Monday, 2 February 2015

Four Fantastic Exhibition, February 2015, Kuala Lumpur

Me as curator, writer and designer this time, in collaboration with Honey and Vallette Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

From Street to Canvas

February 2015 sees urban artist turned studio artist Donald Abraham exhibiting, with friends, at the Vallette Gallery, Jalan Bruas, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. Recently featured in Vallette Gallery’s Absolut Vodka ‘Andy Warhol bottle’ launch, (Sabah born) Donald Abraham has been assiduously working in a variety of media to remind us all of the artistic merit intrinsically inherent in the free expression of what has become known as “Urban Art”.

In the exciting new exhibition, Ahmad Fauzan bin Fuad; Azar Osman, Donald Abraham and Mohd Anuar bin Mustapa continue to re-define contemporary Malaysian art with influences gleaned from their passions; skateboarding, comic books and Urban art from around the world. What we now call “Urban Art” has variously been dubbed “Graffiti” or “Street Art”, and has been praised or damned accordingly in equal measure. Over time the concept of “Urban Art” has developed from its innate illicit nature, into being officially recognised as authentic and fresh artistic insights.

While other Malaysian artists of the street, from Penang to Ipoh, have ‘tagged’ or muralled their way into our consciousness, for good or ill, four artists on show at Vallette Gallery have forsaken the larger, public, showcases to bring their art into the world of galleries, galleryists and of Fine Art collectors.

In the styles these artists have chosen to work in, the art world can witness an exciting freshness, vibrancy and keen young enterprise bursting forth. Yet, however fresh and contemporary these works undoubtably are, we must acknowledge that no art is new and, to a greater or lesser degree, all art has had its foundations laid either from nature or from other art. The work of these keen, young emerging Malaysian artists is no exception. The art forms they hold dear, from skate boarding to art of the street, had their foundations firmly laid in the bedrock of 1960s/70s “Alternative Comics” (Comix) and their related iconography. Only back then it was chiefly about surfboards, not skateboards, and rampaging street art was only in its infancy. 

American “Alternative” comic artists Rick Griffin, Jim Evans and Robert Crumb were all associated with surfing, its magazines and its love of the potential subversiveness of the new “Underground” comic books. From Californian surfing, and comic books, grew vibrant, energetic artistic styles which soon blossomed across the burgeoning counter-culture of the time. It enveloped surfboard decoration and surfing apparel as well as gracing surf magazines and yet more counter-culture (alternative) comic books.

Towards the end of the 1970s, two prominent names emerged from out of a nascent American ‘Urban’ (graffiti) counter-culture. Jean-Michel Basquiat, a former graffiti artist, was shot to fame by an article in America’s The Village Voice newspaper and, a few years later, Keith Haring. Haring, a graffiti artist was, by 1982, beginning to gain attention for his uniquely humorous linear style. Both artists were recognised by a maturing art world, galleries and collectors, with thanks to inroads made by previously by Pop artists like Andy Warhol. 

Like those on show at Vallette Gallery, Basquiat and Haring were propelled into the world of fine art galleries, and of collectors eager to purchase the new contemporary art. Those artists gained much plaudits, attention of the media and the attention of avid collectors, who now must pay seven figure sums for those artist’s early artworks. The link between Basquiat, Haring and the emerging Malaysian artists is made stronger with the knowledge that Basquiat’s and Haring’s most famous works can now be seen on limited edition American skateboards. In 1987, Haring painted a skateboard ramp, in Kansas, while travelling to visit William Burroughs. In the 2000s the renown and elusive British artist Banksy, skateboard and urban artist supreme, continues to spread his anti-establishment messages across the world and ultimately into respectable acceptability too. Now Banksy’s work fetch upwards of £500,000 (approx RM2728,764.33). In contrast, the emerging Malaysian artist Donald Abraham’s last work, sold for approximately RM12,592.00 (3,500 USD), in America.

