Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Art

Know your Hottest Southeast Asian Artists

SINGAPORE – Despite the exponential increase in global interest in contemporary art from Southeast Asia over the past two decades, a lot of new collectors still find the category challenging because of the diverse forms of art resulting from the many socio-political movements within the region. But it is not necessarily so. Southeast Asia contemporary art is fascinating precisely because of its broad cultural heritage that undergirds the diverse expression of unique cultural sensibilities, especially on issues of national identity and community, cultural understanding, power, and religion. 

The 2015 edition of Singapore Art Week is just around the corner, with a line-up of events that will surely send many art lovers racing across the island trying to squeeze in as many exhibitions as possible. It can be quite an inundating task to keep away from the Ruinart champagne bar at ArtStage’s VIP booth (this year, designed by Gilbert & George), while trying to keep a mental note of all the trends happening. So before the eight-day brouhaha begins, we’ve handpicked a few essential Southeast Asian contemporary artists that you should be on the lookout for this year.


I Nyoman Masriadi’s Professional Contemporary Art comic strip format and superheroes clearly influences his interest in contemporary pop culture (1999).

The contemporary Indonesian art scene features a strong focus on the ever-changing political climate. Indonesian artist, I Nyoman Masriadi, combines pop influences such as comic-book superheroes with local cultural history in an often witty tongue-in-cheek manner as a means to question common concerns such as political freedom and the effect of globalisation on local culture. His depictions of monumental figures rendered in exaggerated proportions have become a regular fixture in auction rooms, with Bebas Hambantan (Freeway) achieving HK$3,640,000 at the last Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary Asian Art sale. In a very different style, Christine Ay Tjoe, one of Indonesia’s most prominent female artists pays strong attention to lines through the application of her dry-point technique, giving her works a sense of fragility and sensitivity perfectly matched to her exploration of personal identity and human experience in a treacherous contemporary world. Her works have attracted the attention of many art collectors, and even earned her a solo-exhibition at French fashion house Hermes’ Third Floor gallery in Singapore. 


Ronald Ventura’s fantastical composition in The in between nest blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, 2013.

Emerging from the islands of the Philippines is a new breed of contemporary artists, who are steadily gaining traction in the international contemporary art market. The Philippines has a long history of occupation – first by the Spanish, then the American power and the Japanese – contributing to a complex and, at times strained, national identity. Ronald Ventura’s large-scale oil paintings employ the technique of pastiche, blending references to contemporary pop culture and Disney cartoons with Old Master works to explore a history of faith and identity. Using complex imagery of visual layering to draw the viewer’s attention to personal signifiers, Ventura reveals an inner world that we each experience. Much like the universality of Ventura’s work, Geraldine Javier focuses on internal conflicts and tensions in relation to her own religious background. Her works involve intricate installation-like combinations of two and three-dimensional mediums, often incorporating embroidery and found objects. 


Natee Utarit's Venus of the crisis, 2010

For many years, Thai painter, Natee Utarit’s has been using painting to comment on the subjective nature of image-making in photography. Recently, his works are subtle comments on the nation’s turbulent political landscape. He uses established Western modes of representation, with a focus on perspective, line and shade, to constantly critique this very tradition, and lending his works a touch of ambiguity. In his Illustration of Crisis series of 2012, Utarit juxtaposed found objects with toys in his compositions to comment on the political struggles Thailand faced from 2009 to 2011. 

Singaporean artist Jane Lee’s highly textured, almost object-like canvases seek to draw parallels and distinctions between the mediums of sculpture and painting, as well as movement and stillness, to push the boundaries of how painting is perceived as an art form. 



With recent sales of Southeast Asian art in the secondary market doing extremely well, it is no surprise that the interest in art within the region is steadily growing. The annual art fair ArtStage has consistently placed a significant emphasis on Southeast Asian art, while art events, much like those at Singapore Art week, have been popping up across the various ASEAN countries. There remain abundant opportunities for growth in the budding Southeast Asian art market, and next week would be a perfect time to explore them – just remember to keep hydrated with lots of coconut water while you’re at it!


Yunyi Lau is an intern at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings department 

Singapore Art Week 2015 will be held from 17th to 25th January.

Art Stage 2015 will open on 21st January; fair dates are from 22nd to 25th January.

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