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Exceptional Southeast Asian Modern & Contemporary Art to Captivate Collectors this Fall
Walter Spies, Balinese Legend, 1929. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2010.

HONG KONG.- Christie’s announces its Spring sale of Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art will take place on 29 November at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. The sale brings together a comprehensive selection of modern and contemporary masterpieces from the region’s most sought-after artists, with works spanning the history and geography of the Southeast Asian region. This sale will feature over 120 lots with a pre-sale estimate of HK$27 million/US$3.5 million.

Important Southeast Asian Classical and Post-Independence Masterpieces
This season, Christie’s presents collectors with the exciting opportunity to acquire two exceedingly rare and desirable works from prominent masters of the late 19th and early 20th century who both profoundly influenced the hallmarks of Southeast Asian art as we know it today: Raden Sjarief Bustaman Saleh, (circa 1810 – 1880) known as the Delacroix of the East and hailed as the father of modern Indonesian painting, and Russian-born German artist Walter Spies (1895 - 1942) the “Master of Campuan”, his Balinese haven for artists, musicians and dancers.

Apart from showing Raden Saleh’s genius and versatility in depicting dramatic genre scenes and subjects full of energy and tragic emotion, Wounded Lion (estimate: HK$6,000,000–8,000,000/US$770,000–1,025,000) also reveals his participation in one of the most important philosophical movements sweeping across 19th century Europe. Influenced in his formative years by the Romantic school of thought, founded by key intellectuals of the period such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, and artistically influenced by Delacroix, Gericault and Goya, propelled Saleh to become one of the foremost Orientalist painters in depicting the “mysterious East”. Wounded Lion combines the artist’s intimate knowledge of native subjects and verdant tropical landscapes with a formidable technique in European aesthetics. As a result of being the first Western-trained Javanese painter, he also became the first indigenous artist to express a high degree of visual fluency in the oil medium, paving the way for the flourishing of art in the 20th century.

In contrast, Walter Spies arrived in Indonesia in 1923 on the cusp of European modernism, bringing with him an aesthetic style influenced by modernist philosophy, early film, and tribal folk art from a period of internment in the Russian Urals region during the World War I. During his early years in Indonesia he became the conductor for the Sultan of Jogjakarta’s orchestra where he left an indelible mark on Indonesian music by transcribing Bach, Scriabin and Hindemith set to local instruments. In 1927, Spies moved to Bali and entered into an active relationship of artistic cross pollination with the local community. Spies became both mentor and student, as he staged art exhibitions, re-arranged native music and re-choreographed the traditional Balinese dancing, while simultaneously absorbing the visual impact of native artwork and temple carvings based on Sanskrit mythology. At the height of this halcyon period Balinese Legend (estimates on request) was painted in 1929, a transcendental work in which the mystical essence of Bali as perceived by Spies is distilled into an undercurrent of dramatic tension and joyous vibrancy. Its meticulous visual arrangement epitomises his attention to compositional structure, refined detail and flair for the theatrical. Spies himself considered it to be one of his finest works, writing ecstatically to a friend in one of his surviving letters that it was “very fantastical” and had a “perspective vastly different from anything previously known before….bearing resemblance to old Russian frescoes and perhaps a connection to Rousseau”.

Jeune Fille en Blanc (Young Girl in White) is a magnificent example of the refined brushwork of Indo-French painter, Le Pho (1907 – 2001) (estimate: HK$700,000–900,000/US$89,700–115,400). His sensitive, finely executed works blend a keen understanding of late 19th and early 20th century European art with subjects native to his home country. This particular work depicts a woman wearing a white ao dai (Vietnamese silk tunic worn over pantaloons) reclining on a pillow with a pale blue gauze scarf draped over one arm. The languorous composition which highlights a single figure in repose is reminiscent of the portraiture techniques favoured by French salon artists, and its graceful subject, delicate lines and muted colour palette exemplifies the best of Le Pho’s “beautiful women” works.

