Preview of ‘Ritual + Culture’ at Bonhams

A category-defying sale of Fine Southeast Asian Arts
By Chua Chingyi

Cheong Soo Pieng (Singaporean, 1917-1983), ‘The Red Tone’, 1962, oil on canvas, 91.6 x 71cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Cheong Soo Pieng (Singaporean, 1917-1983), ‘The Red Tone’, 1962, oil on canvas, 91.6 x 71cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Bonhams Hong Kong will hold its second edition of the ‘Ritual + Culture: Fine Southeast Asian Arts’ sale on 29 March 2019, jointly realised by Edward Wilkinson, Global Head of the Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art Department at Bonhams and Wang Zineng, founder of art advisory Art Agenda, S.E.A.. Featuring 81 lots – 30 more than its first iteration, which had an over 90% sell-through rate – the current sale continues to break boundaries that separate modern, contemporary and classical works of art, and promotes the aesthetic and cultural perspectives inherent in the art of the Southeast Asian region.

First and second-generation Singaporean painters are given prominence in a dedicated section of the sale. Lot 26 ‘The Red Tone’ by Cheong Soo Pieng, exhibited at the iconic Redfern Gallery in 1963, is a highlight, and is available at an estimate of HKD380,000 to HKD780,000. Other lots include works by Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee, Chua Ek Kay, Anthony Poon, See Cheen Tee, and Vincent Hoisington. Three abstract Vincent Hoisington works executed on wood panels are entering the auction market for the first time, from two private collections in Singapore.

Vincent Hoisington (Singaporean, 1924-1972), ‘Passacaglia’, 1972, enamel paint, repoussé aluminium over wood panel, 151 x 55.5 x 3.5cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Vincent Hoisington (Singaporean, 1924-1972), ‘Passacaglia’, 1972, enamel paint, repoussé aluminium over wood panel, 151 x 55.5 x 3.5cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

The cover lot is one of the finest and earliest dated Fernando Amorsolo to come to market. Offered at an estimate of HKD300,000 to HKD400,000, ‘Maiden with Fruits’ features an idealised Filipina beauty against a utopic vista of rural Philippines that existed in the souls of the artist’s countrymen in the 20th century. Significantly larger in size compared to other Amorsolo portraits painted in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the work represents a high point in Amorsolo’s oeuvre.

Fernando Amorsolo (Filipino, 1892-1972), ‘Maiden with Fruits’, 1930, oil on canvas, 48 x 66cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Fernando Amorsolo (Filipino, 1892-1972), ‘Maiden with Fruits’, 1930, oil on canvas, 48 x 66cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Noteworthy works from Vietnam and Thailand are represented as well. The sale will feature a private European collection of paintings by the last two vanguards of modern Vietnamese art, Bui Xuan Phai and Nguyen Tu Nghiem, and the usual suspects of paintings by Le Pho and Vu Cao Dam. Collectors can also look forward to a collection of Thai modern and Rattanakosin-era Buddhist sculptures, along with contemporary Thai paintings by Natee Utarit and Jirapat Tatsanasomboon.

‘Ritual + Culture’ also highlights post-war Indonesian abstract artists such as Zaini, Popo Iskandar, Fadjar Sidik, Umi Dachlan and Nashar (Lots 77-81), who were known to have developed artistic vocabularies that represented the country’s turbulent climate after World War II. More importantly, they were able to forge their own artistic identities as Indonesian abstract painters through engagements with their country’s tradition, the international language of abstraction and various philosophical viewpoints.  

Nashar (Indonesian, 1928-1994), ‘Spirits of Sanur’, 1977, oil on canvas, 90 x 140cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Nashar (Indonesian, 1928-1994), ‘Spirits of Sanur’, 1977, oil on canvas, 90 x 140cm. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

All in all, the sale succeeds in executing an art-historically framed juxtaposition of prime pre-modern antiquities, sculptures and artefacts with key 20th-century modern and contemporary paintings to provide a unique perspective for understanding continuities and diversity in Southeast Asian art.

The auction preview will be held at Bonhams Hong Kong from 26 to 29 March 2019, and the auction will commence on 29 March 2019, 4pm at the same location.