The art world had become increasingly conscious of new art forms, often arising, seemingly spontaneously, from enthusiastic young artists like these emerging Malaysian artists, many of whom have gained inspiration and experience from the practise of Urban art. The barriers are down. A hungry art world now recognises the vivacity, energy and artistry of young artists across the world. Their artworks, like the surfing arts and skateboard art before them, have spread their energies across both counter and mainstream cultures. Those works, once painted on subway trains, walls, shopfronts etc by eager artists experimenting with their creativity, are now appreciated for the freshness those works bring to a potentially jaded world of fine art. It is in this spirit that the four young Malaysian artists work. and are beginning to emerge as exciting new talents, destined for greater things.

(article previously NOT published by The Edge)

Saturday, 24 January 2015

My article about the Asia&African&Mediterranean Art Exhibition published in China

Hangzhou Highlights International Modern Art

by Martin Bradley M.A.

Towards an Understanding

Four thirty pm, October twenty six, 2014, saw the opening of the 11th Asian & African & Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition, at the Shang Kun - Luo Qi Museum of International Modern Art, in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, literally gleaming with modernity and with at least one eye firmly fixed on a bright new future.

Thirteenth Century Italian traveller - Marco Polo highly regarded Hangzhou as “the city of heaven”, and “the finest and most splendid city in the world”. And, for those of you who had forgotten, Hangzhou has been a Member of the Creative Cities Network and UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art since 2012. Hangzhou is famous for its silk, seal engraving, Longjing tea, porcelain, handicrafts and has been nominated as a National cultural & creative centre. That, along with the founding of an arts academy, has led Hangzhou to be one of the most important arts centres in China.

In October, 2014, as maple leaves around the stunningly beautiful West Lake, Hangzhou, were beginning to reveal a gamut of painterly colours, from green to yellow and mauve artist, academic and entrepreneur Associate Professor Luo Qi (뤄치) once again brought international modern art back to Hangzhou. Ever since the founding of the Hangzhou National College of Art, in 1928, that city has housed some of the finest modern art in China. Luo Qi, in his eleventh annual Asian & African & Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition, was once more instrumental in bringing a coterie of exciting international modern artists, and their works, to grace and excite his home city.

While the southern Chinese province of Zhejiang has been renown for its superb ink and brush art since the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279), it was with the founding of the National College of Art, by Cai Yuanpei (蔡元培), of the Overseas Art Movement Society (in 1928), that modern art and Western art techniques originally came to the province. Ideally situated by an inspirational lake, the college of art, ever a promoter of Modern Art, was later to be renamed the China Academy of Art (1993) and that is where Luo Qi had studied, taught and exhibited before establishing the annual Asian, African, Mediterranean international Modern Art exhibition, in 2002.

Professor Luo Qi, overall curator, founder and benign father of the series of annual international modern art exhibitions, has long been part of an offshoot of Chinese Literati painting called “Calligraphyism”. There had be a resurgence of Literati painting in China during the late 1970s associated with the Chinese avant garde. Luo Qi, and painters with like minds, began developing “Calligraphyism”, calligraphic abstraction, in the 1990s. In Sacred Secret, T.J. Morris writes “In China, during the 1990s an abstract calligraphy movement known as “Calligraphyism” came into existence, a leading proponent of this movement being Luo Qi”. Luo Qi’s works have travelled far and wide. Not just to the countries he has included in his latest exhibition but also to America (US of A). The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, the Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, University of Kansas, University of Minnesota, the Cleveland Public Library, Ohio, and the Seattle Center for Culture & Art Exchange have all shown Luo Qi’s exquisite works in their galleries. 

The new ‘Luo Qi Museum of International Modern Art’, rests in one part of the first floor, of a freshly constructed mega-building, the kind of new wave architecture that Hangzhou is becoming famous for. The building, constructed by Shang Kun Construction Company Limited, with Chairman Li Zheng We at the helm, is triangular in design, which each ‘corner’ of the triangle blunted, rounded like a snooker ball rack, reminiscent of the rounded corner building found at Myrtle Avenue at Bleecker Street, Brooklyn, USA. In time, one whole floor of that spectacular building will be devoted to arts, led by the Shang Kun - Luo Qi Museum of International Modern Art.

