Fair Weather for Singapore Art at 33 Auction

Good results for modern whilst contemporary remained at nascent status quo
By A&M

Wee Beng Chong, ‘Untitled’, 1972, mixed media on masonite board, 122 x 122cm. Image courtesy of 33 Auction.

Wee Beng Chong, ‘Untitled’, 1972, mixed media on masonite board, 122 x 122cm. Image courtesy of 33 Auction.

33 Auction concluded their 4 Nov 2018 sale in Singapore with a relatively strong showing for the category of modern art they’ve been focusing on building market leadership for. 

The overall sell-through rate by lot was 56%, indicative of a highly selective market and perhaps the inability to uncover and bring to auction truly desirable material given the auction house’s schedule of three auctions in Singapore per annum. 

Iskandar Jalil, ‘Untitled Vessel with Jawi Script’, stoneware, 38.5 x 26.5 x 26cm. Image courtesy of 33 Auction.

Iskandar Jalil, ‘Untitled Vessel with Jawi Script’, stoneware, 38.5 x 26.5 x 26cm. Image courtesy of 33 Auction.

What 33 Auction managed to do was to build some marketing hype around a selection of three-dimensional works, including sculptures by Brother Joseph McNally and two vessel pieces of the potter Iskandar Jalil that sold well and carried the sale forward, along with vigorous bidding for works of Henri Chen Kezhan and Anthony Poon. 

“We are extremely pleased with the result achieved in this season’s sale,” says David Fu, Director of 33 Auction. “The numerous artist records broken this time is a testament to the strong interest in Singapore art and 33 Auction’s leadership in this market segment.

The following record prices (all including buyer’s premium) were achieved: Wee Beng Chong’s ‘Untitled’ at SGD12,200, Henri Chen Kezhan’s ‘Late Summer’ at SGD29.280, Iskandar Jalil’s ‘Untitled Vessel with Jawi Script’ at SGD11,590 and Brother Joseph McNally’s ‘Scream of Anguish’ at SGD61,000.

Contemporary Singapore art, which has always had a difficult place in the secondary market, fared less well. The lacklustre sale of works of Heman Chong, Michael Lee and Ming Wong at their low estimates, along with six other attractively priced contemporary works not finding new homes, indicate status quo in this category.

Henri Chen Kezhan, ‘Late Summer’, ink and colour on paper, framed, 123 x 123cm. Image courtesy of 33 Auction.

Henri Chen Kezhan, ‘Late Summer’, ink and colour on paper, framed, 123 x 123cm. Image courtesy of 33 Auction.

The market for Chen Wen Hsi also continues to sputter, with only half of the works sold. Right now, provenance and authenticity are the two criteria of utmost concern for buyers, at auction or via private sales, and the results play out these concerns. 

Overall, the indicative sentiment in the Singapore market as we draw towards the end of 2018 is that of prudence. Occasionally that loses itself faced with fresh, quality material. The question that follows is whether the market for Singapore art bears the depth of artists, quality works and buyers sufficient for 33 Auction and its competitors to continue working in and expanding the field.