Founder of Richard Koh Fine Art
As the gallery’s 10th year anniversary approaches, founder Richard Koh speaks to EZ about nurturing talent, promoting contemporary art and the developing art industry in Asia.
Operating private gallery spaces in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Richard Koh Fine Art has not only been a platform for the viewing of pioneer works, it also serves to provide emerging artists access to a wider audience.
“It is a gallery that nurtures young contemporary artists. We promote them wherever we can,” explains Koh who with over 20 years of experience, is a valued resource for many of the region’s important private and public collections. “These are young, up and coming artists who have never had any exposure or opportunity to show their work but who are very good.”
Recently four Malaysian artists, who under the auspices of Richard Koh Fine Art were selected for the recent “Arts KL – Melbourne 2014” exhibition in Australia. The creations of Fendy Zakri, Haffendi Anuar, Hasanul Isyraf and Yeoh Choo Kuan are inspired by current events and communicate their ideas through abstract expressionism and reinvented images. It is progressive talents such as these that Koh is eager to discover and promote to the world.
Starting with Malaysian artists, it wasn’t long before his patronage extended to Southeast Asian artists and beyond. Koh often travels to discover new talent, keeping his eyes peeled for someone with the ‘it’ factor and has journeyed as far as the Middle East and South America. “At one stage there were more foreign artists than Malaysians”. This wasn’t so much the lack of home grown talent as the lack of new material produced by local artists. “Malaysian art is still the same in a sense, they are still painting the same thing but there is a new interest for a lot of people,” Koh observes giving credence to developing interest in art collection which has created a demand for new ideas and techniques.
It is certainly a very different scene from what it was about 10 years ago when art was seen as a privilege for the more astute section of society. Now with increasing accessibility through mainstream galleries and art shows, the world of art is opening up to the general public especially here in Asia. “Malaysia art is starting to have attraction. People are interested to buy real works of art, you know, for their homes and to collect or to simply enjoy it.”
The evolution within the art industry in Asia is certainly escalating especially with the emergence of auction houses, and there is some apprehension that this could turn into a double-edged sword. “The art scene is very interesting in that sense that they are developing. At the moment, in the Malaysian art scene there are more investors than collectors, so maybe in a way it is not as healthy as it should be for the artist to actually have a chance to develop,” says Koh who does not subscribe to the rules of economy where art is concerned. “When it is market driven then basically the art is done for the consumer. (But) art is a recording of history in many ways, so it must come from heart and not from the market proven perspective.”
The market is certainly buzzing here in Asia, although in Koh’s opinion this is not an indication for everyone to go out and buy art. “I think anytime is a time to buy art. A market is a market, you know. The only difference is with Asia, people are beginning to collect art. So the awareness of art is there now. In the west it’s been around longer, so it is a slightly more mature market compared to us.” When asked if this could potentially kill the market, Koh disagrees. “You need the auction houses, to generate interest you know. Malaysia never really had a secondary market till the auction houses came about but it has changed slightly because it is no longer about the secondary market.”
Although art is not regarded as an asset, Koh admits that there is a tendency to treat it like stock in the share market which is bought and sold for the sake of making a quick buck. “In many ways the auction houses have given the public awareness of art, but on the other hand it has also created, in strange way a very speculative market for people to play in.”
His advice to the public eager to bank in on this trend is to be exposed to the art scene as much as possible and do their research to be better informed about their potential purchases. “I think one needs to understand and know what they are buying art for – whether for pleasure, to decorate a house, investment. And before you buy, visit as many shows and galleries or museum as possible to help you understand what you really, really like.”
Koh is also keen to point out that the price of art is not necessarily an indication of its quality or worth. “Sometimes the cheapest piece art is something that you like the most and gives you the most pleasure. It may not go up with the price, it doesn’t matter but you enjoy it. And that’s special thing about art.”