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The Art of Hesitation – Looking back at Singapore Art Stage

February 17, 2016

ArtsGroup Exhibition | by Harry Seymour


Usually when there is something very expensive on offer, the wealthy residents of Singapore don’t need to be invited twice. Singapore has after all one of the highest concentrations of multi-millionaires in the world. Yet, the siren call of the arts has been slightly overheard at this year’s Singapore Art Stage.

However, with more than 40,000 visitors spread over five days, the sixth edition of the Art Stage Singapore was still the highlight of this year’s Singapore Art Week. Celebrating regional artists by showcasing them at one of the biggest art fairs in Asia, the entire art world turned their eyes to the island state on Singapore Straits.

Over 40,000 visitors went to Singapore Art Stage this year – less than in 2015
Over 40,000 visitors went to Singapore Art Stage this year – less than in 2015

Celebrity auctioneer and founder of the art advisory service Pury de Pury, Simon Pury, was one of the many prominent figures, visiting the fair. “I was fascinated to visit, for the first time. It offered me the chance to have a more in depth exposure to the vibrant Southeast Asian art scene.”

Pury added that Singapore with its impeccable service and urban quality was the perfect setting to meet leading collectors from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and Singapore. Although the ghost of China’s recent crisis loomed over the art fair, gallerist Richard Koh explained that “collectors always want to buy something. Sometimes it is better to buy something you know and you feel comfortable with.”

‘Dripping - Splashing’ by Zheng Lu_Water was presented by Sundaram Tagore Gallery.
‘Dripping – Splashing’ by Zheng Lu_Water was presented by Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

A Moody Fair?

A consequence of the seeming crisis is a hesitation of both art collectors and the galleries. While last year’s Art Stage had convinced with a wide variety, this year’s fair appeared to be safer, featuring predominantly well-known artists.

Although the cautious mood seems to be reflected in fewer visitors, the sales of the fair can actually compare with last year’s. Sakurado Fine Arts even managed to sell a piece by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for US 1.2 million. However, when it comes to Kusama and her reputation in the art world, one really cannot be more established than her.

“Collectors always want to buy something. Sometimes it is better to buy something you know and you feel comfortable with,” says gallerists Richard Koh.
“Collectors always want to buy something. Sometimes it is better to buy something you know and you feel comfortable with,” says gallerists Richard Koh.

However, on the larger scale of things, gallerists and art collectors keep the spirits high. “Art Stage is Singaporean, yet very much international and this is the kind of audience that we are looking for,” noted Mr Sundaram Tagore, who is the director of the Singaporean gallery with the same name.

Let’s Talk About Art

Besides all the talk about sales and economic gloom, Singapore Art Stage also initiated to find a balance between commerce, content, and art. This year the fair launched the first ever Southeast Asia Forum, which is supposed to be an attempt to bridge the non-commercial aspects of contemporary art with the market. The fair and its founder, Lorenzo Rudolf, tried to emphasise the significant place, held by contemporary art, in a modern society – and specifically in the context of Southeast Asia.

Singapore seem to be the best example for it, as the ever-evolving global city is aware of its position in the region, trying to create an art infrastructure that will benefit the entire region.

The ten talks at the forum discussed questions, such as whether museums can be global citizen and therefore have a certain responsibility as well as if creativity can save a city. The founder and director of Sifang Art Museum, Lu Xun said, “the talks were very thought provoking. Kudos to a superb selection of panellists rarely seen in a commercial art fair.”

Entang Wiharso’s ‘Feast Table-Undeclared Perceptions’ was presented by international art gallery ARNDT.
Entang Wiharso’s ‘Feast Table-Undeclared Perceptions’ was presented by international art gallery ARNDT.

It seems that Art Stage Singapore has taken the necessary next step in its sixth year to become more than an art fair, having a responsibility that is more important than sales. It will be interesting to see the further development – especially if an economic downturn will actually affect the market.

 

By Peter Schimke