (Hakkendo Gallery). The other Japanese galleries were Gallery Suiha and Smart Ship Gallery.

The Big Four in Segaris Art Centre's booth featuring Zulkifli Yusof, Ramlan Abdullah, Jalaini Abu Hassan and Fauzan Omar.

Japan’s previous biggest participation in 2016 had 34 artists from Gallery UG, LSD Gallery, Shinseido and Kato Art Duo. LSD was again among the Japanese galleries in 2018, but chose to stay out of the pavilion cabal.

Great interest was stirred in the raft of art talks which considered topics such as Understanding Art Conservation (Xu Weilun), The Evolution of Printmaking (Mansoor Ibrahim) and a luminous double-header between two best-known Indonesian contemporaries in “In Conversation with Eddie Hara and Heri Dono”.

AEM+12 also saw four major solo exhibitions by the extraordinary watercolourist Chang Fee Ming (“Malaysia: Dulu, Kini dan…” presented by A+ Works of Art), Zelin Seah (“In Awe of Things”, Richard Koh Fine Art), Calvin Chua (“Garden of Dreams”, G13) and Eddy Susanto (“Occidentalism: Asian Influences on Europe”, Lawangwangi). Some of Heri Dono’s masterpieces from the gilt-edged works of Azman, the czar of Malaysian collectors, also ratcheted up the Wow mercury. Fee Ming’s “Malaysia: Dulu, Kini Dan…”, inspired by Malaysia’s momentous GE14 in May, is his most politically firebrand since his Visage on the side lines of Tsai Ming Liang’s eponymous feature film at the Louvre in Paris.

Leading contemporary outfit Wei-Ling Gallery made its long-overdue debut featuring Malaysia’s 3Cs – Chong Kim Chiew, Chin Kon Yee and Chen Wei Ming, with Chong known for his cartographic permutations in space-guzzling tarpaulin, and Chin and Chen exploring landscapes as terrain and cultural demarcations. The 3Cs evoke memories of the Italian TransAvande 3Cs, namely Clementi, Cucchi and Chia.

Calvin Chua Cheng Koon with his solo, Garden of Dreams, at one of the three G13 booths.

Budi Asih in the act of putting the finishing touches to her work in BennyOentoro's Art XChange Gallery.

Art Porters presents young Jakarta artist Naufal Abshar with his assemblage on the cellphone culture.

Chang Fee Ming posing by his work, Waiting for the Coming Tide, in his solo, Malaysia Dulu, Kini Dan... in A+ Works of Art booth.

Aminah Abdul Rahman and the booth dedicated to the late legendary Khalil Ibrahim for the then upcoming Henry Butcher art auction for October 28.

Works by Tewaporn Maikongkeaw in Thailand's Number 1 Gallery with others like Pat Yingcharoen in its most impressive Malaysian presentation.

Azhar Kamaruddin with his miniature treasure ships in TAPG booth.

Segaris Art Centre, the gallery bastion of the nation’s leading artists, this time focused on its four top-rung art-xis of multi-mediast Zulkifli Yusoff, sculptor Ramlan Abdullah, Malay-roots artist Jalaini Abu Hassan and abstractionist Fauzan Omar.

The others fronting SEa were Lawangwangi and Srisashanti (Indonesia), Gajah Gallery (Singapore), Eskinita (The Philippines), Subhashok Art Centre (Thailand) and CUC Gallery (Vietnam).

Gajah Gallery arrayed Singapore’s installation superstar Suzann Victor besides Jason Lim, Indonesia’s Yunizar and Malaysia’s heavy-duty sculptor Sabri Idrus. Alredo Esquillo’s Eskinita featured two legendary Pinay artists born in the 1940s – Brenda Fajardo and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya. Subhashok checked in with Thidarat Chantachue’s Bangkok Tea Project performance art.

While the new players thrived, two great exhibitor stalwarts since Year 1 in 2007, the revered Hong Kong gallery Chit Fung known for its authentic Chinese ink masters, and Spain’s ATR Gallery, kept up their premium- quality presentations. Chit Fung, helmed by the wily veteran Wong Shun Mun, boasted luminaries like Li Xiaoke, Jia Youfu and Pan Gongkai. ATR Gallery had brought prints of Picasso, Miro, Tapies and now Bacon, besides promoting the hugely talented sculptor Jesus Curia into a household name in this region.

Visitors also did not fail to be captivated by the brace of exciting talents in Singapore-based Art XChange Gallery with crowd favourites like Antoe Budiono, while Thailand’s No. 1 Gallery paraded its best yet, with the surreal-gory duo of Tewaporn Maikongkeaw and Pat Yingcharoen.

France’s Galerie Bruno Massa gave its cachet of approval with a returning appearance, while Jeff Koons porcelain animal miniatures from Barnadaud added the glitz.

The Chinese ink section also saw the unsurpassable Wang Xi-Jing, arguably the most important living China artist today, and his Shaanxi cabal, and new works from the museum of the nonagenarian Li Chi-Mao. Chinoserie had been the AEM’s métier with the likes of the Miao Xiao-Chun’s digital extravaganzas and the post-Mao avant-garde heavyweights in Today Museum.

The Embassy’s Row saw the premium-grade participation of Brazil, Croatia, Ecuador, Italy and Russia.

AEM, founded by Datuk Vincent Sim and now steered by his sons Po Jinn and Po Lenn, had seen increasing sales with 2017 recording RM18.9mil amid more prudent buying. The figure in 2014 was RM20.1mil. Footfalls had also increased 10 fold since the first in 2007 (3,500 visitors) to some 30,000 in 2017. (At time of writing, the official 2018 figures were not tabulated yet)

The 2018 edition saw 65 exhibitors from 22 countries namely Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Ecuador, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.

A nominal one-time entrance fee of RM10 was charged for the big-budget three-day event in view of the escalating costs of organising and upgrading such an event.

Excitement is in the air for the 2019 season, despite the grumblings in Art Stage Singapore this year. Yes, Art Stage Singapore has defied the pundits with a January 25-27 date for its ninth edition, while its Jakarta’s third edition, shelved this year, will go up in August. But Art Stage Singapore will share the limelight with the new SEA Focus at Gillman Barracks during Singapore Art Week. Ending the year 2018 in November, there’s Affordable Art, while Art SG will debut.

Indonesia will see a new mega-fair called Art Moments, helmed by Leo Silitonga, in Jakarta in May 2019, to add to the crowded calendar that will include ArtJOG (July 25-August 25) and Art Jakarta.

March 2019 will see THREE biggies in Hong Kong headlined by Art Basel HK, from March 29-31. The others are Art Central HK (March 27-31) and Asia Contemporary Art (March 29-April 1), while Affordable Art HK is slated for May 17-19. Magnus Renfrew’s Taipei Dangdai (January 18-20) will debut in Taiwan, coinciding with the Taipei Biennial (November 17, 2018 to March 10, 2019). Taipei already has One Art Taipei (hotel), Art Taipei and Art Revolution Taipei.

It’s all fair in love and war, and competition is a fine art which calls for creativity rather than on crude upmanship.

Ooi Kok Chuen, art-writer and journalist, is the author of MAHSURI: A Legend Reborn (Ooi Peeps Publishing), an adult contemporary fantasy “movel” (a novel conceived as a mock movie) spun from a local legend.

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