After nine auctions, starting in Singapore about two and a half years ago, Singapore’s art auction market has not been spared controversies and charges of forgeries.
Here are the highlights:
• Singapore pioneer artist Lee Man Fong’s oil paintings, “Sisters”, was withdrawn minutes before its auction at the 1992 Singapore Art Fair at the IMM Building, after Lee’s family members claimed the work, with a starting price of $15,000, was a copy of the original done in 1975.
The fair organisers, the National Arts Council, however, said later they were satisfied that the painting was indeed by Lee. But the owner of a similar painting, a Singapore businessman, came out in support of Lee’s family members, who insisted that the one at the auction was a fake.
• Another pioneer artist Chen Chong Swee’s works became the subject of a controversy between the buyer and the NAC, after a charity sale for a scholarship fund in the painter’s name was held jointly by Sotheby’s and NAC in January this year.
The buyer at first refused to pay $72,400 for two watercolour works, including the auction’s centrepiece, “Returning From the Sea” (est. $66,000), because he was unhappy with their “poor condition” after bringing them home. He paid up later and donated the expensive piece to the National Museum.
• Three works by Taiwanese master Zhang Daqian, valued at a total of more than $250,000 and among the most expensive paintings at the Raffles Fine Art Auctioneers’ sale in March, were withdrawn on the eve of the auction.
Art experts and collectors in Singapore and in Hong Kong had raised doubts over the quality and authenticity of the paintings.
• A Singapore businessman paid $30,000 for a painting by China-born painter Ting Shao Kuang at an Associated Fine Arts Auctioneers’ sale in January, but found later that it was a fake. He cried foul and confirmed it was a forgery only in July.
The auction house offered to cancel the sale, returned him the $30,000 and gave him another $5,000 for the inconvenience caused.
He did not, however, take the money, stating that he hoped other customers could learn from his experience. Commenting on the above incidents, the five auction houses here said they were normal, as controversies over sale and forgeries—which are the exception rather than the rule—happened everywhere in the world.
Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s give a five-year guarantee for all artworks except Chinese paintings because there is still no absolute authority to authenticate those works.
Sotheby’s Singapore branch manager, Mr Quek Chin Yeow, said his company would send its auction catalogue to as many art consultants and prominent living artists whose works were being sold regularly by the company before each sale.
Christie’s Singapore representative, Ms Irene Lee, said her company would also consult reference libraries as well as experts from museums and academic institutions outside Christie’s. Taisei Gallery, Raffles and Associated said it would not be possible to check with all living artists the authenticity of their works before an auction.
“It’s not worth the risk; the auction house’s commission is only between ten and fifteen per cent for a painting”, said Mr B.H. Lim from Taisei.
© The Straits Times