By Tessa Solomon
With the number of contemporary art collectors ever expanding exponentially around the world, ARTnews takes a look at two regions in Asia that are becoming more important to the global art ecosystem.
In the past decade in Southeast Asia, millennial collectors have begun turning their attention to local art scenes, with the intent of creating a new social model of collecting. Biennials and art fairs have increased the region’s international visibility, which in turn has attracted big spenders from mainland China and Europe. Malaysia and Indonesia, both former colonies, are pursuing artistic and national identities independent of their colonial history.
Indonesia’s contemporary art scene first flourished in the 1990s, and experienced its greatest strides in the early aughts, when the rise of international art fairs and auction houses coincided with the emergence of a new generation of collectors.
“For a time, everyone was in a state of euphoria over the new galleries, new artists, new fairs, and greater mobility in Indonesia,” said Farah Wardani, executive director of the Jakarta Biennale, one of Indonesia’s most prominent art events. “Now we’re considering the questions of how the art ecosystem here should grow and what kind of institutions can accommodate that growth.”
Indonesia is now home to two of Southeast Asia’s most successful art fairs, Art Jakarta in the capital city (the 11th edition of Art Jakarta was directed by leading Indonesian collector Tom Tandio) and ARTJOG in Yogyakarta. Both homegrown and centering on local talent, the two may soon outshine what was once the region’s preeminent art fair, Art Stage Singapore, which launched in 2011, but has struggled recently.
Three years ago, collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo opened Museum MACAN, presenting works by Xu Bing, many on loan from the Yuz Museum in Shanghai that Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur and fellow collector Budi Tek founded in 2014.
“Collectors like Natasha Sidharta, Amalia Wirjono, Melani W. Setiawan, Henny Scott, and many other art enthusiasts, for example, have done more than just collect,” said Heri Pemad, director and founder of ARTJOG, adding, “in the last decade, they have helped build networks and collaborations with the international art scene, and created more visibility for Indonesian artists.”
In Malaysia, artists largely imitated Western European fine art trends and classical Chinese watercolor until 1998, when the authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad provided a breaking point—or a breakthrough, as artists turned from painting to new media as vehicles for protest. The country’s nascent art market was nurtured by a small number of galleries, and the collecting scene was intimate.
The arrival of four auction houses starting in 2003 changed the game. High-profile Malaysian artists such as Wong Hoy Cheong, Ibrahim Hussein, and Ahmad Fuad Osman commanded impressive sales among Chinese and Indian collectors. A 2012 sale at Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers realized 797,500 ringgit ($250,000) for Hussein’s Red, Orange and Core (1984), though price tags still lag behind those of artists from wealthier neighbors. But public enthusiasm for art, long stigmatized or sidelined in the country, has skyrocketed, and young collectors, increasingly buying local, are poised to shape the market’s future.
“For the first time, children of collectors and young people that have overseas education in the U.K. or U.S. are coming back to live in Malaysia,” said Lim Wei-Ling, director of Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. “They’ve seen what’s happening outside Asia, and when they come back, they want to own a piece of what’s happening here.”
As in Malaysia, government entities in Thailand have been slow to support the arts, making private enterprise critical to the country’s cultural development. Several years ago, Petch Osathanugrah, president of Bangkok University, unveiled plans to create Sansab Museum of Contemporary Art, now called Dib Bangkok, as a showcase for his world-renowned collection, which includes pieces by international artists like Damien Hirst and Frank Stella as well as Thai artists on the order of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Udomsak Krisanamis.
Collectors Eric Bunnag Booth and his stepfather, Jean-Michel Beurdeley, similarly showcase their 600-strong collection at the 32,000-square-foot MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai, declared Best New Museum of Asia Pacific in 2017 by the Leading Cultural Destinations Awards. The local collector base in Thailand is small compared with a place like Taiwan, but it is likely to grow as the Thai art market competes on the international stage. In 2018, two new events launched in the capital: the Bangkok Biennial and the Bangkok Art Biennale. Founded by former culture minister Apinan Poshyananda and Thai businessman Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi, the latter presented works by household names Marina Abramović and Yoshitomo Nara alongside leading Southeast Asian artists, like Sakarin Krue-On and Ho Tzu Nyen. The anonymously organized, grassroots Bangkok Biennial brought together more than 200 artists from 26 countries in an exhibition that opened with a performance of the national anthem and a bout of aerobics beneath the Rama VIII Bridge that crosses the Chao Phraya river. The 2018 Thailand Biennale in Krabi, in southern Thailand, was planned by the Culture Ministry and Krabi’s local government.
Accompanying this slew of private initiatives in Thailand is a new crop of galleries that are now competing with longtime fixtures, like Numthong Art Space and Richard Koh Fine Art. Both galleries showed at the 2018 Art Stage Singapore, which chose Thailand as its Special Country Focus. Still, without government support—there is, for example, no national contemporary art collection—most works by contemporary Thai artists will stay in private hands or institutions overseas—for the time being.
As of 2019, Taiwan could claim 40 billionaires, with a combined net worth of roughly $85.5 billion. The nation’s collectors have been internationally engaged since the 1990s—and there is new energy. Veteran collectors like Pierre Chen, Barry Lam, and Rudy Tseng have in recent years been joined by a young, wealthy generation whose members include pop star Jay Chou, fashion magnate Leslie Sun, and arts philanthropist Jenny Yeh, who last year founded the Winsing Arts Foundation in Taipei. The capital city is attracting international enterprises to set up outposts there and now boasts its own art fair, the three-year-old Taipei Dangdai. As political and economic turmoil continue to challenge Hong Kong, Taiwan, despite hurdles like high taxation on art, may have a chance to outpace a long-standing art market rival.
“Taiwan’s collecting scene has always corresponded to its regional position—20 years ago, the primary focus was antique, modern art, and local contemporary art,” said Queena Chu, director of Taipei’s Mind Set Art Center. “In the past 20 years, with the progression of globalization and the promotion by the international auction houses and art fairs, collectors’ acquisitions have gradually moved to the West.” Despite the odds, she is certain that Taiwan will be “one of the most important places and destinations in Asia in terms of diversified art collecting.”
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