The Star, Travel & Leisure, 6 July 2011
Appreciating Art
by Elaine Dong

IN THE six years since she has opened her gallery, Lim Wei Ling has seen the value of Malaysian artwork going up between 300% and 600%.

“There’s growing interest. I liken it to the share market. We’re at the pre-IPO stage.”There’s lots of interest coming in and we’re definitely emerging. Once it hits IPO, everyone will jump on the bandwagon. Interestingly, a lot of our collectors are Malaysians who’ve left Malaysia and now live overseas. They look at the work of Malaysia artists and think wow!”

“When my artists started six to eight years ago, they sold for between RM4,000 to RM8,000. Now we’re looking at RM20,000 to 100,000. These artists are not prolific – they don’t produce 300 paintings a year. They do maybe six in a year, and eight to 12 in two years. These are masterpieces. This is why great works of art can sell for hundreds of millions of dollars,” she says.

Most people who are only beginning to collect art would probably be looking at the price range of between RM1000 and RM10,000. Lim’s advice would be to look at emerging and young artists, and look for works that appeal to the buyer. If you are buying art that costs more than that, always ask for an artist’s CV.

Gallery owner Lim Wei-Ling

Gallery owner Lim Wei-Ling

“Look at what they’ve done over a period of 10 years. See whether they’ve evolved. An artist’s work should evolve organically with his life. If you see repetitions, that’s a warning sign. Is he just producing work to sell?” Lim says that’s because the value of an artwork would not appreciate if the artist’s portfolio remains the same year after year.

Apart from checking out an artist’s archive of work, she also suggests looking at an artist’s participation in shows. Artists usually show between eight to 25 pieces of work. If it’s any more than that you need to ask if the artist is putting up his very best work, or everything that he did.

Lim says that one of the indications that an artist is producing work commercially is that they take commissions. “If they can take a commission like that, there’s really no value in what you have,” she says.

With her artists, all of whom have been working for 10 years or more, she never asks about commissions. “The only exception to the rule is if a corporate or a big museum wanted something of a particular size or dimension. If the commissioned work is good for the artist, for example, it lends prestige and credibility to his body of work, then we’ll do it.

“If they want him to reproduce what he has done before, no! If someone wants to match the colour of the painting to his carpets, no!” says Lim.

The rule even applies to young artists. “Collectors should respect the artists enough to follow the artist’s work. If you like the artist, buy something that he’s already made. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. When you start commissioning, it becomes commercial, and that kills the creative spirit,” says Lim.

She collects the works of the artists she represents. “Any dealer that does not collect the artists they represent is not putting their money where their mouth is.”