By Kay Lynn Chua
As the cliches go, pictures can be worth a thousand words and art is simply ‘priceless’. However, when the art auction market comes into view, works of art can amass astounding amounts. In the last decade, more Malaysians are spending money on works of art as a means of an alternate investment, for private collections, or out of pure admiration. Here, we explore the five most expensive pieces of local art sold at auction in the last decade.
1. Growth I, 1968, Abdul Latiff Mohidin, £245,000 (RM1,353,035)
On March 27, 2020, Abdul Latiff’s Growth I, 1968 set a world auction record by selling for £245,000 at the MODERN MADE auction in London. The oil painting is part of the artist’s most recognised series, ‘Pago Pago’. Known as Malaysia’s leading modernist painter, Latiff’s Pago Pago series consists of over 80 artworks, texts, and archival documents that encapsulate his cross cultural journey through Western and Asian societies.
London Auction House Lyon & Turnbull emphasised the significance of the work, saying “Growth I is also significant as a transitional work where [Latiff] is beginning to challenge the ascending vertical thrust of his previous works…the vertical dominance is more muted and he gives more significance to the horizontal axis…”
2. Calama Desert, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, RM918,400
The late Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s 1991 painting Calama Desert shocked the Malaysian art auctions as it sold for just shy of RM1 million on August 23, 2020 at the Henry Butcher Malaysian and South-East Asian Art Auction. The synergy between the thick and thin lines amongst the rhythmic bold colours has been a trademark of the artist’s style since the 70s.
The painting depicts an abstraction of the Calama Desert in Chile—where Ibrahim was involved in a retrospective at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago. He was the first Asian artist to hold a solo exhibition in Chile.
3. Red, Orange, Core, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, RM797,500
Another of Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s artwork, Red, Orange, Core painted in 1983, once held the record for the most expensive painting auctioned in Malaysia. The painting, which represents the eight principles of reality in feng shui, sold for RM797,500 at Henry Butcher’s Art Auctioneers in 2012.The artwork stays true to the artist’s style with its thick and thin lines backed by a striking red.
4. Now And Again It Flowers - Series I, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, RM781,000.
For several decades, acrylic painting diptych Now And Again It Flowers’ hung on the walls of Datuk Abu Mansor and Datin Paduka Zaitoon Othman’s Taman Duta Residence. The couple was one of Ibrahim’s pioneer collectors and the painting was one of their prized possessions. However, the painting was sold at KLAS for RM781,000 in 2013.
5. Seascape, Abdul Latiff Mohidin, RM572,000
Following his successful solo show in Singapore, the Edge Gallery held the art exhibition ‘Latiff Mohidin, Seascape, Recent Painting’ in 2014 to display 10 exclusive paintings from Latiff Mohidin. That same year, one of the artworks from the show titled Seascape fetched a whopping RM572,000 at The Edge Auction.
Our art has made clear gains in the last decade in both the local market and on a global scale due to the booming interest in collecting Malaysian art. With galleries holding programmes that boost local art appreciation, better art education, and more artists entering the scene, we can expect Malaysian art to continue gaining respect and value at art auctions.
A fine art graduate, Kay Lynn Chua splits her time between being an artist and running her own business, ‘Private Art Lessons KL’, in Kuala Lumpur.