Bringing it all Together

Having walked through a ‘hall of fame’, featuring posters from past exhibitions, a virtually life size photographic blow-up of the previous year’s group photo, and been faced with large black and white images of those involved in the latest exhibition, upstairs the visitor came face to face with a chipboard wall. On that wall, in three dimensions, the words “Shang Kun - Luo Qi Museum of International Modern Art” reached out. It was, and is a large space. the words are down lit, painted black, and quite naturally project from the natural colour of the chipboard. To one side stood the doorway which eventually led to the exhibition. On the opening night a table stood with the PA equipment, a laptop at the rear, controlling the ambiance.

The feverishly frantic day before the opening, in the freshly constructed, well lit and unusually spacious gallery, a room stood, housing crates, packing cases, large wooden frames and wrapped, sealed, protected artworks. Some international artists had shipped over their artworks, others carried their precious cargo with them on their various international flights. Artists had begun arriving a few days before the opening of the 11th Annual exhibition, to give plenty of time for the hanging of their unique works. One day before the opening night saw the sort of intense, but well-ordered, international cooperation only artists can extend towards each other, as artists from countries as diverse as Australia, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, Réunion Island and Thailand extended the hand of friendship and co-curated the 2014 exhibition with aplomb.

Malaysian and Korean Professors, normally to be found holding forth in lecture theatres, or hold up in offices, were up ladders attending to the delicate business of hanging large, and small, works of art. The keen observer would have noticed that this was tackled with a seeming ease, also demonstrated by the rest of the newly formed group. An Aladdin’s Cave of a tool chest was brimming with exhibition utensils, gleaming steel wire, hooks, nails and vital exhibition construction implements, curtesy of Luo Qi and his decades of exhibition experience. This access to vital materials enabled the smooth mounting of disparate objet d’art. Those canvases not needing stretchers, or frames, were stapled onto freshly painted white walls, their exhibiting reflecting the nature of the works themselves, as modern, contemporary, fresh and exhilarating.

While Australian Aboriginal art was being hung by a team consisting of Italian artists, an Australian curator and a British art critic, elsewhere a Malaysia artist was extending her canvas onto the square column forming a support for the gallery ceiling, and a Mauritian painter was aiding a Fauve artist from Réunion Island. While some artists had met at other annual international exhibitions, many had come together for the very first time. Luo Qi had provided the right venue, a new venue, for a varied selection of international artists to bond together and form a formidable team to successfully build a physical exhibition for himself and the people of Hangzhou.

An Exhibition of Superb Creativity and Imagination

Grant Vincent Rasheed, half Irish, half Libyan, and a prime example of the exciting mix of races Australia now presents to the world, had brought Australian Aboriginal art to Hangzhou. Dreamtime, the dreaming, Rasheed’s Aboriginally painted canvases brought complex narratives of outback life, history and culture to the Luo Qi Museum of International Modern Art. Earthy colours, once originally of earth but in modernity acrylic, became patiently dot painted onto intriguing canvases, blurring boundaries between man and environment. Ancient tribal stories permeated indigenous memory stretching from pre-history, revealing the interconnectedness of man and his environment. Floral mandalas, mandalas dot mapped in our minds, tribes interconnecting like atoms across the vastness of outback dryness, were all revealed in two gallery sections.

In other parts of that spacious gallery, Milanese enchantress Emanuela Volpe exhibited white calligraphic poetry clouds drifting across a bright blue sky delight. Words, thoughts, ideas had become as light as air, drifting to gather weight, eventually to fall like rain as sentences, paragraphs and astound with their moment and magnitude. Ms Volpe’s countryman Marco Cascella’s two large paintings reflected both airiness and vertigo. The viewer practically tumbled into “Blue Sea with dark Land”, modern day Alices falling into Cascella’s surrealist fantasy. On an adjacent wall, Cascella’s lighter piece, heavily reminiscent of Dali’s Catalan landscapes, caught the viewer in a dreamy delight, with consciousness adrift in Phantasos’s surrealistic dreams. Cascalla’s smaller, oval pieces danced with other worldly plankton, wisps of wind-tossed Turneresque cloud and seascapes which invited keen observation of those miniature works. Lastly, but be no means least of the Italian trio, came the sophisticated works of the Italian architect Alessio Schiavo. Schiavo had produced three intriguing canvases of stylised fish shapes, almost flat colour, but keen observation revealed modernist brushstrokes with acute dynamism within the seeming simplicity. These canvases seemed to echo Schiavo’s earlier black and white images of swimming fish. Those earlier pieces were gathered under the title - Pelagos, meaning sea. The newer images reflect Schiavo’s renewed interest in colour, particularly colour combinations found in the works of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Michelangelo).

