The love of art and its business

The growth of the art market has seen more people investing in galleries and spaces to exhibit arts and educate the public


Art may be subjective and it might not be the main priority for the majority, but the number of Malaysians who have started to appreciate the arts is growing nicely.

After all, art has always been the benchmark for civilisation. It is an expression of one’s creativity and imagination in various forms — may it be in painting, sculpture, music, dance, literature or theatre.

The growth of the art market has seen more people investing in galleries and spaces to exhibit arts and educate the public, while providing platforms for artists to showcase their works of art.

Ellis Khan, the founder of Wicked Art Space, is one of them. Instead of opening a traditional art gallery, the 27-year-old decided to open an “art space”.

The rationale behind it is simple — she wants to bring all forms of art into one space and encourage others to be more involved.

Khan said she has seen art galleries in Kuala Lumpur being closed due to the increasing cost of living with gallery owners preferring to rent spaces for exhibitions rather than sustaining on their own.

“I believe it is easier that way as they can focus more on the artists and their artwork as it is much more cost-effective to rent a space on a daily basis,” she said.

Khan had invested about RM60,000 in the start-up of her art space in Kelana Jaya, Selangor, where people frequently use her space for workshops.

“We rarely have exhibitions, but we do have a lot of workshops, which is sustainable as long as we have it every week. Meanwhile, apart from workshops and exhibitions, I open up the space for yoga and zumba classes at night and sometimes on the weekends to help maintain Wicked’s upkeep.

“On occasion, we do get people renting the space for art events; artists get together for a live sketch and drawing,” she said.

Khan added that Wicked’s upkeep is between RM5,000 and RM6,000 every month, a feat that sometimes is not that easy to fulfil.

She said on average, it costs between RM150 and RM200 to join a seminar or workshop at Wicked.

In terms of the appreciation of art among Malaysians, Khan said the number is also increasing.

“We have art festivals coming up every few months that have actually helped the arts a lot. However, when it comes to fine art, it is still a bit of a grey area as people do not know the value of it,” she said, adding that this is one of the key problems faced in the art industry.

For Aureo Gallery, its current business operation involves marketing preparation for various private and public art exhibitions.

Aureo Gallery founder and chairman Serena Chiam said her art gallery is set up for both sales and exhibition purposes and it also has the rights to promote, market and distribute Korean artist Kim Il Tae’s gold art globally.

Some of Korean artist Kim’s gold art distributed exclusively by Aureo gallery

“At this moment, we are only representing Kim’s gold art. However, we are open to represent more talented artists that fit our vision to promote distinctive artworks, including local artists,” she said.

She added that running an art gallery usually involves huge capital upfront with, however, no immediate returns.

“The nature of the art business also ensues slower inventory turnover compared to, say, the fashion business. So, it takes a lot of patience and emotional strength to pursue this business, as well as plenty of strategic decision-making to ensure Aureo Gallery reaches its fullest potential,” she said.

With regard to Malaysian artists getting sufficient exposure and recognition for their works, Chiam said they actually have sufficient exposure in the country, but lack international exposure.

“There is room for them to exhibit their art internationally, but it will involve a lot of funding and upfront cost. Typical costs will include exhibition booth rental, international logistic fee, cross-border tax deposits and insurance.

“That said, it will be great if our government could provide more support to our art galleries by providing financial subsidies to local artists and galleries,” she said.

Edith Ho, the founder of Gallery des Artistes in Petaling Jaya, has also taken a non-traditional business model for her art gallery.

“Gallery des Artistes is a very private and exclusive art gallery that can only be viewed by appointments. This is because the space of utmost importance and we want visitors and collectors to interact not only with the art, but with the art in the space.

“Also, we believe in a very personal approach where for most visits, I will actually give my visitors a complete tour and explain about the artists and their works,” she said, adding that most brick-and-mortar galleries’ cost of operation is a challenge as art galleries have bumpy revenues.

“In fact, most small-to-medium galleries shut down after their first year of operation,” she said.

Ho started her art gallery as she wanted to bring something different and fresh into the Malaysian art scene by bringing in famous artists and artworks from Europe.

“I wanted to bring in more diversity as well by specialising in Western contemporary and particularly arts from France, so Gallery des Artistes has a very distinctive French flair as 95% of my artists are from France,” she said.

Visitors at gallery des Artistes

She added that most of the artworks on show are for sale and the prices are extremely competitive as most of the artists are either established or emerging artists.

Ho said the main challenge in her business is distinguishing the identity of the gallery.

“There are too many galleries which have an eclectic roster of artists — trying to cater to a wider audience without having previously targeted what that audience was.

“For Gallery des Artistes, we have identified ourselves as a gallery that promotes Western, and in particular, French contemporary art. For instance, I will not be showing 19th century European classical art,” she said.

She added that another key challenge is the cost of running a gallery.

“Basically, art galleries still heavily rely on art fairs to get contacts and promote themselves, but art fairs can be extremely costly and sometimes, there is no return of investment,” she said.

Ho has invested RM472,000 in the setting up of her art gallery.