A Row of Fairs Clearing the Air in the Art World

By Ooi Kok Chuen

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The sculptures of androgynous figures by Spain's Jesus Curia at the ATR booth of Spain.

ALL’S FAIR WITH art fairs as a modicum of normalcy returns to the art scene after two years of Covid-19 pandemic cryonics on public life.

Dusting the cobwebs from a two-year hiatus, Art Expo Malaysia (AEM) presented Art For All in April with some 500 works from 20 galleries, including some A-listers, with the accent on curated painters.

A pleasant surprise was the participation of Spain’s ATR Gallery, a stalwart since the AEM’s inception, known for its sculptures of androgynous figures and slew of prints by European art heavyweights.

Despite many international borders still being sealed, the fair was not lacking in foreign flavour, and notable participants include artists from Spain (Jesus Curia), China (Huang Yulong, known for sculptures of hooded monks), Indonesia (Budi Agung Kuswara, Satria Nugraha, Oky Antonius and rising star Dedy Sufriadi), India (Dipali Gupta), the Philippines (Ronald Calinga, Adeline Buenaventura, Angelo Magno), Mexico (Jacoba Alonso), Thailand (Phadungsak, Boonhlue Yangsauy), Korea (Kim Il Tae of Aureo Gallery), Britain, Turkey, Australia and Japan.

Sculpture of a hooded monk by Huang Yulong with paintings of Lau Wai Leng in the background.

Art For All took up the whole 3A Floor of the GMBB in the bustling Bukit Bintang commercial district of KL. GMBB has in a short span become a hub for artisanal and creative retailers and first attracted attention with the Telur Pecah art fair organised by artist-gallerist Phillip Wong in November last year. The Telur works were grouped under themes like Urban with a diverse motley of artists ranging from nine-year-olds to 83-year-olds (Sharifah Zuriah Al-Jeffri).

Apart from Telur Pecah, large-scale exhibitions/fairs held amid the pandemic included four others. Three were held last year, namely the National Art Gallery’s (Balai’s) Malaysian Art Ecosystem Festival (MAEF) in December last year, Nor Azmi Sulong’s Arte Pavilion KL complete with keroncong performances and artists’ demonstrations, and ArtIsFAIR which took up four floors of some 9,290 square feet at Fahrenheit88. Nor Azmi also revived his ArtEDecor at the Putra World Trade Centre, KL in March this year. Balai will have the second iteration of MAEF this year.

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A.P Gallery, helmed by Nazura Rahime, arrayed a portfolio of printmaking classics that included Sulaiman Esa’s iconic Waiting For Godot and Awang Damit Ahmad’s early “protest art” on the Sabra and Chatilla massacre. Others included the Chetak 17 trio of Samsudin Wahab, Bayu Utomo Radjikin and Faizal Suhif, besides early prints of Zulkifli Dahalan. There were also uncommon prints by Dato’ Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir, Ali Mabuha and Ahmad Khalid Yusof besides those of dedicated printmakers such as Juhari Said and Stephen Menon. This was also something up the street of the late Rahime Harun, Nazura’s father who was a pioneering gallerist who managed Anak Alam in the early years and even had a stint as Balai director.

Besides Samsudin and Bayu Utomo Radjikin, also featured were two other winners of the Major Award of the hugely prestigious Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporary Artists), namely Haslin Ismail and Azman Hilmi.

Haslin Ismail at HOM Art Trans.

Haslin was in the tripartite showcase by Bayu’s HOM Art Trans, the other two being Sabah’s Donald Abraham and Edroger Rosli.

Internationally renowned sculptor Ramlan Abdullah titillated with an array of stainless steel works, including a few kinetic, combining geometry, optical illusion of lines with references to Architecture and Islamic minarets.

By internationally renowned sculptor Ramlan Abdullah.

The main focus of contemporary Chinese ink artist C.N. Liew was a large work painted on aluminium besides a broken-chair installation.

A sculpture installation by contemporary Chinese ink artist C.N. Liew.

G13 paraded a plethora of known local names besides Mexican Jacoba Alonso, with his malleable folding figure sculptures. It also had the two Dato’s, Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir and Tajuddin Ismail, besides Kow Leong Kiang, the 1998 Philip Morris Asean Art Awards Grand Prize winner, Rafiee Abdul Ghani, Suzlee Ibrahim, Yuki Tham, Wong Ming Hao, Syed Fakaruddin, Nik Shazmie, Hisyamuddin Abdullah, Hug Yin Wan and Khairudin Zainudin.