From the small French overseas territory island of Réunion, adrift in the Indian Ocean, nestling adjacent to both Madagascar and Mauritius, came the indomitable les Fauves painter Charly Lesquelin. Lesquelin’s two large canvases were stapled onto the gallery partition, both were statements concerning man’s dichotomous relationship with his environment. One was Gaya herself, trying to inhale pollution to heal her Earth. The other was a Green Man figure whose world was being eroded by pollutants and the over industrialisation of the planet. In the famed N8 Club, once  a swimming club for Mao Zedong, and now a playground for Hangzhou’s elite, two more works by Lesquelin hung. One a portrait, the other an exquisite Fauve landscape revealing all the heat and passion of his beloved Réunion Island. Back in the Museum gallery, during the opening night, Lesquelin painted a live portrait of the beautiful Mrs Li Zheng We, which he not only managed with ease, but with distinct flair.

A number of Malaysian artists were represented in that exhibition - print makers, painters, and Dr Cheah Thien Soong, a master Chinese ink and brush painter from the Nanyang school, and his characteristic paddy field birds. His student, up-and-coming Malaysian artist Honey Khor was also featured with a painting taken from her forthcoming solo exhibition in Malaysia. While other artists were content to hang, or staple their works onto the walls or partitions of the gallery, Ms Khor chose to exhibit on one of the pillars joining ceiling to floor, and extended the bounds of her canvas beyond its frame and onto the pillar itself, with watercolour paint. The effect was remarkable, and remarked upon.

Korean artists ink brush painted large Daliesque black ants, Muangjan Subin, a Thai artist, presented his watercolours and a young Russian artist, Evgeny Bondarenko, had hung his sketched architecture. Together, the collection of artists from differing countries presented a cornucopia of art, and artistic styles, to delight visitors to the gallery. Luo Qi’s own inimitable work graced his gallery, revealing complex works of symbols which were, perhaps, both ante and post language.

In that Shang Kun - Luo Qi Museum of International Modern Art there was a diverse exhibition of paintings from myriad countries. Once again, the artist, poet, writer, professor and entrepreneur Luo Qi had sleekly engineered a show fit not only for the discerning of Hangzhou, but for everyone. That diverse show, in the new Museum gallery, heralded a new beginning, one which will bring even more art from even more countries to astound, delight and educate the citizens of Hangzhou.The gallery museum represents the first phase of a planned art floor, the first floor of the exciting new building. Over time the people of Hangzhou, and their many visitors, will have greater access to a wide variety of international Modern Art, and learning about art, with thanks to initiatives from the local government, interest from Hangzhou businessmen and to Luo Qi himself.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Malaysian Arts 2014 - A Review

While in his 1967 film, Bob Dylan advised us all “Don’t Look Back”, it is the New Year, and there will always be a fondness for the year which just slipped past our reach. So for the sake of “auld lang syne”, and as a taste of what might be to come, here is a brief Malaysian art encounter with 2014, the year recently departed.

Last year (2014), should there have been any doubt, has further demonstrated that all things to do with Malaysian ‘Art’ is currently on the rise. While there were somewhat silly stories of famous Chinese film stars having their portraits constructed of chopsticks, in general the making and selling of Malaysian art, both Modern and Contemporary, and the promotion of art by Malaysian Galleryists, at home and abroad, grew to a brand new maturity.

Last year saw a slight return of well respected expatriate Malaysians, H.H.Lim, and Rajinder Singh (both at Wei Ling, The Gardens), bringing their intriguingly thought provoking artworks ‘home’, to some contemporary applause and much plaudits, by some. Returned, and now deeply entrenched, expat Malaysian artists, re-making their marks on the Malaysian art scene in 2014 included Ivan Lam (Wei Ling Contemporary), Lim Kim Hai (Vallette Gallery) and Jolly Koh (The Edge Galerie).

