Patricia Chen offers an analysis of the effect of auction prices on Southeast Asian artists:
Prolific artists suffer this fate much more than the considered ones. Here, Putu Sutawijaya (Putu), the market’s first ‘hot market casualty’ is pitched against Rudi Mantofani (Rudi), to present an illustration. […] Putu’s work, Looking for Wings (2002), hammered down at S$95,000 (US$ 60,000), caught the market by surprise in April 2007.
Taken as a signal of the strength of demand for his art, auction houses went on a maniac hunt for his works and in the following 12 months, flooded the market with six to 12 lots per auction. The combined effect of such an aggressive supply in a single season was devastating for Putu’s market. On a sustained basis, it had a crippling effect on his prices when, after April, 2008, the law of diminishing returns eventually set in. In May, 2008, seven of the 15 offered works went unsold merely a year after his glorious entry—- understandably, causing the artist some degree of distress.
Putu is a prolific and vivacious artist. Rudi in contrast, appear to be more cautious in his approach to his work and people. Though Rudi’s prices did experience an increase, the circulation of his works in the market seemed to be much less. In any one month, only two to three lots were available compared to Putu’s seven to 10 lots. While collector profiles of the two artists may have something to do with this, the supply factor seems to be integral to price performance.
Putu is not alone in this and one can already observe the beginnings of similar supply factors operating in Nyoman Masriadi’s and Yunizar’s markets.
Clearly, Putu’s plight points to the greed of auction houses and their attempt to maximize profits where supply is available. There seemed to be little consideration of the medium to long term impact on the artist’s market. After all, Putu’s art had not changed, neither had his way of working. The only variable was the supply that auction houses allowed in each auction, a factor that was very much within their control, but a discretion they chose not to exercise. Putu’s saving grace, though, is the collector base his dealers have helped develop over time before his works hit the auction market.
In reality, artists can lose more than market control when their works hit the auction market, sometimes, the integrity of their works may be at risk as well. This was clearly demonstrated in the journey of a diptych by Nyoman Masriadi, Es krim & minuman berengergi (Ice cream and energy drink). The work was first transacted at Christie’s in Hong Kong in November 2006 for S$ 26,000 (US$17,000). Later, a work that resembled the left half of the said work was sold at Masterpiece in Singapore in August 2008 while another resembling the right half was sold at Borobudur in Singapore 2 months later for S$ 190,000 (US$ 120,000) and S$ 170,000 (US$134,000) respectively. As the title and size of the work remain unchanged, there is reason to believe that it was the same work in circulation. If it was really so, it means that the work may never be seen in its entirety again, the way the artist had intended it.