Singapore art scene booming? Gallerists give their opinions



Singapore may be lagging behind Hong Kong in the race to become Asia’s art hub, but the city-state’s gallerists say that the good times are only going to get better.

With recent reports pointing to growth in Singapore’s art market, Art Radar spoke to three of the city’s gallerists to get the view from the ground and find out what might be in store for the commercial art scene into 2014.

Exhibition display, 'The Pulse of Time: Caroline Rothwell and Chiharu Shiota'. Image Courtesy Furute Perfect Gallery and the artists.

Caroline Rothwell and Chiharu Shiota, ‘The Pulse of Time’, installation view. Image courtesy Future Perfect Gallery and the artists.

Art rush
Singapore’s art scene has been undergoing steady development since the city’s first Biennale in 2006, points out Art Asia Pacific, much of it publicly-funded. The government-led Gillman Barracks, an art district housing top international galleries, was opened in 2012 in a bid to turn Singapore into Asia’s primary art hub. The city hosts two annual art fairs, the Affordable Art Fair and Art Stage Singapore, and the Singapore Biennale’s fourth edition will begin in October 2013. In 2015, the city’s new National Art Gallery will open, focused on Singaporean and Southeast Asian visual culture. The commercial sector has been stimulated by the development of the Singapore FreePort, a tax-free storage space for art, of which international auction house Christie’s is the main tenant.

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The Singaporean government’s efforts to make the city-state into a regional art hub have been assertive, according to The Wall Street Journal. Commenting on the government’s efforts in 2012, gallerist Sundaram Tagore had said to The Straits Times,

Singapore doesn’t have the benefit of history, unlike the great centres of art such as New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo. When you are trying to create things speedily, you need a stimulus. Here it happens to be the government. If you wait for organic development, you could be waiting forever.

Kim Joon, 'Fragile-Dragon', 2010, digital print, 47 x 82.7 in. Image courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Kim Joon, ‘Fragile-Dragon’, 2010, digital print, 47 x 82.7 in. Image courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Singapore art scene is booming, and there are now more millionaires in Singapore per capita than any other city in the world. Seconding this, Plush Asia reported a boom in arts-related businesses, quoting the Singapore Cultural Statistics 2012, which claimed that the number of arts companies almost tripled from 302 in 2003 to 856 in 2011.

Despite the growing commercial arts sector and infrastructural investment, some commentators have voiced doubts about Singapore’s potential to become an art hub. Speaking to The Straits Times about viability of Singapore’s art scene compared to Hong Kong, Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie said,

Hong Kong is just where the action is. You can’t manufacture that. The EDB [Singapore's Economic Development Board] of all agencies should understand basic economics: you can’t manufacture demand.

What do these mixed opinions mean for Singapore’s bid to become the next big art hub in Asia? Art Radar interviewed three Singapore gallerists to find out how things look on the ground.

Susan Weil, 'Sitting Squarely', 2009, acrylic on masonite, 55 x 33.5 x 3.75 in. Image courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery

Susan Weil, ‘Sitting Squarely’, 2009, acrylic on masonite, 55 x 33.5 x 3.75 in. Image courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Sundaram Tagore, director of Sundaram Tagore Gallery

In the past 12 months, have you noticed any changes in the Singapore art market? If so, can you describe them?

I have noticed a dramatic change in the Singapore art market. A new breed of collectors are looking beyond Southeast Asian art. These collectors have started collecting art from across the globe and this is a very positive sign for Singapore since it is regarded as a hub for Southeast Asian art.

Where do your collectors come from: Singapore, Southeast Asia, or further afield?

We’re a global art organisation with multiple locations—two in New York City, one in Hong Kong and our newest gallery at Gillman Barracks in Singapore. In addition, we’ve attended more than 100 art fairs across the world since 2000 and, therefore, we have a truly globalised collector base and many of our clients frequently pass through Singapore and Asia.

Is the rise of Hong Kong as an arts hub beneficial to Singapore or not? Can you explain your answer?

I don’t see Hong Kong’s growth encroaching on the Singapore market in any shape or form. Hong Kong’s great reliance on Mainland China has enabled its position as one of the world’s important art centres. If I’m not wrong, Hong Kong has become the second or third largest art market in the world. Singapore, on the other hand, is developing and burgeoning, and its thrust is more toward Southeast Asia and beyond. I see a complement between the two markets as opposed to a conflict.

The government of Singapore is investing heavily in the city’s arts infrastructure. What are the positives and negatives of such investment for the commercial art scene?

Singapore’s art scene is a postmodern experiment in that the government has helped to jumpstart it. And when the government in Singapore moves, it is at lightning speed. This is a positive aspect because an international artistic presence and curatorial know-how have been imported and the bar for artistic presentation in Singapore has been raised.

What does Singapore have to offer as an arts hub that Hong Kong does not?

Singapore has space. Hong Kong has limited space, and property is exorbitantly expensive so this limits the kind of art that can be shown and produced.

Interviewed by email.

Caroline Rothwell, ‘Peppered Tree Frog (Litoria piperata)’, 2013, Alpha Romeo 156 Selespeed exhaust emission, acrylic binder medium and 23 carat gold on primed canvas, 25.5 x 36 x 2 cm. Image courtesy Future Perfect and the artist.