There continued to be a great surfeit of art galleries, art auctions, art exhibitions and art expos all vying for our brief attention, with up to three exhibition/display launches on the same day, ensuring that there was, indeed, ‘Art’ for everyone in Malaysia, in 2014, as the Malaysian Tourism Board would have us believe. It was not as though Malaysian art had stayed static. It most assuredly had not. Last year witnessed ’Guru of Colour’, a posthumous exhibition of artworks by the prestigious artist - Syed Ahmad Jamal, delighting European audiences while on show at Zagreb’s Museum of Arts and Crafts, Croatia.

Elsewhere in the occident, ’START Art Fair’, London, hosted by (some say) the most respected, (others over rated) Saatchi Gallery. Therein were a tricolour of arts from Malaysia, including The Prudential Global Eye Malaysian component; Galeri Chandan (KL) and Richard Koh Fine Art (KL/Singapore). This art fair gave another opportunity for younger Malaysian artists to shine abroad. The Prudential component came from a selection of artists; Zelin Seah, Kow Leong Kiang, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Sabri Idrus and Anne Samat who had participated in the Prudential Malaysian Eye exhibition at mapKL Publika. 

At ‘START’, Malaysian Galleryist Richard Koh sold a large Tryptych by Natee Utarit (from Thailand) for $480,000 USD, demonstrating that all aspects of the Malaysian art business were alive and thriving. Galeri Chandan held the second stage of their ‘Cheritera’ exhibition, at ‘START’, featuring Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Azrin Mohd, Chong Ai Lei, Fadly Sabran, Haris Abadi, Haslin Ismail, Kow Leong Kiang, Marvin Chan, and Stephen Menon.

On the other side of this increasingly minuscule world from London, the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) had promoted “Discover Malaysian Art’, launched in Melbourne, Australia, while in China; ’The Malaysia Art Activity Centre’, in Beijing, and the ‘11th Annual Asian, African and Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition in Hangzhou’ continued to assist Malaysian artists extend their Asian foothold.

Twenty fourteen saw non-figurative Malaysian art take the lead at a variety of art auctions throughout the year. While some auctions appeared to be avidly favouring Awang Damit Ahmad as star artist, it was the more established artists, Abdul Latiff Mohidin and Ibrahim Hussein who were undoubtedly shining brighter last year. The late Ibrahim Husein’s ‘Red, Orange and Core’ (1984) fetched an impressive RM 797,500 at one Henry Butcher auction, while The Edge Auction saw ‘Seascape’ (2013) by Abdul Latiff Mohindin reach RM 572,000. KL Lifestyle auctions throughout the year produced RM 451,000 for Abdul Latiff Mohindin’s ‘Landscape’ (Gelombang 1991 series), RM253,000 for ‘Tao Landscape’ (Homage to Lao Tzu, 1999) and RM246,400 for his ‘Mindscape’ (1983). In Hong Kong, the previous year (2013) Abdul Latiff Mohidin’s ‘Pago-Pago’ had reached an incredible1,230,000.00 HKD

Those pieces available by Syed Ahmad Jamal felt decidedly under valued, especially after the artist was lauded and applauded during his Croatian one man show. Sad to say, during the Henry Butcher Malaysian & Southeast Asian Art Auction, November 2014, only ‘Berenang’ (1965) did well, realising RM 179,200, a paltry sum when compared to Ibrahim Hussein’s RM 797,500. In the same auction Syed Ahmad Jamal’s ‘Set Untuk Keris i’ (2007) achieved RM11,500, and ‘Set Untuk Keris ii’ (2007) achieved RM10,925.

Obviously Malaysia is not seeing the staggering prices at auction that Hong Kong is. As the Malaysia art market is relatively young, and comparatively small, there were some baby steps up the ladder this past year. The key is, as ever, education. The more art is understood, the more it will be valued.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Artworks from the Cusp ....or Brilliant Turkish Art

Original text......

The Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia, in Jalan Lembah Perdana, Kuala Lumpur, has launched an exhibition, Tradition, Culture and Modernity: Contemporary Art from Turkey. Its a collaboration between the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey and, of course, the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia.

