Art Market Watch: What You Need to Know About Southeast Asia

With the meteoric rise of China’s art world just next door, Southeast Asia might easily be overlooked as an art destination. But over the past few years the region’s art market has been rapidly gaining steam, watched closely by experts in the field; and Singapore, where the fourth edition of Art Stage Singapore launches this week, is now touted as an emerging cultural center. In case you’re looking for the inside scoop on what’s selling, why, and for how much, we bring you some key facts and figures, as well as insights from Zineng Wang, a specialist in Southeast Asian art at Christie’s and former Manager of Collections at Singapore’s National Gallery.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Singapore now has more millionaires per capita than any other city, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group, and Indonesian billionaires now outnumber those in Japan.

- In November 2013, an artwork by the late Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong sold to a private Indonesian collector for a record $4,661,642—the most expensive work of Southeast Asian art ever sold at auction.

Nyoman Masriadi, a contemporary Balinese artist and currently one of the hottest names in Southeast Asian art, regularly fetching six figures for his paintings, recently set records with sales to Middle Eastern and U.S. collectors.

- An artwork by Cheong Soo Pieng—the influential and experimental 20th-century Singaporean artist who painted the image on the back of Singapore’s 50-dollar note—sold in late 2013 for over half a million U.S. dollars.

- At Christie’s, total Southeast Asia sales for fall 2013, at well over $21 million, saw an increase of over $8 million in just six months from their Spring 2013 auction figures.    

- Asked what’s selling best in the region, Wang told us: “Figurative art tends to be more dominant in Southeast Asian art than other regions of the world. Some of the most inspiring and iconic painters of the 20th and 21st centuries—from the Indonesian expressionist painter Affandi, the first Southeast Asian artist presented at the São Paulo Biennale in 1951, to two leading contemporary painters, Ronald Ventura and Nyoman Masriadi—have created outstanding oeuvres centered around the human figure.”

- Collectors in the region are buying Western art, too: sales of notable works by international contemporary artists Takashi Murakami, Alexander Calder, and Damien Hirst have been auctioned and sold to Southeast Asian collectors.

What further developments can we expect from the Southeast Asian market over the next few years? Wang predicts, “we’ll continue to see the growth of a collector base for Southeast Asian contemporary art, and I think in particular the continued emergence of post-1975-born Southeast Asian artists such as Eko Nugroho, Louie Cordero, and Robert Zhao Renhui.” Stay tuned.

Explore Art Stage Singapore on Artsy.

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