Fully Invested in Art

A successful artist …..”must be passionate about art, have some friends with the same interest, be familiar with the backgrounds of other artists and with the market value of their works.”

INTEREST in artworks as a form of investment is growing throughout the region, thanks to the wealth of indigenous talent, and the burgeoning ranks of eager collectors. But though many see it as having relatively low risk, it still helps to be knowledgeable about the industry.

Masterpiece Auction House Managing Director Dato’ Oon Pheng Khoon believes it is vital that one is passionate about art, have some friends with the same interest, be familiar with the backgrounds of various artists, as well as the market value of their works.

Those eager to start collecting should also regularly attend art exhibitions, previews and auctions – as they provide ample lessons about the buying and selling of art, and which artists or artworks, are in demand or otherwise. And best of all, they are mostly free to attend.

“Prices of art are always fluctuating, so it helps to be familiar with the bidding process, and understand the value behind each piece. Serious collectors track artists’ backgrounds, career progression and standing within the art scene, as it influences the value of their works,” said Oon in a recent interview.

Senior artists tend to be in favour, as are those with positions in art-related fields and institutions, as they often end up painting for life. Some collectors also favour works done in certain mediums, for they last longer and degrade less over time, hence representing a more solid investment.

“Good works may be pricey, but its value appreciates. Artists who are regularly featured in auctions are a good bet, as it shows their works are constantly in demand. If you buy a piece today, and there’s someone else willing to acquire it from you immediately, then you know you’ve got a gem.

“Collecting art is as good a investment compared to traditional options like stocks, properties or commodities. It is mobile, and you can buy or sell it anywhere. Art is also a finite thing, each piece is truly one-of-a-kind, and their availability gets less and less over time.

“You hardly see the best works from prominent names on the market, because they have all been snapped up by collectors once they become available. But besides the monetary value, collecting art also means you have excellent treasures to look at everyday,” he added.

Oon, who was born in Alor Setar, Kedah, fell into art almost by chance. Educated at Keat Hwa Secondary School, he worked in the construction, shipping and transportation industries during the 1980s, followed by real estate in the 1990s.

Around that time, many in Kedah started collecting Chinese ink paintings as a hobby. Oon  followed suit and never looked back. After China opened its doors to the world in 1993, he would regularly venture there to meet renowned artists, and buy their works.

“We would read a lot of art magazines and find out who the good artists were, and then approach them. At that time it was hard for them to sell their works, so they very receptive towards our interest,” he recalled of the time when he developed a passion in buying and selling art.

Also in the 1990s, art auctions started in Singapore, and he would regularly attend to broaden his knowledge. Indonesian artists were all the rage back then, but once art auctions started in Malaysia in the 2000s, local artists soon found a great platform to promote their works and excel.

In 2005, Oon relinquished all his directorial positions at his former companies, to concentrate on the buying and selling of art. He was roped in by Masterpiece Auction House when it established its Kuala Lumpur branch in 2012, with the company holding its first auction a year later.

Five auctions later and the company had sold over 800 pieces of art worth approximately RM15million, with a take-up rate averaging close to 90%. Other auction houses are enjoying similar results, and Oon believes the industry can only get better and better.

“It has grown steadily, and the number of art collectors today has increased four or five-fold, compared to a decade ago. Many lesser known Malaysian artists have now become prominent names, as the buying power and interest amongst collectors increase.

“I feel it is my responsibility to help promote Malaysian artists, and I’m now enjoying my life doing just that,” he sums it up succinctly.

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