An Important Pioneering Private Collection of Southeast Asian Art
"Southeast Asia is where we live and work. It's a world of porous borders and cultures that often meld into one another - at times seamlessly and at other times quite jarringly. Separately, there are also strong external influences from China, India, Europe and North America. This has made a 'reading' of Southeast Asian culture and its artistic practices so rich and rewarding."
One of the most satisfying facets of collecting is being able to play a trailblazing role in establishing the breadth and essential identity of a particular category of art. The ability to collect is made even more fulfilling when one is able not only to trace the development of art and its histories but also to play a part in shaping its development.
This season, Christie's is proud to present the first part of "An Important Pioneering Private Collection of Southeast Asian Art". The second part of the collection will follow in Christie's Spring 2012 auction in Hong Kong.
This collection has been built by two collectors whose commitment and passionate engagement with Southeast Asian art began since the mid-1980s and continues unabated today. In collecting, they began to be personally immersed in the living cultures of the region. Of paramount importance from the earliest days of their collecting has been the idea that art should have a living engagement with the immediate world of the artist. "Social conditions in Southeast Asia remain dire today by any measure and contemporary art that does not acknowledge this is lying," comments one of them. Works that elucidate the values, trends and directions of society and human life hold the greatest appeal for the pair behind this vision.
The collection stands out for the clarity of its vision and visual coherence. The vast majority of its works eschew the conceptual and the abstract and focus on the humanist. Highlights of the collection include the rare-to-market sculptural works of Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho's It's All About Coalition (Lot 1521), first produced as a commission for the National Museum of Singapore; Phuan Thai Meng's The Road To... (Lot 1524), one of the most iconic paintings of urban 21st century Malaysian art; Indonesian painter Jumaldi Alfi's Fake (Lot 1525) from his critically-celebrated Blackboard series; and Thai artist Natee Utarit's installation of landscape paintings, Truth and Ambitions (Lot 1523). These are augmented by brilliantly conceived works of non-traditional mediums, such as Melati Suryodarmo's durational performance, My Fingers are the Triggers (Lot 1646); Complaints and Statements (Lot 1644), a challenging epistle of minimalism by Yason Banal and Have Come, Am Here: An epilogue, Erik Sausa's synthesis of canvas and lightbox which was inspired and curated by seminal Philippine practitioner Roberto Chabet. Christie's is privileged to witness the sale of some of the most outstanding and momentous art works from the region, which bear testament to Southeast Asian artists' perspectives on society and life.
As the collectors readily acknowledge: "the marketplace has never been our guide to how we buy". They shun "crowd-pleasers" and "art as decoration" for works of a different vein that are stimulating, provocative, and generally considered academic rather than commercial. Yet, this does not mean their collection is wholly contrarian to mainstream taste. Many of the works and artists whom they have acquired are also sought after other by discerning collectors, with an eventual spread in commercial popularity. Often, their acquisitions have been made from being in a position of privileged access to artists' primary markets well before the artists have captured the mainstream attention of the collecting public. This collection has been built with foresight and distinction and can be acknowledged as one of the first to unite the diverse strands of artistic expression that exist in different parts of Southeast Asia.
Phuan Thai Meng's The Road To.... confronts the weighty issue of the urban condition in contemporary Malaysian society with a quietly charged aplomb characteristic of the artist. Painting what has been described as 'unsettling picture[s] of our contemporary experience', Phuan has a knack for identifying the most forlorn, wayside elements of the city, presenting them on canvas with a presence and significance far beyond their natural state of being.
In The Road To...., the painter and the viewer of the painting inhabit a ground level vantage point, beholding an artery system of overhead expressways. Tightly framed and imposing in scale, the depicted subject gains magnificence and mystery - an impenetrable urban monolith. Phuan has sliced the canvas in three places, exposing the wooden board on which the canvas is laid. The desecrating act is wholly deliberate, with the intent to deny a beholder of the painting a typical aesthetic experience. Its ruptures express the irreversible profanation of the urban landscape, emphasising the uneasy tensions between city-dwellers and the ever more ambitious architectural dreams and edifices being erected in metropolises today.