Turkeys most influential writer - Orhan Pamuk, had written thusly about artists (in his book about his city, Istanbul): If you could have seen how thrilled Turkeys most famous artist was that some people had finally turned up at his door to buy a painting, or what ridiculous airs he put on to hide his pleasure, or how he practically swept the floor with his bowing as we left with his painting in our hands, or how unctuously he bade us farewell, you wouldnt wish becoming a painter on anyone in this country, my son.”  Indeed how times have indeed changed.

The FT (Britains Financial Times), in November 2010, began an article (Turkeys contemporary art scene) with… “Few doubt that Turkeys contemporary art scene is one of the liveliest in the world. Galvanised by the Istanbul Biennial, which kicked off in 1987, the city has witnessed an explosion of commercial galleries…” While the New York times (February 2012) in The Istanbul Art-Boom Bubblementioned In New York it feels like the best years are behind usin Istanbul it feels like the best years are yet to come.Art Radar too (November 2014) delighted in the successes of Modern and Contemporary Turkish art and the continuing art fair aptly named - Art Istanbul. The article suggested that Istanbul might become an art capital of the future

The phenomenal success of Turkish Modern and Contemporary art continues to be witnessed around the art world. Christies (The Art People) Dubai ended an October 2014 sale, totalling 12,510,875 (USD), of Modern & Contemporary Arab, Iranian & Turkish Art. There is yet more success as Sothebys currently holds the record for many of the Contemporary Turkish artistssales and, back in Christies, a work by Fahr El Nissa Zeid (Break of Atom and Vegetal Life,1962), sold for an impressive $2,300,000 in 2013 (Dubai).

Amidst all this interest in art from Turkey, it is no wonder that Kuala Lumpurs Islamic Arts Museum decided to host the current exhibition - Tradition, Culture and Modernity: Contemporary Art from Turkey, from 2nd December (2014) until 31st January (2015). Its launch was an impressive affair, with many serious (mostly) men in equally serious dark jackets listening attentively to speeches in Turkish and English. As nourishment for the body, as much as the art works are to the soul, a mixture of Malaysia and Turkish food was available to stave off the pangs after all that speechifying.

This current exhibition is, without a doubt, a tour de force of art from Turkey. The central Bank of the Republic of Turkey has enabled those of us being in Malaysia to witness works by many of Turkeys renown artists. Not to diminish any of the other artworks, nor any of the other artists, but the one work which struck my attention on entering the exhibition, was  Locus of Extremity(1982) by Erol Akyavas. It is a large piece, some 265 x 178 cm, and its combination of green, turquoise and silver leaf poignantly capture all that is beautiful about Istanbul, if not Turkey. Neither the comprehensive catalogue, nor my pathetic iPad picture taking, could capture the sheer brilliance of this piece and its dominance over the entire show.

Akyavas had studied under Ferdinand Leger, in Paris, in the early 1950s, and yet in the exhibition shown at the Islamic Museum in KL, it is another Turkish artist - Adem Genç whose work more closely resembles Legers Tubism. Gencs Why are Things as They are(2008) and Why are Things as They are(2009) have the distinctive Leger tonal tubes/machine-like aesthetic (marvellously depicted in the film La Ballet Mechanique, 1923-24) coupled with Gencs brush abstraction in the background. The current exhibits range from a small serigraphtitled Composition(1965) by Sabri Bekel (40 x 70 cm) to the aforementioned Locus of Extremity(1982) by Erol Akyavas, and Requiem for the Last Voicesalso by Akyavas. The latter is a superb mixed mediaon canvas. 

One galleryist, who had spent a decade living in Istanbul, nudged me over to see the two works from Devrim Erbil. One, a large mixed media on canvas (180 x 160 cm) called Istanbul Watching(2008), the other (larger) was simply called Abstraction(180 x 180 cm). Erbil's works are often made into carpets, mosaics/ceramics, and he delights in producing the sketch-like images on larger surfaces, which reflect his home city, its birds and its mosques.

This exhibition presents a rare opportunity, do see this if you can.

Friday, 19 December 2014

What goes up.......or Bubbles

Latest article in The Edge

Here is the original...........


