Southeast Asian Art Takes Auction Spotlight –

merpres temple festival bali Southeast Asian Art Takes Auction Spotlight   artmarketblog.comThe countries of Southeast Asia, in particular Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia,Vietnam and The Philippines, have a particularly rich and varied artistic heritage thanks partly to the strong presence of Western cultures in the region that existed for many centuries.  As a consequence of the interest shown by the West in the countries of  Southeast Asia during the first half of the 20th century, a significant number of Western born and trained modern artists took the opportunity to explore the exotic Southeast.  Well known artists such as French born Joseph Inguimberty, Russian born Walter Spies, Belgian born Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès and Swiss born Theo Meier all spent long periods of time living and producing art in various different Southeast Asian countries.  The lure of the exotic Southeast for Western artists was best summed up by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès who once said: “Except for a few journeys to the Far East, I never left the island.  Why should I? Sir, I am an impressionist.  There are three things in life that I love: beauty, sunlight and silence. Now could you tell me where to find these in a more perfect state than in Bali?” – Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès.

For a market that consists of countries that so often appear obsessed with the trappings of Western society and culture, yet also seem determined to preserve their own artistic heritage, a work of art that has strong associations with both the Western artistic heritage and the Southeast Asian culture is hugely appealing.  It is no surprise then that the work of Western expat artists who took up residence in Southeast Asian countries are once again finding favour with the Asian art collectors who are dominating the global art market.  Proving how strong the allure of artists such as Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès is, the top lot of Christie’s May 30th Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary art held in Hong Kong was a work by De Mempres titled Temple Festival in Bali which fetched HK$ 7,700,000 (US$ 989,450) against an estimate of HK$1,900,000-2,600,000. In fact, Christie’s previous Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary art auction held also in Hong Kong on the 29th of November 2010 also saw the highest price go to a Western born artist – namely Walter Spies.  Spies’ Balinesische Legende (Balinese Legend) fetched HK$16,900,000 (US$2,186,877) which is almost twice as much as it fetched in 2001 when it was last sold at auction by Sotheby’s.

This is not the first time that Southeast Asian art has caught the eye of investors and collectors.  2008 proved a pivotal year for Southeast Asian art as the Chinese art market boom peaked forcing those who couldn’t afford to pay the premium slapped on works by Chinese artists to turn to work of Southeast Asian artists as a much more affordable yet similar alternative.  As the Chinese art market once again exhibits bubble-like characteristics, collectors and investors are again turning to Southeast Asia as a source of undervalued talent.  Poster-boy of the Southeast Asian contemporary art market, Filipino artist Ronald Ventura, is just one of the artists who have caught the eye of cashed up Asian art buyers who are driving up prices at an alarming rate.  At Sotheby’s spring 2011 sale of Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian held in Hong Kong on the 4th of April, Ventura’s Grayground sold for HK$ 8,420,000 against an estimate of  HK$220,000 – 350,000 making it the most expensive work of Southeast Asian contemporary art sold at auction.

As the Ventura record made headlines I was asked by the to comment on the sale. Here is what I had to say regarding Ventura’s rise to fame:

Asked his opinion on Ventura’s record-breaking sale, Nicholas Forrest (Art Market Blog: The World’s Most Popular Independent Art Market Analysis) observes:    “Investors and collectors are always looking for new emerging markets that have untapped talent, and several Southeast Asian countries fit the bill – including the Philippines. What makes Ventura stand out from the crowd is the fact that he has progressed through the ranks and proven himself over quite a long period of time.  Ventura showed that he is an experienced artist with a bright future. Adding to his status is the fact that he has been picked up by a New York gallery and was part of the 2008 Singapore Biennale.”

Read the full article here:


Temple Festival in Bali
signed ‘J. Le Mayeur’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
35 5/8 x 47¼ in. (90.6 x 120.7 cm.)

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

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