Art Expo Malaysia Marches On While Others Stumble


It’s a feat that the International Art Expo Malaysia (AEM) is now in its 13th year, though it is increasingly tough to keep up with the fast-changing game and mounting overheads.

What started as a labour of love and a challenge by its founder-supremo Datuk Vincent Sim Tiak Choo, remains very much so today. With the lifeblood sponsorships – both corporate and institutional – trickling and sputtering, it’s a tightrope act every year for Sim Po Jinn, the founder’s second son who’s been helming the operations these past few years.

Jompet Kuswidananto (Collectors Focus: Dato Azman Norudin).

Last year saw the AEM, seen as a middle-roader cutting in between Modernism staples and contemporary titillations, go the full monty, as it were, with the Contemporary, wooing some of the bigger names in South-east Asia.

It chalked up increased footfalls, even with a token entrance fee charged for the first time.

Warning peals from the dramatic collapse of Art Stage Singapore at the beginning of this year after its 2011 fanfare still resound, which has also affected its sister fare Art Stage Jakarta, which happened only in 2016 and 2017. What’s dismal is that the newly minted Art SG, seen as a face-saver and potentially bigger fair, originally slated for this November, will now be a year late!

With the Singapore international art prestige losing its shine, the Hong Kong Art Basel, the regional market leader, could be in serious jeopardy with the strident protracted and at times disruptively violent anti-China street demonstrations getting worse by the day. Already, the Hong Kong Tennis Open, due to start on October 5, had been postponed. Like the Gillman Barracks coterie in Singapore, any impact on the HK Art Basel marque will have a snowball effect on the world-class galleries nested in the Peddar Building and elsewhere.

The yawning Singapore gap may have, however, helped shoo a little more traffic to the recent Art Jakarta, owned by collector and automatic czar Tom Tandio and recobbled from Art Bazaar Jakarta as the 11th edition (August 30-September 1). It toted a 19-gallery uptick to 70! ArtJog, a different month-long affair as the Yogyakarta Art Festival, will extend from July 23-August 30, 2020.

Liu Ruo Wang – The Sword Dancer (White Space Art Asoa, Singapore).

Looking at the Philippines, Art Fair Philippines, dubbed the “car park art fair”, saw its seventh edition this year, while the burgeoning ManilArt will clash with the AEM with its October 9-13 dates. The AEM is slated for October 11-13.

The showcase of a fraction of the gilt-edged world-class collection of A-Lister Datuk Noor Azman Nurdin proved hugely popular, and this year might see Heri Dono again and an installation by Jompet Kuswidananto, besides a huge hanging installation. Another major Collector’s Showcase piece is expected from Singapore’s Hady Ang.

The AEM organisers are also trying to arrange a VIP Art Tour for leading South-east Asian art collectors and industry players which will include major art-tractions besides visits to museums of major collectors in KL.

So, bring on the Contemporary in this AEM13.

The watchwords are South-east Asian Contemporary, and it will be a three-pronged strategy – Art Lab, Art Now and The Artists’ Room

Art Lab: Malaysia’s Tan Zi Hao (b. 1989) and Indonesia’s Dutch-born veteran Mella Jaarsma (b. 1972) will share centrestage in the 100 sqm entrance space to present antithetical works. Zi Hao to re-present the mythical exoskeletal Makara in fiberglass and metal; and Mella her trademark costume concoctions.

Art Now: Curated shows by A+ Works of Art, Segaris Art Centre (Zulkifli Yusoff, Haslin Ismail, Hamir Soim, Ismail Awi), Core Design Gallery (Anniketyni Madian and Nor Tijan Firdaus), Richard Koh Fine Art (Yeoh Choo Kuan, Justin Lim, Taiwanese Liu Hsin- Ying and Cambodian Pen Robin), Singapore’s Linda Gallery and Gajah Gallery (Nyoman Masriadi, Rudi Mantofani, Yunizar), Indonesia’s Kohesive Initiatives (Srisanti Syndicate, with Heri Dono, Eddie Hara, Galih Reza Suseno, Suroso Isur, Alfredo Esquillo Jr, Ronald Manullang, Devald Manullang) and Bandungbased Lawangwangi (Patriot Mukmin, Edwin Pradipta, Mujahidin Nurrahman, Eldwin Pradipta).

The Artists’ Room: Single-artist curated shows which will have Core Design Gallery, G13 Gallery (Khairudin Zainudin), Artemis Art (Choo Ai Xin, the Nandos Grand Art Prize winner 2018), Linda Gallery (Nyoman Nuarta, Rush Hour) and Vietnam’s Vin Gallery (Tran Tuan).

The Japan Pavilion, the vehicle of Japan’s art resurgence in the Super-Flat-And-Post Era, will see expanded participation from eight to 11 galleries despite two from last year’s opting out, and the reputable LSD gallery deciding to stay out of the pavilion ambit again. Galleries repeating are Gallery UG (since 2016), Gallery Ishikawa, Gallery Hanakagesho, Smart Ship Gallery, Kinosho Kikaku and Hakkendo Gallery. The newcomers are SankeidoLtd (established 1871), SOEI Gallery, Gallery Class, Shukado, and The Gallery/Tanaka Art Gallery. Expected again will be notable artists such as Akihiro Fujimoto, Hiroki Yoshida, Kunihiko Nohara, Kohei Yamada and Izumi Ohwada.

Boonhlue Yangsuay (No. 1 Gallery, Thailand).

The Tribute Pavilion to Living Legend Artists, last held in 2017, is revived, with the honours going to Singapore’s abstract and collage pioneer Goh Beng Kwan (born 1937), a Singapore Cultural Medallion.

The other established galleries will be spread out in Art Town – a United Nations of countries from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, the US, France, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia.

Notables include Mazel Galerie, Able Fine Art (New York); Galerie Bruno Massa (France) and EStyle Art Gallery (Taiwan); Contemporary Art Gallery Atelier Aki (South Korea); Subashok The Art Centre, The Number 1 Gallery (Thailand); Art Serpong Gallery (Indonesia); and Gnani Arts, Art Porters and White Space Art Asoa (Singapore). Among the other local fare is the National Art Gallery, with the others being Taksu, The Art People Gallery, Gallery Des Artistes, Aureo Gallery; Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers and Tiny Rose Gallery (the exhibition arm of the Masterpiece Auction).

Said Po Jinn: “It is imperative to position the AEM as an art fair of quality and interesting variety, focusing on South-east Asia, but with an intimate and homey feel. The biggest challenge is to strike a balance between art development and commerce, and to get more of the affluent group to buy art.”

The International Art Expo Malaysia is the longest-running art fair in South-east Asia. It will be held at the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre (MECC), KL, from October 11-13. VVIP Night is on October 10.

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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