Art Stage Singapore 2015: The signature art fair of Southeast Asia – round-up

Art Stage Singapore 2015 strengthens its status as “the” art fair of Southeast Asia.

The signature art fair in Singapore closed on 25 January 2015 with record sales, record-high attendance, and a programme of special projects as well as a curated section that re-asserted the success of its 2014-launched “We Are Asia” format. 

Public artwork 'Mystic Abode' by Paresh Maity, presented by Linda Gallery and Gallery Sumukha at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Public artwork ‘Mystic Abode’ by Paresh Maity, presented by Linda Gallery and Gallery Sumukha at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

The fifth edition of Art Stage Singapore (21 – 25 January 2015) saw the participation of 197 galleries from 29 countries – an increase of about 40 exhibitors compared to 2014, with 34 of those from Singapore. Roughly seventy percent of the total galleries present hail from Asia, with returning galleries comprising eighty percent. These numbers cement the fair’s status as a key player in the promotion of contemporary art from Asia and especially the Southeast. The total footfall also registered a significant increase, from 45,700 in 2014 to 51,000 in 2015 over the whole five-day period, including the vernissage on 21 January.

Returning galleries included such names as Aicon Gallery (New York/London), ARNDT, Pearl Lam Galleries, Galerie Perrotin, White Cube and Tomio Koyama Gallery, while New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery and Opiom Gallery (France) were among the newcomers, and Yavuz Gallery, Richard Koh Fine ArtGajah Gallery and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute were among the returning Singaporean galleries.

Singapore Tyler Print Institute booth at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Singapore Tyler Print Institute booth at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

An innovative fair platform

This year’s edition also saw some exciting changes (PDF download) to its format. Whilst preserving the curated sales exhibition with the Southeast Asia Platform, the fair introduced a host of special projects, including:

  • special exhibitions by country (Russia, Malaysia and Korea)
  • a special exhibition of Modern Art
  • a Public Artworks section
  • Video Stage

In cooperation with the Embassy of the United States of America, the fair also inaugurated a new art prize, the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art (PDF download), awarded to Indonesian artist FX Harsono for “his critical installation and performance work spans pro-democracy dissent to explorations of the experiences of ethnic minorities.”

Art Stage Singapore is also the pillar of the now established annual art festival in the city-state, Singapore Art Week, with its co-ordinated programmes held at a wide range of venues including galleries, institutions and museums. Quoted in the fair’s closing press release, Art Stage Singapore Director Lorenzo Rudolf said:

It is beautiful to see the cooperation between the fair, museums, art spaces as well as government agencies, all functioning seamlessly together. January in Singapore has become the focal point of the international art calendar. As the flagship fair of Southeast Asia, we take this responsibility very seriously to grow the fair and forge ahead in the interest of the region.

Presentation by Yavuz Gallery at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Presentation by Yavuz Gallery at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Emerging Southeast Asia

The 2014-launched Southeast Asia Platform – which in 2014 included eight curated sections divided by country – was continued this year, but with one single exhibition on one unifying theme. The curated sales exhibition embracing the whole of Southeast Asia included the work of 32 young and emerging artists from a variety of countries in the region, with the presence of their representing regional galleries and institutions.

One of the participating artists in the Platform, Singaporean Choy Ka Fai, told Wall Street Journal:

I’ve never [previously] seen, maybe, half the artists on the list. It’s a good way to expose young artists who are not working in the commercial scene.

The galleries, which normally would not have the funds to join the fair, were invited at a fraction of the cost of a normal booth. In an article on the Wall Street Journal Rudolf was quoted as saying:

Many galleries in Southeast Asia are economically not very strong. This platform gives certain galleries who would never have the possibility to rent space in a fair the chance to participate.

Art Stage Singapore 2015, Southeast Asia Platform Tour. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Art Stage Singapore 2015, Southeast Asia Platform Tour. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Curated by Singaporean independent curator Khim Ong, the exhibition entitled “Eagles Fly, Sheep Flock—Biographical Imprints: Artistic Practices in Southeast Asia” responds to Rudolf’s commitment to transforming the fair format into one that merges the commercial and non-commercial spheres of contemporary art, as he told Art Media Agency (AMA) in an interview:

What we are doing here in Singapore is something between an art fair, a marketplace, and a contemporary museum – something between commercial and non-commercial. We try to bring together market and education.

Choy Chun Wei, 'Shopping Ghettoes-Absolute Towers', 2010-11, mixed media on wood, 124 x 66 x 34 cm. Image courtesy Wei-ling Gallery.

Choy Chun Wei, ‘Shopping Ghettoes-Absolute Towers’, 2010-11, mixed media on wood, 124 x 66 x 34 cm. Image courtesy Wei-ling Gallery.