Where, once, thoughts of ‘art bubbles’ may have conjured visions of artist Sir John Everett Millais’ famous painting “A Child’s World” (used in 1890 for advertising Pears soap), or singer Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee companion, now the art world remains in ever tense alert at the mere mention of the term.

Bubbles appertaining to any form of finance are serious matters. Bubbles speak of, what used to be referred to as economic ‘boom and bust’; defined as “a situation in which a period of great prosperity or rapid economic growth is abruptly followed by one of economic decline”. 

In November 2013, Forbes was questioning “Contemporary Art: End Of A Bubble Or Already Bust?”. After speculating that the art market was slowing down, citing poor showings in both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London that year, the conclusion was that people had left it too late. Perhaps Forbes had jumped the proverbial gun as American POP artist Jeff Koons, in November 2013, went on to break all records for art sales (by a living artist) for his "Balloon Dog(orange)“, which went for a record $58.4 million USD (approximately RM 202.764 m).

Yet, despite the obvious successes of art sales, early in 2014 there was still grave concern of an art bubble ripe for bursting. In February, Bloomberg Business Week was concerned with the practise of ‘art flipping’, the buying and selling of up-and-coming artists’ works for an obvious quick profit. Bloomberg considered this a “a sign there may be a bubble in the contemporary art market “. In May this year, The Guardian ran the headline “Christie's racks up $745m in one night – and the bubble keeps inflating”. The numbers were huge - $84.2m for a rare Barnett Newman abstraction, and $80.8m for a Francis Bacon triptych (at current exchange rates that’s approximately RM290m and RM276m respectively). Despite that initial slowdown in 2013, 2014 had proven to be a bumper year for art sales and the bubble, if there is one, continues to inflate yet.

While the art sales figures, in Malaysia, are nowhere near as astronomical as those in other countries, there are poignant signs here too of a rapid growth in the art economy. Abdul Latiff Mohidin, artist and poet, saw his “Seascape” (2013) realise RM572,000 at The Edge Auction 2014, of Southeast Asian Art. In November this year, Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers cited an accumulation of RM 2.98 million in its 9th November sale. Chong Siew Ying with “L’été” reached RM89,600, while it was estimated to reach only RM28,000 – RM40,000, and a record price (RM50,400) was set for Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s “Somewhere Last Spring” (1965), for a work on paper.

The Wall Street Journal (in Malaysia’s Art Scene Is Changing With New Auction Houses, October 16 2014) reminds us that Malaysia now has four art auction houses; The Edge Auction, KLLifestyle Art Space Auction, Masterpiece Auctions and the Henry Butcher Art Auctions. The number of art galleries have grown exponentially, and continue to jostle for position amidst the stratification of Malaysia’s art world. Stories abound of unscrupulous art galleries marking up prices of Malaysian artists’ work, and of price hiking of popular Malaysian Abstract Expressionist works, while Malaysia rides high in the wake of a tsunami of Asian art buying, lead by China.

As well as a proliferation of art galleries and art auction house, Malaysia is host to a variety of art brokers. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some private galleryists double as art brokers, brokering high-end artists’ work, such as Andy Warhol’s “Unknown Woman” (1984) retailing at $1.7M USD, and Warhol’s “Liza Minelli“ retailing at $ 5.000 000 USD. Others, concentrating on Modern and Contemporary, are encouraging Malaysians to invest, not in Malaysian art, but in art from China. One art brokerage company will escort potential investors into their small office, then flood the unwary with ‘Art Market Reports’, ’Art and Finance Reports’ and the ‘Deloitte ArtTactic Art & Finance Report (2013)’. They will wave mid-career Chinese artist portfolios, such as the works of Niu An (Ann), before their faces until visitors start to waver. At that point the CEO is brought in to clinch the deal, quoting an 86% increase in the art market over 12 years and a 120% increase in the Asian art market over the previous 5 years, and how the artists they are promoting, at that moment, will not be available tomorrow. Better get in quick before the opportunity is lost!

The potential art bubble, if there is one, shows little sign of bursting during the year end of 2014. Art prices across the world increase at an astronomical rate, seemingly little effected by similar bubbles in housing, which have already burst. While China proves to be a strong market, the Malaysian art market continues its slow climb into respectability.