From Indonesian modern master Hendra Gunawan (1918 – 1983) comes Conversation (estimate: HK$1,170,000–1,560,000/US$150,000–200,000). Instead of the esoteric themes or beautiful-Indies landscapes favoured by his forebears, Gunawan preferred to paint down-to-earth subjects, drawing inspiration from rural village life. Under his brush, farmers, market dwellers and fisherfolk acquire dignity, humor, and even a lush seductiveness portrayed through their bold gazes and vigorous attitudes. During Indonesia’s troubled rise to independence in the mid 20th century, Gunawan became a guerrilla fighter and participated in the struggle for freedom alongside his countrymen. In Conversation, which depicts a guerrilla fighter engaging a woman in impassioned dialogue within a village marketplace, the subtext is an insistent call to allow Indonesians to fully govern their own lives, no matter how impoverished their personal circumstances.

Leading Contemporary Works from the Stars of Southeast Asia
This season Christie’s will present collectors with a range of works from the region’s most exciting and vibrant contemporary artists. As seen in the results from recent sales within the category, the market for first-rate contemporary works remains robust, with discerning buyers from well beyond Asia competing for quality works from both established and emerging artists. This season’s sale features top quality works from leading names such as I Nyoman Masriadi, Handiwirman Saputra, Christine Ay Tjoe, Agus Suwage, Rudi Mantofani and Indieguerillas.

Highlighting the contemporary section is Trombone (estimate: HK$780,000–1,400,000/US$100,000–180,000) from I Nyoman Masriadi (b. 1973) who constantly interrogates and redefines the world around him through wittily satirical works. Trombone depicts a smartly dressed figure leaning out of the window of a Rolls-Royce, gleefully playing a trombone. At first glance, his narcissistic attitude appears to personify the pun “blowing your own horn”.

Upon careful inspection of the text, however, the reality of the scene becomes apparent. In fact, the stern-faced lady in the front seat is the true holder of personal power, as she harshly reprimands the supposed protagonist “Bisakah kamu main setelah kita sampai! / Can you play after we’ve arrived!”, to which he responds humbly “Yes Mam….”. This ingenious scene portraying the complexities interpersonal relationships exemplifies Masriadi’s incisive ability to search beneath the skin of contemporary society.

Another outstanding contemporary artist with a very different visual appeal is Handiwirman Saputra, represented here through Membayang (Imagining) (estimate: HK$800,000–1,200,000/US$100,000–150,000). Saputra’s art takes an instinctive and subtle form through almost tactile representations of three-dimensional objects simplified to their barest essences. Complimenting this subtle aesthetic is a range of four works by acclaimed female artist Christine Ay Tjoe, showcasing her abstract painted canvases in Bertiga #9 (HK$70,000–90,000/US$9,000–11,500) and Bertiga #4 (HK$100,000–150,000/US$12,800–19,200) as well as Barabas Lights #07 (estimate: HK$120,000-180,000/US$15,400–23,000), and a sculptural tour de force, One Open Side Jail (HK$55,000–65,000/US$7,100–8,300).

Completing the selection of exciting contemporary works are two striking sculptures by Rudi Mantofani and Agus Suwage. Nada Yang Hilang (The Missing Note) (HK$150,000–200,000/US$19,200–25,600) reveals Mantofani’s artistic vision which challenges visual perspective through the most minimal of forms, creating a sleekly elegant optical conundrum. In contrast, Luxury Crime (HK$120,000-160,000/US$15,400–20,500) by Agus Suwage reveals yet another progressive layer within this respected artist’s introspective and self-referential methodology: an uncannily prescient memento mori or shocking visual reminder of his own mortality. These works by very different artists exemplify the best in current Southeast Asian contemporary art practise and indicate the careful curation behind the entire selection of contemporary works within Christie’s fall season.

Christie's | Sale of Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art | Hong Kong |

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