Finally after 4 years, Asian award winning artist Ch’ng Huck Theng, presented his final bronze sculpture ‘Pahlawan’ (Warrior in English) in his series ‘IMPerfect Creation’ in PinkGuy Gallery KL. Guest of Honor was Minister of Transport Dato’ Seri Liow Tiong Lai together with Datuk Dr. Wong Lai Sum, Dato’ TS Yong, collectors and friends from the art scene. Dato’ Seri Liow praised the artist for his endeavor for creating a Malay sculpture from the inspiration of legendary heroes such as Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, Hang Kesturi with the intention to remind fellow Malaysians that there is always a need to have a common ‘hero’ or a common ideology to unite the different races. A beautiful limited edition hard cover book ‘IMPerfect Creation’ was launched during the evening.
When I first stepped foot in Beijing 20 years ago, it was a big city with a perfect blue sky and most of its inhabitants did not know how to drive. Traffic was pleasant with the exception of thousands of bicycles either on roads or parked like sardines in open spaces near offices or metro stations.
I still remember my customer then Mr. Jia Wujun (贾武军) who had come to pick me up from the airport. While it was a perfectly normal day for me, it was his first day behind the wheels. He was as stiff as a stick as he handled the steering wheel with full concentration moving at the speed of a snail. He and his five brothers were farmers before but decided to take a leap of faith to dabble in a small seafood business when China opened its doors to the international market.
Today, Jia is one of the leading seafood importers in China who owns a factory in Thailand importing big volumes from all over the world in order to satisfy huge local demands. Not remotely a surprise, considering his connection with Thailand, he took me to one of the three Thai restaurants he now proudly owns. Thai Mei (泰美) is a new venture that serves authentic yet not-too-spicy Thai cuisine.
The Chinese have become a lot more well-off although the capital of China today is choke up with traffic jams and hazardous environment where sometimes one will find it difficult to see and breathe. If one would prefer to spend some quality time with fresh air and a ‘peace’ of mind, then award winning hotel Sunrise Kempinski Beijing where I was invited to speak in the China’s Business Family Heritage Forum 2016 (2016中国家族企业传承) would definitely be a good choice to stay. Although the Chinese wealth is exploding and with the expectation of its second generation to continue this fairy tale, many families are facing issues of successions as children inheriting the family business face difficulties in differing cultural upbringing and being raised in a total comfort and well-protected environment. The forum’s primary focus was to bring together foreign companies that have succeeded in passing the baton through generations; to share researches done by local academics; and to explore the success stories of Chinese companies that have performed well in both domestic and international platforms.
Although distantly located away from the city, the hotel offers a near perfect environment for those who wanted to be free from noise and air pollution as described by hotel manager Sebastian Thomas. Its interior has an impressive architectural design served with immaculate facilities especially the fitness centre and the hotel pool. The breakfast menu provides a delicious spread of choice ranging from the East to the West. The hot Chinese soup noodles and healthy yogurt were simply my choice to start the day. One should also try the signature in-house grilled fish and the braised sea cucumber with rice (小米煮辽参) in the Magnolia Chinese restaurant. The double-boiled hasma in papaya (木瓜炖雪蛤) dessert would be an excellent choice to call it a day. The welcoming dessert presentation in my room, I must say, was the best I have seen so far.
Beijing is a big city conveniently connected by its subway system taking away most travellers’ nightmare of being stuck in traffic. Walking around Wangfujing, this famous shopping area no longer gave me the feeling of old China that it once used to be, but rather disappointingly modern Western brand outlets now occupy the traditional Chinese buildings. Perhaps one of the most interesting scenes for tourists is the street food where exotic creatures such as live scorpions, sea horses, centipedes and worms are offered as snacks to those with strong stomachs. There is also another pedestrian shopping area in close proximity to Tiananmen Square: Beijing Qianmen Street located directly behind Zhenyangmen offers visitors a glimpse of buildings from the late Qing dynasty. Although the main street is filled with typical big brands one could find in any city, restaurants located at the side lanes provide an interesting selection of, said to be, old, traditional and authentic Chinese food.
Mary Goh, manager of the hotel and also a Singaporean, is not only capable but also full of experience from spending most of her adult life in the hospitality industry in China. When we met for lunch, I must admit that I was a little sceptical when the restaurant served us Peking duck especially after tasting the Signature Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant (全聚德）the night before. However I was pleased to congratulate Mary that the roast duck served at her restaurant was nothing but exceptional. The duck meat was not fatty and the crispy skin was simply delicious especially when the meat is wrapped with freshly made soft pancakes. Another interesting dish immaculately presented and nicely cooked was their God Mother’s Traditional Fried Rice (老干妈炒饭).
