T his February’s Modern Discoveries sale brings together a rich array of works encompassing the breadth of the defining Modern art movements in Asia and beyond. Here, Sotheby’s specialists share some of their personal favourites in the sale, from the pioneering Indonesian artists of the “Bandung School” to Foujita’s voluptuous nudes and a legendary Cantopop lyricist.
Rishika Assomull, Specialist
Modern Discoveries includes a series of paintings that encompasses the depths of the human experience embodied by the works of artists from across Southeast Asia. Burmese artist U Ngwe Gaing invites the viewer to share a moment of contemplation in his painting of an enhaloed Buddha who dominates the picture plane as he sits in a meditative pose, suspended in mid-air and radiating with light. Buddha was acquired directly from the artist in the 1960s by the artist’s patron and childhood friend, who often supported the artist by buying him painting materials.
Siesta by Malaysian artist Siew Hock Meng also exudes a moment of tranquility, depicting a young maiden lounging in repose on the grass, accompanied by her dog. The interplay of light streaming through the foliage and peppering the scene suggests that she is under the shade of a tree. Women Under the Moon by Indonesian artist Mochtar Apin features an elusive image of a woman emerging from darkness, illuminated by the moon above her and blanketed with variegated color fields. As evident in the present lot, which brings forth elements from cubism and abstraction, the artist honed his skills at the Bandung Institute of Technology, an institution that has always been closely tied with the discourse of modern art movements of Europe and America. Painted in 1966, the present lot would have been considered refreshingly avant-garde for its time.
In contrast to the stillness and serenity of these works, The Warriors captures a moment of dynamism and motion rendered with swift, bold brushwork so characteristic of the works of Indonesian artist Srihadi Sudarsono. Dressed in white and fusing with the negative space in the backdrop, the figure fervently clutches to his sword with a tight grip as he rapidly moves his feet. Though he maintains a restrained countenance, the intensity of his eyes reveals nuances of emotion. Sudarsono skillfully includes the presence of another warrior – beyond the confines of the canvas – who gestures in synchrony with the picture’s protagonist.
Michelle Yaw, Specialist
Modern Discoveries features a tasteful collection of works by esteemed artists of the “Bandung School” who pioneered Abstract Expressionism in Indonesia. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Srihadi Sudarsono and Ahmad Sadali, two of the leading protagonists of the movement, travelled to the United States to study and became captivated by the aesthetics and experimental potential of American Modernism. Returning home, they harnessed the power of colour field and action painting to illustrate the spiritually guided nature of Indonesian life and culture.
Sadali’s Batang-batang merah bata dan sisa-sisa emas (Brick-red blocks and remnants of gold) and Untitled were both painted in the 1970s. At this point, Sadali had already established himself as a leading voice in Indonesian modern art, receiving the National Art Award in 1972. There is a meditative quality to each of these works that is particular to Sadali’s style. Untitled envelops the viewer in a field of cool turquoise, while the red in Batang-batang merah bata dan sisa-sisa emas is grounded, deep and warm in its maroon palette. Sadali’s use of gold is subtle, illuminating the unique textures of the geometric forms in the composition. In April last year, Sotheby’s established a new auction record for Sadali when Composition with Orange Background sold for HK$5.3 million.
In stark contrast, the dramatic power of Sudarsono’s The Warriors captures the essence and fervour of a dancer imitating an intense battle scene. While abstraction dominated Sudarsono’s early works, he was later drawn towards the spirituality and storytelling power of Indonesian performing arts and often painted dancers in motion. The swirls of thick paint bursting upon the canvas mimic the movements of the figure, who appears in mid-air and locked in a gaze with his audience.
Jestina Tang, Specialist
Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming is famed for his signature “Taichi” series which open a dialogue between modernism and tradition. Drawing on his own T'ai chi practice, the artist captures the serene sense of flow and movement inherent to this traditional Chinese martial art. Growing up in Hong Kong, I first encountered Ju’s “Taichi” pieces as part of the landscape of the city. Large-scale public art installations from the same series can be found at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and in Exchange Square in Central.
Lin Xi is a renowned lyricist-artist in Hong Kong; his lyrics have created collective memories for generations of Cantopop lovers. The Wanderer is a calligraphic representation of lyrics from a song that I love which talks about the importance of company.
Gabe Chan, Junior Specialist
André Brasilier’s oeuvre is inspired by the romance and charm of the French countryside – an evocative land of horses, castles, and wine. In April last year, Brasilier’s Grande chevauchée du lac en automne achieved a record price of HK$3.8 million at Sotheby’s, and in August, the artist’s exhibition in our Hong Kong galleries was also incredibly well-received.
In contrast to the vitality of Brasilier’s galloping horses, Sanyu’s A black and a white Horse stands as a tranquil counterpoint which embodies the calmness of nature. The contrasting red and green of the background echoes with the black and white horses, creating the intriguing ambience of a chance encounter amid the vastness of nature.
Sylvia Cheung, Junior Specialist
It’s always fascinating to me to see how the subject of the female nude has transformed over time. Across centuries and movements, the subject has been continually reappropriated, with artists exploring ideals of female beauty in a multitude of ways. Here, I select a few of my favourite nudes in Modern Discoveries.
Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita’s Blonde allongée depicts one of the artist’s iconic voluptuous milky-white nudes. Drawn in subtle black calligraphic lines, the figure lays passively on a silky white background. Foujita broke free from the limitations of the salon style to pioneer a new mode of erotic expression through the familiar art historical trope of the reclining nude.
Known as “The Flower Thief”, Walasse Ting is famous for depicting provocative women. Kiss Me, Kiss Me is typically luscious and seductive in manner. The splashes of vibrant colour and bold lines show the influence of American Pop and Abstract Expressionism.
Ruby Yang, Junior Cataloguer
With travel restrictions lifted, people are now looking for new places to discover. Through art, we have the luxury of being able to view any corner of the world as seen through the eyes of the artist.
Pang Jiun’s Black Awning Boat depicts the unique landscape of the water town in Jiangnan, while Dong Kingman’s tranquil watercolour Skyline Seoul (2) presents a vista that is very different from the international metropolis of the Seoul we know today. Wu Guanzhong masterfully captures the Bank of China building in Hong Kong using the smooth ink brushstrokes accented with lively colours that exemplify his signature watercolour technique. Travelling further afield, Hu Yongkai takes his audience to the seaside port of Tangier in Morocco, overlooking the city’s characteristic white houses, and the blue sea.