Caroline Rothwell, ‘Peppered Tree Frog (Litoria piperata)’, 2013, Alpha Romeo 156 Selespeed exhaust emission, acrylic binder medium and 23 carat gold on primed canvas, 25.5 x 36 x 2 cm. Image courtesy Future Perfect and the artist.

David Teh, director of Future Perfect Gallery

In the past 12 months, have you noticed any changes in the Singapore art market? If so, can you describe them?

I think the most palpable change is an uptick in the number and quality of commercial shows. Art Stage and Gillman Barracks have brought a certain focus to the scene, though most of the market activity has been international and regional – this is what Singapore does best. Those looking for some kind of spontaneous boom or bubble will be disappointed.

Where do your collectors come from: Singapore, Southeast Asia, or further afield?

We are working with collectors and institutions worldwide.

Is the rise of Hong Kong as an arts hub beneficial to Singapore or not? Can you explain your answer?

Yes. Hong Kong has established critical mass when it comes to the marketing of contemporary art. But there are still many things Hong Kong can’t do. It’s a tough place to be an artist; and the institutional and non-commercial sector there is immature. If Singapore plays its cards right, there are great opportunities.

The government of Singapore is investing heavily in the city’s arts infrastructure. What are the positives and negatives of such investment for the commercial art scene?

There are many positives. Government can do a lot to facilitate the growth of the sector, and if they were to get serious about art education and research, the puzzle would be almost complete.

What does Singapore have to offer as an arts hub that Hong Kong does not?

I see two main advantages. First, its position within Southeast Asia, a region of staggering cultural diversity with huge potential for sustained economic growth. This region has always been a crossroads between East Asia, Oceania and South Asia; its bets are well hedged. Second, the fact that the market is not the primary foundation of the contemporary art sector here. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s an advantage.

What can we expect to see from Singapore artists and galleries in the coming 12 months?

One fringe benefit of the influx of foreign activity and capital, in Hong Kong, is that a younger generation of local artists has found opportunities that their predecessors never had. In Singapore, I recently did a show with a brilliant local artist who’s been in many biennales, in Manifesta, even in Documenta, but who at thirty-nine had never had a solo gallery show! This is the sort of development I’m looking forward to seeing.

 Interviewed by email.

Gallery display of artworks by Korean artist Chun Kwang Young. Image courtesy Art Plural Gallery.

Exhibition display of artworks by Korean artist Chun Kwang Young. Image courtesy Art Plural Gallery.

Frederic de Senarclens, founder of Art Plural Gallery

In the past 12 months, have you noticed any changes in the Singapore art market? If so, can you describe them?

The Singapore art market is becoming more and more attractive. In the past 12 months, we have seen the success of Art Stage third edition, the inauguration of Gillman Barracks with its international galleries, the creation of the Centre for Contemporary Art, a boosting research and education platform, and the increasing importance of the Singapore Freeport. International artists such as Ian Davenport, Pablo Reinoso, Fabienne Verdier, Shirin Neshat, Bernar Venet or Chun Kwang Young have had their solo shows at our gallery.

Where do your collectors come from: Singapore, Southeast Asia, or further afield?

They come from Hong Kong, Indonesia, but also from Europe and the USA. Today, the art market is international and the physical borders do not exist anymore.

Is the rise of Hong Kong as an arts hub beneficial to Singapore or not? Can you explain your answer?

Yes, the rise of Hong Kong as an arts hub is definitely beneficial to Singapore. Recently during Art Basel Hong Kong, many people have been extending their trip to Singapore.

The government of Singapore is investing heavily in the city’s arts infrastructure. What are the positives and negatives of such investment for the commercial art scene?

Singapore government is implementing a lot of infrastructure to promote Singapore as an arts hub. Its Renaissance City Plan launched in 2000 sets the objective to make Singapore a “distinctive global city for the arts.” This is extremely positive for the commercial art scene as they are building the right ecosystem for its development.

What does Singapore have to offer as an arts hub that Hong Kong does not?

Singapore offers a strong museum presence compared to Hong Kong. Also, its numerous cultural festivals such as Singapore Art Festival, Night Festival, are setting an artistic pace throughout the year.

What can we expect to see from Singapore artists and galleries in the coming 12 months?

At the gallery, we will launch a very strong programme for October with the aim to bridge East and West through the works of leading contemporary artists. The solo show of Chinese artist Qiu Jie is also expected and will take place in September. The Singapore Biennale fourth edition is coming up in October with a new artistic proposition encouraging artists to respond to the world we live in.

JP/CN/JC

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Related Topics: Singapore art, promoting art, galleries

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Comments

Singapore art scene booming? Gallerists give their opinions — 3 Comments

  1. Indeed we have seen some dramatic change in the art scene with more investor and collectors buying and storing art in Singapore. Storage facility such as Big orange and storhub are used to store affordable art pieces and Christies and Certis CISCO depository for the storage of high value art pieces and artefacts.

  2. Hi All,

    There are some great places to go and enjoy art in Singapore, but I’m afraid it’s just not being promoted enough and as such is generally hidden away to those not in the know.

    Also, for those adult artists who are trying to get exhibited it is difficult to find competitions as it’s mainly tailored around children.

    Mike

    • Thanks for your interesting comment. It would be great to hear people’s ideas on how the city’s artists could be better supported and how the existing arts infrastructure might be better supported…

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