Although the Temple of Confucius located on Guozijian Street may not be as popular as the other sites such as the Imperial Palace, nonetheless, it is a well preserved heritage site that pays tribute to the greatest scholar and philosopher of China – Confucius. It is interesting to know a little more on how Confucius influenced the world through his teachings and are still very much respected to this very day. Furthermore, one can just walk over to the Beijing Imperial Academy located next to the temple where some of the top officials were educated in the olden days. Wu Dao Ying Hu Tong (五道营胡同) nearby, typically known for its small lane is popular for its interesting curio and coffee shops.
Within walking distance is the newly built Overseas Chinese History Museum of China. It is a museum dedicated to collecting and showcasing the history and current status of Chinese immigrants. The museum provides important information about the Chinese people who are scattered all over the world contributing to the politics and economies in countries where they now live in.
Hunting for antiques in China used to be an exciting affair. Nowadays, genuine Chinese antique pieces are scarce and predominantly either too common or new reproductions that are purposely made to look old. Beijing Curio City (北京古玩城), covering an area of 5.8 acres, is Asia’s largest antique trading centre and also probably the best place to venture if you are looking to add to your antique collection. Within walking distance is the famous Panjiayuan Antique Market where most sellers display items for sale on the ground. A typical Chinese visitor will not only have certain knowledge of what he/she is buying but also exceptional skills in bargaining. Nevertheless, this is an interesting place to be where one will find life-sized Buddha, porcelain, books, paintings, stones, jade and many more. Don’t be anxious or stressed if you’ve bought pieces that are not within the period claimed by the sellers. One must remember the saying of ‘Good things do not come cheap!’
The 798 Art District would be a perfect choice if one wishes to dab in modern and contemporary creations and innovations. Formerly an industrial site that housed many state-owned factories, this area was eventually converted into a place for artists and cultural organisations in 2002. Today, 798 is a holy place for art and cultural lovers where museums, art galleries, cultural centres, themed cafes and boutique restaurants are housed under one single roof.
Beijing is a large city with limitless attractions. While its biggest attraction such as the Great Wall and the Imperial Palace remain the stars of the city, there is a sense that the original attitude, experience and culture of the Chinese people are gradually diminishing. Hopefully it will not end up as a Chinese body with Western souls.
When the moon and stars are aligned, the perfect night is created and in this case, an IMPerfect night of art, wine and friends.
The ‘IMPerfect Creation’ was held in Melbourne’s SpACE@Collins gallery recently featuring award-winning Asian contemporary sculptor Ch’ng Huck Theng’s bronze sculpture creations. Pronounced as “I am perfect”, it was his first solo exhibition in Australia and successfully sold seven out of the 11 pieces on display. The 11 interesting artwork pieces carries its unique story, meaning and philosophy inspired by different people and happenings around the artist.
The opening night was officiated by Rupert Myer, Chair of the Australian Council of the Arts and was attended by more than 150 people, all who were the artist’s close network of friends.
In Myer’s speech, he said:“This new perspective that Ch’ng introduces is the concept of beauty and ugly – in which beauty cannot be seen if one cannot see ugliness. Ch’ng strikes me as not just a business man, he’s an artist and editor with an inquisitive mind. I know this as he interviewed me for his magazine, Essenze, where he seemed to understand my full story even though the interview was just a short one. Rupert continued by comparing Ch’ng’s concepts and philosophy with Australia’s great including artist Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker. He is a brilliant and talented man.”
The evening was catered by Humbling Eats, one of Melbourne’s finest caterers for fine cocktails.
“The sculptures show us social behaviour that we encounter daily, or that we ourselves act out consciously or unconsciously. Each piece tells a deep story and most are from my experience too,” said Ch’ng.
Some of the pieces are more personal to him. “Princess Liberty for example, depicts the time when my daughter went to study in university in Australia. So she’s riding a horse which also represents the plane, but I named it Princess Liberty because even though she’s away from home and grown up, she’s still daddy’s little princess.
I hope that my art will make us look deeper into our own hearts when faced with issues and problems,” Ch’ng said.
It takes Ch’ng almost six months to create one sculpture and the heaviest piece named “Angel of Love”, weighs more than 100kg.
