This is an introduction to issue 3 of "Collectors' Guide to the Southeast Asian art market", C-Arts, October 2010. Full 6-page article with charts.

Dear collectors

Thank you for your warm response to issue 2’s Selling Guide. A number of you asked about the significance of 'Column C’. Many misinterpreted a high percentage to be a suggestion of how significant the artist ranks in the art market. In reality, the converse is true. Column C essentially tells us the contribution of an artist’s top 20 transactions to his/ her total market turnover. A high percentage, of say 85%, indicates how much of the remaining market (15%) is made up of lower-priced transactions. For contemporary artists, this high percentage can suggest how young (Mahendra Yasa) or thin (Rudi Mantofani) his market is — that after accounting for the artist’s top 20 lots, the remainder is low. I hope that clarifies.

The boom in the contemporary art market of 2007 has already become a history of 3.5 years. In the blink of an eye, the Southeast Asian art market has experienced a boom, weathered a bust and witnessed a recovery — all in the last 26 months. Hot on the heels of last issue’s selling guide, I would like to attempt to zoom in on the contemporary art market with that market cycle in view. How is the contemporary art market organised now ? What happen to the markets of contemporary artists who propelled the market forward in 2007? Where are they now? In as much as I would like to go further and explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind different trajectories that artists have taken, time and space do not permit. You might wish to bear these in mind as you pour through the charts.

To do that, I propose looking at the contemporary market through the lens of 16 artists in 5 market ‘modes’ – the maturing markets, the growth markets, the markets that are in consolidation, the markets that appear to be losing steam and lastly the markets in transition. These categorisations are purely my personal assessment at this point in time — a reading that is based not purely on tangible market symptoms, but also on more qualitative observations of their ascension to the auction stage, circulation and choices of distribution channels, ability to re-invent themselves and collector base. Why them ? Incidentally, these artists tend to have been closely watched at one point or another and they collectively contribute up to 72% of the total contemporary market. Through them, one can access three-quarters of the narrative, discern collectors’ changing tastes and understand the progression of artists’ markets over the course of time. One might even draw direct references to markets of artists who started some years before them – those of Arifien Neif, Djoko Pekik, Nasirun or even Heri Dono.

Just as no single chart tells the whole story, this issue provides a selected glimpse of the art market. To really understand an artist’s market, collectors need to also tune in to an artist’s personal development and achievements in the areas of circulation, collaborations, exposure in exhibitions, residencies, biennales and museum collections.

One important caveat : this is not crystal ball gazing. Even as these readings have been based on empirical data, I am highly reluctant to suggest that the historical trajectories demonstrated in the following pages can be extended to project some kind of a future. What happens after is mainly a result of artistic decisions made by the artist himself, on his artistic productions and the distribution of his works, in interaction with other members of the art world.

Even as I close this story, I received the results of Sotheby’s October 4th auction of Southeast Asian art in my inbox. Reading it brought a smile to my face.

My interpretation stays. Enjoy reading (and debating).

Patricia Chen

Copyright © 2010 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved. No part of this writing may be reprinted, reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including printing, recording or information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission in writing from the author.

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