Wong Ming Hao.
Yuki Tham with her works of women in intimate settings at G13 Gallery.

Art Case Galleries showcased owner Raja Azhar Idris’ compelling portrait portfolio of legendary artists such as Dato’ Ibrahim Hussein, Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal, Latiff Mohidin, and celebrated collector Pakharuddin Sulaiman, and the repertoire was completed with his inimitable glass maquettes. There was also space for figurative artist Ronnie Mohamed.

Raja Azhar Idris with his portraits of artists and collector Pakharuddin Sulaiman and his maquette glass sculptures.

WLG (Wei-Ling Galleries) opted for an exhibition called Ignite, of its stable of artists like J. Anu, Rajinder Singh, Wong Chee Meng, Chin Kong Yee, Cheng Yen Pheng, Cheong Kiet Cheng, Yau Bee Lin and France-based photographer Diane Lui.

It was nice to see “Bulan” Sharifah Nor Akmar's NN Gallery’s presence again with the DUO iteration of Yeo Eng Peng and Anne Koh, and Alfred Yeoh / Jeff’s a2, which showcased Hong Kong-based ceramist Chao Harn Kae, Loh Bok Lai and Khoo Sui-hoe.

Sophia Shung’s Suma Orientalis paraded its stable of emerging women artists including Tiong Chai Heing, Jane Stephanny and Sofia Haron, with her trademark bevy of nubile women in a bond of conviviality. Tiong, 36, was the 2015 Grand Prize winner of the Malaysian UOB Painting of the Year.

Sofia Haron known for her works of women in close conviviality with Suma Orientalis gallerist, Sophia Shung.

Artemis had Ajim Juxta, Bibichun, Low Chee Peng, Syahbandi Samat and Indonesian rising star Dedy Sufriadi, whom the gallery later showed at Expo Taipei (April 15-17). Lim Ah Cheng and Soon Lai Wai were with V’ Art Space.

Lisa Ho’s The Back Room lined up Minstrel Kuik, Raimi Sani, Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail, Kim Ng, Liew Kwai Fei, Ong Cai Bin and Poodien. Kuik was the 2014 Grand Prize winner of the Malaysian UOB Painting of the Year. Nadine Fine Art showcased the latest works of its gallery-owner, London-born artist Yusof Majid – Lilliputian figures in strange landscapes.

Rissim Contemporary did well with its artists Fadhli Ariffin and Muhd Nazri Tahir. Aato Gallery featured Ben Chong See Wai including a collaboration with Jaee Tee.

Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers glimpse-previewed some works for its next auction with early confirmations of top-notchers such as Jolly Koh, Awang Damit Ahmad and Fauzul Yusri and the New York-based Eng Tay.

Works by Awang Damit Ahmad and Fauzul Yusri at the Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers booth.

Other notable artists featured included Ng Foo Cheong, Lau Wai Leng, Rafiee Abdul Ghani, Azman Hilmi and Sharon Ong (installation).

An installation using rattan chairs by Sharon Ong.

Also on the list were Core Design Gallery, Art WeMe Contemporary Gallery, La Galerie du  Monde, Minut Init and Zhan Art Space. There was even a booth for the new craze, NFT (non-fungible tokens), with cryptocurrency support, under Sleepless Workshop.

Despite protracted obstinacy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global art-fair circuit is presently animated with fairs such as The Armory (New York, September), Frieze New York (May), Taipei Dangdai (May), Art Basel (Switzerland, June), ARCO Madrid, SP-Arte (Sao Paulo, Brazil), and the inaugural Art Basel Paris (October).

Malaysia is again represented at the Venice Biennale, in its 59th edition starting April 23 (until November 27), with the collateral Pera+Flora+Fauna event. Presented by People of Remarkable Talents (PORT Perak), it showcases works of Azizan Paiman, Kamal Sabran, Kapallorek Artspace, Kim Ng, Projek Rabak, Stefano Cagal and Saiful Razman, the 2021 Southeast Asian Grand Prize winner of the UOB Painting of the Year.

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.