Ch’ng is currently one of the leading artists and sculptors in Malaysia as this year marks the artist’s 22 years in art. His works are collected not only in Malaysia but around the world by respected institutions that include the National Visual Art Gallery Malaysia, Singapore Art Museum, Hong Kong University Museum & Gallery, Shanghai Art Museum and Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in Paris.
PINKGUY Gallery hosted Asian sculptor Chng Huck Theng’s bronze work for the second time entitled ‘Relationship’.
The exhibition was probably the first of its kind in Malaysia where there was only one artwork on display and it was kept in an exclusively handcrafted blue wooden box specially designed to keep the bronze sculpture. Guests were kept wondering if there was an exhibition as there were no signs of sculptures being displayed like the previous one. The official unveiling of the sculpture was by none other than the Director General of National Visual Art Gallery Malaysia Dato Dr Mohamed Najib Ahmad Dawa. The gallery managed to secure ten pieces from a limited edition of seventeen for this exhibition. Owner of PINKGUY Gallery Winson Loh said that he always has confidence in Chng’s work as it is not only unique but it carries meaning. Eighty percent exhibited were collected on the night.
Inspired by the fact that an ordinary civilian plane MH17 could just be shot down from the air by a missile even when it was unprovoked, Ch’ng was saddened by the unfortunate incident but he chose to reflect his feelings and emotion by creating the sculpture ‘Relationship’ which captures the essence that reminds people not to take life or relationship for granted as it may be here today and gone tomorrow. The sculpture depicts an old man and a little girl standing on a wreckage looking up to the sky, wondering what they would have done otherwise if time could be reversed.
Living life, loving someone and caring for others only make sense if they are still alive. Regretting after everything has gone is meaningless.
The Asian art market is currently one of the fastest growing business markets in the world, with China, Indonesia and India leading the charge followed by emerging countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and even Myanmar. Auction houses are consistently hammering art pieces into record prices, making it hard to believe that some still consider art as nothing but a beautiful object that one should only acquire when spare cash is available. This primitive perception has long been overturned in the West where art is not only considered an important part of a growing civilisation, but is also a lucrative and exciting investment. Art in the West do not only to adorn walls, but are also regarded as assets that are kept in the accounting books.
Malaysian contemporary art scene has been relatively slow in entering the international arena. There are artists who have been struggling throughout the years on their own, trying to make a name in the West without the backing of their motherland and it is an uphill task.
The establishment of the National Art Gallery (now known as National Visual Arts Gallery or NVAG) in 1958 by Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, was the most important milestone in the Malaysian art history. However, as it happens in almost every other developing country, art came to be considered the ‘adopted child’ in terms of priorities. Fortunately there have been some collectors and institutions collecting Malaysian art since its early days. Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank of Malaysia) was one of the early institutions that, through the leadership of its second governor, Tun Ismail Ali, started collecting and supporting Malaysian art since 1962. It was indeed an important step towards recognizing art talents and helping the art industry but the influence then was very much limited.
Many art groups and art societies were formed in the name of art between the 1940s and the 1960s, but most did not survive as art was a tough profession then to be associated with. Remarkably, the oldest registered art society in Malaysia, the Penang Art Society, has not only survived, it has thrived and celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013 and boasts a national membership of more than 400.
Furthermore, the support from senior art promoters is invaluable. One of them, Dato’ Dr Tan Chee Khuan, is probably one of the heavyweights in promoting Malaysian pioneer artists since the early 1980s. He has published more than thirty books about Malaysian art and has also donated millions worth of art works to both the national and state art galleries. A person of such vision and patriotism is a rare breed.
Other art related figures are Ooi Kok Chuen and Dr Zakaria Ali, both art writers that have been consistently contributing to local art happenings and its progress through their pens for the past twenty odd years. The setting up of Petronas Gallery in 1993 provided extra avenues in the art market, and together with NVAG, both organisations have consistently collected, exhibited and supported Malaysian contemporary art. Another important Malaysian art movement was the art residency projects by both public institutions and private organisations that provided a platform for artists to excel.
In 2008, art entrepreneur and collector Datuk Vincent Sim pulled his resources together and created another milestone in the Malaysian art industry by conceiving Malaysia’s very own international art exposition – Art Expo Malaysia. It was a move that initially many had thought off as another white elephant, but Datuk Sim and son Sim Pojinn have proved the critics wrong as the show has gone from strength to strength through years of hard work.
