Kuala Lumpur, simply known as KL to locals, is Malaysia’s capital city well known for its gleaming twin towers and pockets of heritage zones. As art communities begin to form outside of the capital, KL’s role is shifting to one of a point of congregation and dissemination. In recent years, the commercial art scene has been flourishing with the establishment of auction houses and increased local gallery participation in international art fairs. It is seeing a comeback of the dynamism of artist-run spaces and initiatives that flourished in the late 90s to early 2000s. Coupled with the increased connectivity of today’s budget flights and social media, the country is experiencing a proliferation of socially-engaged practices, independent regional exchanges and a heightened awareness for creative urban rejuvenation projects. The lack of critical density and institutional infrastructure is set to change with a renewed energy from the Visual Arts Programme at the Cultural Centre, University of Malaya and the newly opened kunsthalle, ILHAM Gallery.
GETTING AROUND KL is affordable and easy with many major destinations within walking distance from an LRT, MRT, or Monorail station. For every thing else, make sure you have internet access on your mobile device for Uber or Grab apps.
For a luxury STAY steeped in history, The Majestic Hotel that once housed the National Art Gallery offers quixotic nostalgia conveniently located near the KL Sentral city transportation hub. If you prefer a more intimate setting and contemporary take on preservation, check out Sekeping Retreats by the inimitable landscape architect and art collector, Ng Seksan.
GO in October to coincide your trip with the long running Art Expo Malaysia fair. Do take note of when major festivals occur — the holy month of Ramadhan, Hari Raya (Eid-ul Fitr) and Chinese New Year — as things tend to slow down in the preceding and following week.
Located on Level 3 and 5 of the Fosters+Partner designed ILHAM Tower, ILHAM GALLERY focuses on the development and understanding of Malaysian modern and contemporary art within a regional context. Since opening its doors in 2015, the highly anticipated kunsthalle has presented a strong and diverse range exhibitions and educational public programmes, from Afterwork exhibition curated by Parasite, Hong Kong to its Public Lecture Series inaugurated by eminent art historian, T.K. Sabapathy.
Situated amidst the lush greenery of Perdana Botanical Gardens and the National Mosque, The ISLAMIC ARTS MUSEUM has been setting the benchmark in the country on museum presentation and conservation since 1998. Occupying 30,000sqm, this privately owned museum is the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia with more than 10,000 artefacts from around the globe as well as an exceptional library of Islamic art books.
Established in 1958, the NATIONAL ART GALLERY is fondly known to locals as “Balai”, derived from its name in Bahasa Malaysia, “Balai Seni Negara”. While there is no permanent collection on display, the museum regularly stages career retrospectives of national icons. Look out for the public sculptures scattered around the museum grounds.
RICHARD KOH FINE ART has been in operation since 2005 and is regarded as a pioneer for introducing Southeast Asian contemporary art to Malaysia. Consistently having one of the most adventurous roster of emerging Malaysian artists such as Haffendi Anuar, Hasanul Isryaf Idris, and Anne Samat, RKFA exhibits a commitment to emerging practices and challenging media. The gallery regularly mounts exhibitions locally and abroad, working with emerging as well as established names from Southeast Asia and beyond.
Established in 2002, WEI-LING GALLERY continues to be one of the leading galleries in KL. Fostering and growing alongside the local contemporary scene, they also run a second gallery space, WEI-LING CONTEMPORARY in Mid Valley Gardens Mall and have published numerous art books. They represent prominent Malaysian contemporary artists based in and outside of the country.
G13 has quickly made a name for itself since opening their doors six years ago. In an effort to nurture young artists and regional collaborations, the gallery has been supporting artists residencies. The gallery offers an eclectic mix of local young artists and older stalwarts.
CORE DESIGN GALLERY represents a stable of Malaysian artists. They are well known for their curated platforms, Great Malaysian Contemporary Art Show (GMCA) and GrAnDe (Great Art and Design). GMCA features seminal pieces from internationally recognised Malaysian artists engaged in regional discourse, including Shooshie Sulaiman and Zulkifli Yusoff.
PUBLIKA is a vibrant creative retail district filled with edgy and fresh homegrown artists, designers, artisans, and fashion labels. Their arts and cultural programming centred around the White Box, Black Box and Outdoor Stage offers something for everyone all year round — film screenings, workshops, music gigs, art bazaars, art auctions, and exhibitions ranging from those organised by cultural institutions to independent collectives . Publika is home to a host of galleries — Segaris Art Centre, Chandan Gallery, RA Fine Art, Interpr8, Pipal Fine Art and dynamic newcomer Artemis Art, with a focus on mid-career to young Yogyakarta and local artists.
Founded as arts consultancy and projects platform, OUR ArtProjects opened their gallery spae this year in KL’s latest art hub, the Zhongshan Building, with solo exhibitions by Nirmala Dutt followed by Wong Hoy Cheong. Taking a progressive approach to commercial enterprise with their appreciation for scholarship and experimentation, their exhibition programme features artistic practices that navigate through socio-cultural issues, conceptual experimentation, and political commentary. Expect to see more solo presentations by established and emerging Malaysian artists who are no strangers to the biennale circuit.
Spearheaded by the duo behind Our Art Projects, ZHONGSHAN BUILDING is an arts and research community housed in interconnected block of shophouses in Kampung Attap. The building itself is worth a visit, built in the 1950s it formerly housed the Selangor Zhongshan Association has been renovated to retain its architectural charm. Zhongshan provides affordable working spaces and a much needed space to gather and foster interdisciplinary exchange. The eclectic mix of tenants in its 12 units includes Malaysia Design Archive, Rumah Attap Library and Collective, Tintabudi bookstore, Atelier Fitton bespoke tailoring, Piu Piu Piu Cafe, Tandang Record Store, Ricecooker Archives and even a law firm. If you are lucky, you might find yourself at the coterie living room bar run by an artist and an art historian.
LOSTGENS' began in 2004 as a collective and artist-run space primarily for like minded practitioners in the indie and experimental scene. It has since evolved into a public platform known for their commitment to community-based initiatives. The space hosts artist and researcher residencies, exhibitions, and community centric workshops.
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