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Pandas is an ink-and-acrylic work on rice paper done in 1993. An estimated price of US$64,100 to US$89,700 has been set for it.

Tan Swie Hian scores a first

Singapore artist's work, Pandas, is the first by him to be auctioned by Christie's at a special sale of Singapore art in Hong Kong.
Nov 20, 2015 5:50 AM

AN ink-and-acrylic work by Tan Swie Hian will be auctioned by Christie's next week - the first time one by Singapore's most expensive living artist is being offered by the international auction house.

The 1993 piece on rice paper, titled Pandas, will be among the more than 40 works sold in a special Singapore art sale, which is part of Christie's Autumn auction in Hong Kong; "Hong Kong Convergences: A Special Sale of Singapore Art" that is being held to mark Singapore's golden jubilee.

It is also the first time an international auction house is dedicating an individual sale to Singapore art, a category that has been rapidly gaining the attention of international collectors in recent years.

Wang Zineng, Christie's Singapore's senior specialist and head of sale for South-east Asian art, said: "This is the first time we're auctioning a Tan Swie Hian work, so we're very excited."

The one-off sale, featuring a diverse selection of iconic works representing key episodes in the history of Singapore art, is aimed at broadening the base of collectors.

Mr Wang said: "So that's why, although half of the auction will be anchored by works of Singapore's first-generation artists, we made a special effort to look for works by Singapore artists born in the 1940s and later."

Not only is it the first time Christie's is auctioning Tan's work, it is doing so at a very "reasonable" price, compared to the prices fetched by auctions in China.

An estimate of US$64,100 to US$89,700 (S$90,724 to S$126,983) has been given for the 136x67cm work, a veritable steal given the millions Tan's previous works have been sold for.

The 72-year-old Cultural Medallion holder's Portrait Of Bada Shanren, an ink-on-rice-paper work, went for 20.7 million yuan (S$4.4 million at the time) at last year's Poly Auction in Beijing; in 2012, his oil painting When The Moon Is Orbed sold at that year's Poly Auction for a record S$3.7 million.

It is a watershed for a Singapore artist to have broken into the Chinese market dominated by big-name China artists.

A collector who asked for anonymity said of the estimated price tag for Pandas: "The estimate for this work is quite low, so it could well be a bonus buy for a collector if bids aren't pushed up."

Asked about how the auction house prices works up for auction, Mr Wang replied that the process depends on the specific work - its size and also its period. "At times, it's also about the market conditions and current economic circumstances," he said.

Tan's Pandas is "regular-sized", and the 1990s was a decent period in the artist's career, added Mr Wang. As Christie's catalogue indicates, the work represents Tan's "profound roots in Eastern art and calligraphy".

Mr Wang said the price of a work is also determined by where the artist stands in relation to his peers; he noted that Pandas is priced higher than Lim Hock Moh's 2015 four-panelled ink-and-colour work priced at between US$15,400 and US$23,100, and also Chua Ek Kay's 1999 Lotus Pond (US$25,600 to US$38,500).

Mr Wang added that it has not been easy to buy Tan's works in the secondary market in the last five years; and he reckons no more than five of the artist's works have been sold in auctions.

Tan Swie Hian is known to be fiercely particular about who collects his works, and will sell them only to collectors whom he deems to display respect for both him and his work.

Since the auction market thrives on rarity, "we hope that this work will make collectors come out of the woodwork to bid passionately on it", said Mr Wang.

  • Christie's Hong Kong Autumn Auction 2015 will be held on Nov 29 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai. For more information, visit www.christies.com.