Creating an exhibition that brings together the diverse practices of the Southeast Asian region under a single curatorial concept can be viewed as a controversial step. However, Ong’s show bases itself within that diversity and aims to highlight the variety of approaches, visual languages and issues addressed by regional artists, and put them into a dialogue with each other. The curator told Wall Street Journal:

Every artist develops in his or her own way, although they may have common influences. I don’t think we can brand Southeast Asian art as a particular style, [but] these artists are based in Southeast Asia and reacting to their immediate environment.

Lim Wei-Ling, Director of Kuala Lumpur’s Wei-Ling Gallery, told Art Radar that this was the gallery’s second time being invited to participate in the Southeast Asia Platform of the fair. While in 2014 the gallery presented Anurendra Jegadeva’s room installation entitled MA-NA-VA-REH, this year it was Choy Chun Wei that took centre-stage. Lim said about the curated platform:

The curated sections lend the fair some weight and allow for audiences a better or deeper understanding of an artist and his practice.

The gallery was also able to successfully sell two large paintings by the artist.

Damine Hirst, 'Amorous', presented by White Cube at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Damien Hirst, ‘Amorous’, presented by White Cube at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

A collector’s haven between East and West

Art Stage Singapore brings both Asian and Western art to the region, making it possible for collectors to get acquainted with a wide range of artistic practices and find exceptional artworks without having to travel thousands of miles around the world. The top sale registered at the 2015 fair was Damien Hirst’s Amorous, a butterfly painting sold by White Cube for USD1.6 million to a regional collector on the first day of the fair.

Bringing Western artists to Asia is also a common practice for many other international galleries, such as this year’s new participant Paul Kasmin Gallery from New York, who told Wall Street Journal:

While we work to promote Asian artists in New York, it’s equally interesting to bring our American and European artists to audiences in the East. It’s this kind of international dialogue that we find most exciting.

Gilbert & George at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Gilbert & George at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Mr Jorge Perez, a collector from Miami and a newcomer to the fair, was quoted in the fair’s closing press release as saying:

It’s really fantastic and it’s very new for us because Asian art is not something we’re knowledgeable about so we’re learning…We have already made a couple of purchases and hopefully we’ll do some more.

Visitors to Art Stage tweeted their responses to the fair:

Bombardieri, 'Bagaglio/rhino', bronze, 55 x 38 x 44 cm. Image courtesy Mark Hachem Gallery.

Bombardieri, ‘Bagaglio/rhino’, bronze, 55 x 38 x 44 cm. Image courtesy Mark Hachem Gallery.

Mark Hachem Gallery attended the fair for the second time and confirmed to Art Radar a steady presence of notable collectors. Throughout the event, the gallery made sales to “very important collectors and museums in Singapore and the region,” including during the preview night, when the gallery sold six editions of Bombardieri’s bronze sculpture Bagaglio/Rhino and Yves Hayat’s digital prints.

Wei-Ling Gallery Director told Art Radar about her experience with collectors at the fair:

We met many Asian collectors (Japanese, Malaysian, and Singaporean) and a few European collectors who enjoyed the works tremendously. We also had the opportunity to catch up and touch base with curators and museum directors from around the region.

Santy Saptari, Deputy Director of Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore, told Art Radar that the gallery sold to both Asian and international collectors, and further commented:

Our Singapore gallery shares the core mission of Pearl Lam Galleries to engage in cultural exchange and provide a platform for rising and established talents from the West and East to meet, interact and engage. We have a strong collector base in South East Asia and due to its geographical location, the gallery will have a special focus on Southeast Asian Art.

Matthias Arndt from ARNDT Contemporary Art told Art Radar that the gallery sold a work by Del Kathryn Barton for AUD85,000, one of Rodel Tapaya‘s for USD34,000 and a Gilbert and George work for GBP85,000 on preview night alone. In the following days, the gallery sold two artworks a day and on average, half at their gallery in Singapore and half at the fair. Arndt also noted that half of the collectors were Asian, while half were international. He commented about the importance of being present in Singapore:

Because Singapore and Art Stage are the gateway to Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore His Excellency Dr Andri Hadi with Lorenzo Rudolf, watching Shintaro Miyake in action at Tomio Koyama Gallery booth, Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore His Excellency Dr Andri Hadi with Lorenzo Rudolf, watching Shintaro Miyake in action at Tomio Koyama Gallery booth, Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Singapore collectors were looking for both established and emerging talents. As reported by The Straits Times, Galerie Sogan & Art, for example, sold out all five charcoal works by Nanyang Academy of Fine Art graduate Henry Lee, priced between SD4,200 and SD7,500, and Jane Lee’s untitled mixed media work sold to a Singapore collector for USD38,000 within an hour of the vernissage. STPI sold several paper works by Australia-based Singapore artist Suzann Victor and sculptor Han Sai Por for prices ranging from SD4,000 and SD25,000. The article also quoted gallerist Roberta Dans of Artesan Gallery+Studio, who sold all six fabric pieces by Filipino artist Raffy T. Napay, as saying:

This fair has really matured. Collectors are no longer looking at regional artists as an afterthought.

out all five charcoal works by fresh Nanyang Academy of Fine Art graduate Henry Lee, priced between $4,200 and $7,500.