Another instrumental development in the Malaysian art front was the Malaysian government’s helping hand in making this art expo even more successful. The 1MCAT (1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism) programme that was initiated in 2010 was the brainchild of the Ministry of Tourism (now known as Ministry of Tourism and Culture) with the intention to promote contemporary Malaysian art as a tourism product catering to the tourists visiting the country.
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry, through its external promotion arm, MATRADE, also joined in providing certain tax claimable incentive for local exhibitors, making it more attractive to join in and promote Malaysian art in local and international expositions. Furthermore, it has provided special rates on the space rentals in MATRADE Exhibition & Convention Centre where the Art Expo Malaysia has been holding its expositions for the last few years.
In 2009, prominent Malaysian real estate consultancy, Henry Butcher (HB), teamed up with Vincent Sim and started the HB Art Auction. The arrival of the first proper art auction house in Malaysia was a major boost to the art industry, eliminating the taboo of Malaysian contemporary art having an almost non-existence secondary market. KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS) Art Auction was the second one to join the party in 2012, followed by the Indonesian-owned Masterpiece Auction and the Edge Auction in 2013, making an unprecedented yet impressive record of four auction houses conducting more than 10 auctions annually!
With positive anticipation from local art patrons and collectors, the domestic market for Malaysian contemporary art is heading for a bull run. For example, top framer Pinkguy’s gallery reported sold out exhibitions in 2013 of two artists – Suzlee Ibrahim and Ch’ng Huck Theng – less than half an hour after the exhibitions’ openings.
On the other hand, important commercial art galleries, such as Valentine Willie Fine Arts, Wei Ling Gallery, Galeri Chandan and Richard Koh Fine Art, are among the Malaysian galleries that frequent regional art exhibitions, including Hong Kong and Singapore, to further promote their resident artists. The consistency of these galleries’ participations is highly dependent on the commercial return or simply how profitable, but it nonetheless is an applaudable move.
Back in 2009, the NVAG, then led by Director General Datuk Dr Mohamed Najib and its Board, decided to seek MATRADE’s expertise to assist in promoting Malaysian contemporary art overseas. It was not an easy task as art was never considered a product of trade by the ministry. The move was necessary and important as NVAG was of the opinion that there was no proper department in the government sector designated to promote Malaysian art professionally and efficiently in the international stage.
The first meeting was held in MATRADE with Zanita Anuar and Ch’ng Huck Theng representing NVAG and Mustafa Aziz representing MATRADE Centre. As Malaysian contemporary art was at its very early stages in international recognition and without the backing of the government, it was obviously a very difficult journey to pursue. It was akin to a new Malaysian brand or product with a lot of potential trying to penetrate the international market with limited funds and experience.
The big breakthrough was in 2011 for Malaysian contemporary art when it was considered by MATRADE as a product in the soft export category. In mid-2013 MATRADE CEO Datuk Dr. Wong decided to take up the challenge and assist the Malaysian contemporary art, promoting it as a brand and product of Malaysia. This collaboration with NVAG will see Malaysian art promotions in London, Melbourne and Miami. Arts Kuala Lumpur, or Arts KL, is the brainchild of MATRADE, spearheading Malaysian contemporary art into the international business of art by providing a vital connection between local Malaysian art talents and international art players. This is a move that will eventually prosper the Malaysian art business internationally and benefit generations to come.
From 11 to 18 November 2013, Australian art lovers, collectors and the public had the privilege of personally getting acquainted with Malaysian art at a special exhibition titled ‘Arts Kuala Lumpur – Melbourne: Discover Malaysia Art’ that took place at the prestigious Melbourne art gallery, MiFA Events.
Datuk Dr Wong Lai Sum, CEO of Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) officiated the exhibition on 14 November in a festive ceremony that served authentic Malaysian delicacies such as the satay and teh tarik.
The official opening was also attended by The Hon. Bruce Atkinson, President of the Legislative Council of Victoria; and Deputy Lord Mayor Susan Riley, Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne. Also in attendance was the Malaysian Consul General to Victoria Dato’ Dr Mohamad Rameez Yahaya.
Wong, on behalf of the Malaysian Government, presented Riley a special Melbourne edition of Ch’ng’s ‘Salam’ sculpture as a gesture of friendship to the City of Melbourne. A second sculpture – ‘Salam – Victoria’ – was presented to National Gallery of Victoria.
The unprecedented event was the largest of its kind ever held and featured the works of 30 artists, ranging from Malaysian pioneer artists since the Independence to the young contemporary artists of modern Malaysia. Curated by Ch’ng Huck Theng, the exhibition was successful in generating great interest among art lovers in Melbourne.