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Singapore’s art scene – Art for the sake of what?

January 25, 2016

ArtsGroup Exhibition | by Harry Seymour


Singapore’s art scene is finally freeing itself from financial markets – Candid’s resident Asian Arts correspondent Peter Schmike investigates.

When Singapore became an independent country 50 years ago, the prospects for success seemed very gloomy. However, the young nation has transformed into the economic powerhouse of Southeast Asia by strategic investments and long-term planning. Without any natural recourses or any significant impact on art history, Singapore set out the write these wrongs right.

Little bureaucracy, an efficient system and ideal business conditions have attracted skilled labour and wealth from not only the region, but also from around the world. While business is taken care of itself these days, Singapore has no longer the need to be merely associated with financial markets. The country’s significance for the art world is next on the agenda. The National Gallery Singapore prominently opened in the end of last year, establishing a sense of national art history. Other examples include the international gallery hub Gillman Barracks and the Esplanade – Theatre of the Bay.

Nestcaspe by Thai artist Ploenchan ‘Monk’ Vinyaratn (presented by Serindia Gallery) greats visitors in the entrance hall of the Art Stage Singapore – the biggest art fair in Southeast Asia. Copyright Art Stage Singapore.
Nestcaspe by Thai artist Ploenchan ‘Monk’ Vinyaratn (presented by Serindia Gallery) greats visitors in the entrance hall of the Art Stage Singapore – the biggest art fair in Southeast Asia. Copyright Art Stage Singapore.

Singapore and international companies have been heavily investing into the local art scene, creating not only an infrastructure, but also a nourishing ground for young artists. One prime example is the amount of support that non-profit art institutions receive from the government. Singapore understood that, according to research, with every $1 of subside $4 will go back into the economy.

Not just a financial destination?

While two decades ago Singapore’s focus lied heavily on creating an infrastructure for trade and finance, nowadays the city-state wants to present itself as a tourist and art destination. The Resorts World Sentosa, an integrated resort with major attractions, was the first of such actions and has driven up property prices ever since it opened in 2010. The question arises whether art is now becoming another way of capital investment for the country?

Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay is a concert hall and theatre for the performing arts in Singapore. It’s completion in 2002 was one of the first stepping stones for establishing Singapore as a cultural city in the region.Copyright Peter Schimke)
Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is a concert hall and theatre for the performing arts in Singapore. It’s completion in 2002 was one of the first stepping stones for establishing Singapore as a cultural city in the region.Copyright Peter Schimke)

Singapore has understood that art and culture are a fundamental part of a healthily growing society. The change we see happening today has deep roots, as the government had already implemented it in 1999 with its Renaissance City Plan (RCP), which was meant to transform Singapore into a distinctive global city for the art.

In Singapore nothing seems impossible these days. The island state even has a public transport system that is cheap, convenient and simply works – virtually impossible for any other global city that I can think of. Everything can be built – remember that there wasn’t much around here 50 years ago. Now Singapore is a bustling and wealthy city. Why not do the same with art? Given a financial boost, why shouldn’t the art market become as flourishing as the finance and trade sectors in Singapore?

The Gillman Barracks is a gallery hub with local and international contemporary art galleries in Singapore. Copyright Peter Schimke)
The Gillman Barracks is a gallery hub with local and international contemporary art galleries in Singapore. Copyright Peter Schimke)

Art for the sake of what?

One could question the way Singapore is investing into the arts as heavily as they do. With three art fairs in just one week, one of them being the biggest in Southeast Asia, one could easily make assumptions about the art as pure investment and just another form of capital. However, when considering the country’s history, one sees certain patterns and intentions. Art and culture being an integral part of life in a society, the investment in those is just a way of making Singapore more wholesome as well as more relevant in the world, the region and to itself. This includes evoking a sense of art history amongst citizens and them creating a space for themselves in it.

By Peter Schmike