Art market braces for another tough year


THE Malaysian art market is expected to see a rocky move towards growth in 2021 after recording nearly RM8 million in transactions in 2020 compared to RM8.3 million in the previous year.

Henry Butcher’s Art Auctioneers (HBAA) director Sim Polenn said the industry has been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic as the different phases of the Movement Control Order (MCO) reduced gallery shows, private selling, delivery and collections.

“For HBAA, we were lucky as we still managed to record art auction sales of near to RM8 million in 2020, with the breakdown as follows: RM2.37 million (March), RM2.83 million (August) and RM2.74 million (November), segmented into auctions.

“Among the three auctions that were held last year, the March and November editions were con- ducted through online bidding, phone bidding, absentee bidding without any floor bidding, as the government did not allow gathering due to the movement restrictions,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said the auction house managed to adapt to the situation and convert its clients to bid online and through phone.

“The August edition was conducted with floor bidding,” he said. In August, the majority of the country was undergoing the Recovery MCO prior to the sudden spike of cases in September.

In terms of sales, the auction house has been selling off Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s pieces for the highest bids three times consecutively in March, with the artist’s “Little Things” (1995) piece sold for RM403,200, followed by Yusof Ghani’s “Siri Tari” (1993) which went under the hammer for RM168,000 and Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s “Red Legang” (2004) which fetched for RM100,800.

The auction house had marked up a total of 120 paintings sold for RM2.2 million within four hours during the auction, with an overall 60.6% take-up rate.

In August, the piece that received the highest bid was also Ibrahim’s piece “Calama Desert” (1991) at RM918,400, followed by Yusof’s “Siri Tari” (1991-1992) piece for RM84,000 and Ronald Ventura’s “Untitled” piece (2008) for RM72,800.

The floor bidding that was held in August sold the most with take-up rate at 81% with a total of RM2.87 million raked up throughout the auction, followed by 67% take-up rate in November, with total sales of RM2.74 million.

For its November 2020 auction, the highest bid was again made on Ibrahim’s “Figures on the Beach” (1980) for RM588,000, followed by Abdul Latiff Mohidin’s “Rimba” (circa 1990s) for RM201,600, while Ibrahim’s “Untitled” piece (1967) was auctioned for RM134,400.

Sim said based on what happened last year, 2021 is expected to be tougher on the art market and industry as the country is also facing political instability, in lieu of the declaration of emergency earlier this year.

“As for the art auctions, yes, HBAA will be running three to four of them this year.

“Life goes on, we will do our best in providing more quality artworks to the market via this open, transparent art auctioning platform,” he said.

He said despite the slow movement of the art market, the collectors’ pool is still growing.

“In each auction, on average, 20% of the buyers are new clients to HBAA.

“Some just started collecting for a few months or a year, while some encountered really good artworks in auction that they wouldn’t want to miss acquiring, which pushed them to make the purchase,” he said.

Sim said the players in the industry are positive and confident the collectors’ pool will continue to grow.

“There are still art lovers out there, despite the challenges,” he said.