Jane Lee’s untitled mixed media work sold to a Singapore collector for US$38,000 within an hour of the vernissage.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/visual-arts/story/works-home-grown-artists-are-hot-art-stage-singapore-20150127#sthash.5m5nMYYY.dpuf

out all five charcoal works by fresh Nanyang Academy of Fine Art graduate Henry Lee, priced between $4,200 and $7,500.

Jane Lee’s untitled mixed media work sold to a Singapore collector for US$38,000 within an hour of the vernissage.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/visual-arts/story/works-home-grown-artists-are-hot-art-stage-singapore-20150127#sthash.5m5nMYYY.dpuf

Rudolf told The Jakarta Globe about the importance of nurturing collectors and VIPs coming to the fair and offering new educational experiences by involving other institutions and key players in the art scene:

Collectors today are used to being pampered and the approach that was initiated during my time at Art Basel was to create an entire new model and experiences targeted at the collectors. Collectors want specific programmes. Art Stage needs to build up a non-commercial programme while providing collectors unique experiences.

Nyoman Masriadi, 'Great Daddy', presented by Paul Kasmin Gallery at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Nyoman Masriadi, ‘Great Daddy’, presented by Paul Kasmin Gallery at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Art Stage Singapore vs Art Basel

There had been worries last year about how Art Basel’s move from May to March in Hong Kong would affect Art Stage Singapore. This year’s edition of the Singaporean fair, however, proved those doubts unfounded. As Rudolf told the Wall Street Journal, there was no drop-off in applications from galleries that he expected would only want to join one Asian fair within a period of three months:

I was, at the beginning, a bit worried if this date change would affect us. We are clearly covering the Southeast Asia area and Basel, the northern area. […] If you have your own niche, you are much less attackable by a competitor.

Asked about how Singapore and Hong Kong interact on the Asian stage, Rudolf told The Jakarta Globe:

If Hong Kong is successful, Singapore will be successful and vice versa. There is much to learn from Hong Kong, even though it is purely market driven, while Singapore has a different market balance with institutions.

Asked why she thought it is important to have a presence in Singapore now, Wei-ling Gallery Director told Art Radar:

As Malaysians we share so much history with Singapore and have so many ties to them. It is wonderful that Singapore has taken the lead with being the gateway for art in Southeast Asia, something that is somewhat lacking in the rest of the region.

Curator Hongchul Byun at Special Exhibition-Korea,   Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Curator Hongchul Byun at Special Exhibition-Korea, Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Propelling Art Stage into the future

Now “the signature art fair” in Southeast Asia, Art Stage has already cemented its status as another key fixture on the Asian (and international) art calendar. The secret of its success lies in preserving its fresh perspective and its individual identity, positioned within the Singaporean art scene’s balance between commercial and non-commercial.

Rudolf told The Jakarta Globe how Asia needs to find such balance:

We have to be careful not to create a market that is bigger than the demand and we must carefully integrate Art Stage into the Southeast Asian environment. Many regional events are supporting and bringing up the market and are contributing through education. […] Art Stage can only survive in Singapore if we are at the heart of a healthy region so it is important we support the market all levels of galleries and the industry.

Presented by Yavuz Gallery at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Presented by Yavuz Gallery at Art Stage Singapore 2015. Image courtesy Art Stage Singapore.

Asked about what he envisages for Art Stage in five years, Rudolf tells AMA:

I think what we’re seeing at the moment is a decentralisation in the art world, both in terms of the academic art world, and the art market. In Asia today, (and most likely in five, six, seven years as well), there are only two places that can host an international fair with real global importance, because there are only two places that are open enough. One is Hong Kong, the other is Singapore – all I can say is that I hope the one in Singapore is us! As I say, we are in a good position.

Rudolf is indeed positive about Singapore’s position in Asia, and Hong Kong, with its established Art Basel brand, does not pose a threat provided that Art Stage continues to follow its winning strategy:

We always have to be one step ahead of our main Asian competitor in Hong Kong – not copy, but be more creative and find new and exciting artists. We are creating our own identity, not competing but complementing. Asia is an emerging market, which needs interesting fairs on different levels and for different audiences.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: art fairs, Southeast Asian artists, emerging artists, market watch, round-ups, events in Singapore

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