Malaysian art : The under-side of the art market

Victor Chin, Pulau Perhentian No 38, 2004, Acrylic on canvas, 81x67cm

Victor Chin, Pulau Perhentian, No8, 2003, Acrylic on canvas, 81x67cm

Letter to the Editor, StarMag.

In Andrew Sia’s splendid review, ‘Whither Malaysian art?’, StarMag, Sunday 23 November, 2008, presented us with a wide selection of opinions about the state of art and the art market. However there is the under side of the story which might add to your readers understanding on this issue.

What we would like to know as in the case of artist Jailani’s painting ‘Tribute to Latiff Mohiddin’, (which sold for about RM200,000) is, who put up his painting for sale at the Christie’s auction? What if this sale was an inside job by a profiteering cartel, where one party puts it up for auction and members of that group buy it up, just to push up the price and hence the profit margin, if they happen to have a monopoly of the artist’s works?

It is also vital to know which gallery and the people involved in dealing with the works of Jailani, Yee I-Lann, Nadiah Bamadhaj, Zakii Anwar and Cheng Fee Ming? Why it is that it is always the same few artists’ works from the same few merchants that are popping up at these sales? Why is the other artists’ works, just as good as any, not in the picture when it comes to promoting Malaysian art here and elsewhere?

The auction houses will not reveal the details of the sellers and buyers, but they will profit from both the sellers and the buyers, and this is the standard business practice everywhere. The secrecy and nontransparent methods such as it is, is in part, what that has lead to the present world wide financial crush, we are experiencing now.

What sort of artists will emerge from this present system dominated by finance, unfettered by any government or professional regulations?

How will the creative minds operate in an increasingly close market in the hands of a few self appointed profit minded ‘gate keepers’ of Malaysian art?

What if there are moves to improve the art production and the market place, with less self interest but more transparency, and with fair incentives to all parties involved with the aim of serving not just Malaysian art but all Malaysians?