Art auctions — where to begin

The most important part of beginning one’s journey as an art bidder is to register to an auction house using their own identification card, says HBAA director


ART is among the assets one can invest in, often appealing to a niche group of investors and thus, building a unique community.

Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers (HBAA) director Sim Polenn said the Malaysian art market is currently soft. However, the industry is gaining traction and purchases progressively via volume.

“As of last year, our auction house totalled in about RM8.3 million, whereas in the previous year, we recorded only as much as RM5.8 million,” he said.

So how does one get into the art scene in Malaysia?

To Register As a Bidder

Sim said the most important part of beginning one’s journey as an art bidder is to register to an auction house using their own identification card, whether to bid in person, absentee bid, or through a telephone bid.

“The art pieces can begin from as low as RM1,500 or RM2,000 and hit a ceiling of RM1 million, so the entry point can be that low. “Depending on how quickly they plan to pay for the piece, they can either pay upfront for the whole price of the painting they bid for by cash on the night of the bid, or take as long as one to two weeks,” he said.

He added that any participant may bid for a piece that is within their budget.

“Though naturally, there is a community of buyers already established and they have already developed a taste and then it grows,” he said.

To be informed of auction activities, future buyers will only have to register for a mailing list subscription — an option that is available on most auction houses’ websites — or keep checking the websites for upcoming events.

For The Edge Galerie, one may create an account on the website as a potential art acquirer and sign up for its updates.

How Art is Offered

Sim said the art pieces that are offered by the auction houses are usually offered by the collectors and are then filtered by the auction house’s appraisers.

“Most times we deal with collectors rather than artists, and the taste of buyers will grow over time, which means they will move on to different pieces,” he said.

Institutional or corporate buyers are present in the Malaysian art scene, however, the majority of buyers are still mostly made up of young and private collectors with interests in art for various purposes, such as enhancement, status elevation and using art as an investment option.

At HBAA, art auctions are sorted by themes, where pieces may be grouped in the region they originate from or in relation to architecture.

The latest available information on art auction results at HBAA noted the past results on November 2019, with artist Abdul Latiff Mohidin’s “1983 Mindscape” piece recording the highest purchase price of RM313,600, while the lowest is Adeputra Masri’s 2004 piece “Portraits of Suffering People” that was sold at RM1,200.

The Auction

The auction that was held on Nov 3, 2019, by HBAA sold RM3 million worth of art offering impressionist, modern and contemporary pieces from Abdul Latiff, Yusof Ghani, Zulkifli Yusoff and Chan Fee Ming.

It also marked the 10th anniversary of the auction house, which had auctioned off more than 2,200 pieces of artwork equating to a whopping RM50 million worth of sales over the period.