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City Art Guide: Kuala Lumpur


City Art Guide: Kuala Lumpur

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.

Quick Tips

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.


Museums & Institutions

Installation view of ILHAM Gallery 
Image courtesy of ILHAM Gallery 

ILHAM Gallery (3rd & 5th Floor Ilham Tower, 8 Jalan Binjai, 50450) focuses on the development and understanding of Malaysian modern and contemporary art within a regional and global context. The gallery has presented a diverse range of exhibitions and educational public programmes like its Public Lecture Series inaugurated by eminent art historian T.K. Sabapathy.

Exhibition view of the Islamic Arts Museum 
Image Courtesy of Islamic Arts Museum

Situated amidst the lush greenery of Perdana Botanical Gardens, the Islamic Arts Museum (Jalan Lembah Perdana, 50480 ) has been setting the benchmark in the country on museum presentation and conservation since 1998. This privately-owned museum is the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia with more than 10,000 artefacts from around the globe.

National Art Gallery 
Image courtesy of National Art Gallery

Established in 1958, the National Art Gallery (2 Jalan Temerloh, Off Jalan Tun Razak, 53200) is fondly known to locals as “Balai”, derived from its name in Bahasa Malaysia, “Balai Seni Negara”. While there is no permanent collection, the museum regularly stages career retrospectives of national icons. Look out for the public sculptures scattered around the museum grounds.

Commercial Galleries 

Natee Utarit, "It Would Be Silly to be Jealous of a Flower", Richard Koh Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur.
Image Courtesy Richard Koh Fine Art

Representing artists from around the region, Richard Koh Fine Art (229 Jalan Maarof, Bukit Bandaraya Bangsar, 59100) has a strong international presence with its lively roster of group and solo presentations at art fairs such as Volta NY and Art Central Hong Kong. The dynamic gallery has been consistently at the forefront of presenting outstanding Malaysian emerging artists. 

Installation View of Wei-Ling Gallery
Image courtesy of Wei-Ling Gallery 

Established in 2002, Wei-Ling Gallery (Address 1: 8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields, 50470) (Address 2: Lot RT-1, The Gardens Mall 6th Floor, Lingkaran Syed Putra, 59200) continues to be one of the leading commercial galleries in KL, representing prominent Malaysian contemporary artists. They also run a second gallery space, Wei-Ling Contemporary, and have published numerous art books. 

Exterior view of G13 Gallery
Image courtesy of G13 Gallery

G13 Gallery (Block B Kelana Square, GL13 Ground Floor, SS7/26 Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya 47301 ) 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. 

Installation view of Core Design Gallery 
Image courtesy of Core Design Gallery

Core Design Gallery (87 Jalan SS 15/2a, SS 15 Subang Jaya, Selangor 47500) is well known for their curated platforms like 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.

Image courtesy of Publika

Publika (Jalan Dutamas 1, Solaris Dutamas, 50480) is a vibrant creative retail district filled with edgy and fresh homegrown artists, designers, artisans, and fashion labels. Their arts and cultural programming offers something for everyone all year round — film screenings, workshops, music gigs, art bazaars, art auctions, and exhibitions. 

Image courtesy of OUR ArtProjects

Founded as an arts consultancy and projects platform, OUR ArtProjects (80 Jalan Rotan, Off Jalan Kampung Attap, 50460) takes a progressive approach to commercial enterprise with their appreciation for scholarship and experimentation. Their exhibition programme navigates through socio-cultural issues, conceptual experimentation, and political commentary. 

Independent Spaces

Image courtesy of OUR ArtProjects 

Spearheaded by the duo behind OUR ArtProjects, The Zhongshan Building (80-84 Jalan Rotan, Off Jalan Kampung Attap, 50460) is an arts hub located in a block of restored shophouses. It provides a space to exchange ideas and houses tenants from a diverse range of disciplines, including Malaysia Design Archive and Rumah Attap Library and Collective. 

Image courtesy of Lost Generation Gallery

Lost Generation Gallery (8 Jalan Panggong, Wilayah Persekutuan, 50000) 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 and exhibitions. 

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Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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