The information was gathered from selected auction houses and private galleries. All auction prices include a buyer’s premium. The conversion rates listed are based on the date of sale. Some gallery owners have declined to declare and publish their record prices.
At the top of the list is the late Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, whose Red, Orange & Core, 1984, (198.3cm by 271.4cm), was sold at Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers in 2012 for RM797,500, which included a buyer’s premium of 10%.
Although sold below the “RM800,000 to RM1,200,000” estimate, the price realised remains the highest ever sold for a Malaysian artwork at an auction. This perhaps reflects the condition of the secondary art market, which has been affected by the deluge of auction houses entering the market in 2013, resulting in limited sources of “high quality” artworks; consignors preferring to sell privately instead of through auction; global economic instability; and the weakening ringgit. However, Malaysians have continued to splurge on artworks, albeit prudently, at galleries, art fairs and auctions.
Latiff Mohidin, 75, comes second with a piece from his latest series, Seascape, 2013, (166cm by 110.5cm). It fetched RM572,000 at The Edge Auction in 2014.
In November 2015, Christie’s auction, Convergences: A Special Sale of Singapore Art, featured Malaysian artists such as Tay Chee Toh and Chia Yu Chian (1936 – 1991). The late Chia’s By the River, 1954 (65cm by 80cm) was sold for HK$687,500 (RM378,751), a record price for the artist, whose paintings depicted the Nanyang style.
Although prices at auction do not necessarily reflect the importance of the artists or the true value of their artworks, it is an avenue for the public to obtain transparency in the art market, to a certain extent.
The Edge Galerie’s exhibition, Latiff Mohidin: Modern Sculptures 2007 – 2015, in April this year showcased 31 sculptures made from stainless steel, resin and brass.
The largest stainless steel work, Shiraz 2 (127cm in height by 248cm in length by 46cm in width) was sold for RM640,000, including Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Contemporary artist Ivan Lam, 41, created a trilogy of paintings for an exhibition entitled Day Zero, Night Hero at Wei-Ling Gallery in 2013. The first two pieces — Day – I have hated you too much to be grateful of the Day and Night – I have loved you too much to be fearful of the Night — were first exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong in May 2013. The final work, Hero/Zero, was completed in November 2013. In 2015, the series was sold privately for RM250,000.
In 2014, Wei-Ling Gallery sold a mixed-media installation artwork by Anurendra Jegadeva, 51, for RM330,000. The piece was from his solo exhibition entitled MA-NA-VA-REH – Love and Loss in the Time of the Big Debate.
In the same year, NN Gallery sold an abstract painting by Cheong Laitong, 84, entitled No 29, 1995 (135cm by 175cm) for RM100,000.
Without doubt, many other artworks may have been sold privately at higher prices. As money is a delicate subject for most high-net-worth individuals, discretion is key when it comes to buying and selling art.
Most art dealers adopt the “client confidentiality” principle, therefore the prices are usually only known to the privileged few.
Favourite artists in the Malaysian contemporary segment at auctions include Chang Fee Ming, Awang Damit, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Jalaini Abu Hassan, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Rafiee Ghani and Kow Leong Kiang.
At an auction in Singapore in 2013, Larasati Auctioneers sold a watercolour on paper by Chang entitled Mandalay for SG$103,700 (RM255,924), an auction record for the artist to date.
In June last year, Chang presented over 70 artworks at a Christie’s Private Sales exhibition in Hong Kong entitled Chang Fee Ming: Weaving the World in Watercolour. His paintings sold for over RM200,000 each.
In May 2015, Awang Damit’s diptych entitled Apa Khabar Ledang (Essence of Culture series) dated 1992 was featured at Christie’s Hong Kong. It was sold for HK$437,500 (RM206,430), breaking the artist’s previous auction record of RM100,800 for a 1993 artwork from the same series achieved at Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers in November 2014. Those present revelled in the bidding spectacle as the final price was 672% above the lower estimate of RM15,000.
Since the Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale by Christie’s in Hong Kong in 2007, Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s artworks have been steadily fetching higher prices. Angkor 2, 2006, (66cm by 198cm) was sold for HK$427,500 (RM184,638), an auction record for the artist. His previous record price of RM115,500 was achieved for an acrylic on jute painting entitled Oleg, 2013, (120cm by 180cm) at The Edge Auction in 2013.
At the same Christie’s auction in 2007 in Hong Kong, Jalaini Abu Hassan’s Halal, 2007, was sold for HK$391,500 (RM169,090), also an auction record for the artist. Locally, his highest auction price of RM121,000 was achieved at The Edge Auction in 2013 for a diptych mixed media on canvas entitled The Hallucination of Facts in Ungrounded History, 2012 (244cm by 305cm).
Another sought-after name at auction is Khalil Ibrahim, 82, whose 1993 multi-coloured abstract painting from his Fishermen Series was sold for RM107,084 at the Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers’ sale in October 2015.
Other artists whose works have performed well at auctions include Khoo Sui Hoe, 77, whose dreamy painting, Around the Moon, 1972 (88cm by 88cm) was sold for RM93,500 in 2013; Chong Siew Ying, whose oil on canvas work, L’ete, 2006 (150cm by 150cm) was sold for RM89,600 in 2014; and Lee Cheng Yong, whose oil on board painting, Rubber Collection, created in the 1960s and measuring 60cm by 50cm, was sold in 2015 for RM80,640.
Across the causeway, works of modern artists such as Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen and Cheong Soo Pieng have surpassed the RM1 million mark at auctions.
For instance, at Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale in 2013, Wen Hsi’s oil on board painting entitled Pasar (Market), circa 1950s, was sold for HK$13,240,000 (RM5,429,167).
At the same auction, Georgette’s oil on canvas painting, Lotus Symphony, 1962, (58cm by 144cm) achieved HK$9,160,000 (RM3,756,131).
More recently, at last year’s Christie’s Convergences: A Special Sale of Singapore Art in Hong Kong, Cheong’s oil on canvas painting, Balinese Dance, 1953 (134cm by 87.5cm) was sold for HK$7,720,000 (RM4,250,601).
In Malaysia, artworks that could possibly exceed RM500,000 and reach RM1 million are those sold privately as well as commissioned pieces such as public sculptures. Latiff Mohidin, Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Yusof Ghani, Abdul Multhalib Musa and Eng Tay have created public sculptures for
Contemporary artists who may have also sold artworks for more than RM100,000 include Ahmad Fuad Osman, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Hamir Soib and Nadiah Bamadhaj.
“Value” in the art market is as complex and mysterious as an abstract painting. To understand it, one has to experience the entire journey of looking at art beyond the price tags.