Fairs Market Singapore

Warhols, Warhols everywhere at Singapore fair

International names dominated, though sales were largely regional

Visitors to Art Stage Singapore 2015

The Art Stage Singapore fair, which closed its fifth edition on 25 January, bills itself as the “flagship” of Southeast Asian contemporary art, and indeed has grown into a convergence point for the emerging regions’ disparate scenes. The fair is at the heart of a resurgence of art in Singapore since 2007 that has included the establishment of the gallery cluster Gillman Barracks in 2012, and this year sees the openings of the National Gallery and Pinacotèque Museum Singapore. The veteran Singaporean dealer Jasdeep Sandhu says: “It has been phenomenal, how it has transformed from an artistic village to something quite urban.”

The art on offer this year, though, showed only a glimpse of Singapore’s and Southeast Asia’s most vibrant and edgy artists. Mike HJ Chang’s Clean (Car Wash), 2015, and Zaki Razak’s performance Amusing Ourselves to Death with Yusof Tony), 2015, were popular exceptions. But the dominant art on show was by 20th-century Western names and established, traditional regional artists. There were Warhols, Warhols everywhere.

Lorenzo Rudolf, the fair’s founder and director, described the target market as somewhat conservative, adding that Southeast Asia still lacks the cultural institutions to instill an appreciation of more conceptual art. “The problem is not of context but of infrastructure, [galleries] promote what they can easily sell.”

A spokeswoman at White Cube echoed his view: “It takes more time to educate [buyers] – compared with say Hong Kong, where people are more exposed – but they are very curious and keen here.”

Art Stage opened with the inaugural Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art, presented by Art Stage and the US Embassy in Singapore to the Indonesian performance pioneer FX Harsono. The award provoked criticism for its low purse of $5,000 and for circumnavigating the issue of Singapore’s intense censorship practices.

Ethical conundrums did not seem to affect business, however, with turnout strong and sales promising. The White Cube spokeswoman said, “The pace is slower compared with other fairs, but a bit better than previous years here.” The gallery's Damien Hirst butterfly painting, Amorous, 2008, was rumoured to be the largest sale of the fair at $1.6m. Gajah Gallery, established in Singapore in 1996, claimed brisk sales for animal paintings by Malaysia’s Ahmad Zakii Anwar. “Sales are good, but in line with the economy around the world: pretty decent, not too sloppy,” said Sandhu, the owner of Gajah.

Purchases in general trended towards the regional, Rudolf says. “Collectors buy first what they know, then the international brands,” he says, adding that the proliferation of multi-cultural artists in regional fairs, biennials, and museums has raised awareness.

Fair organisers say that 51,000 visitors came to the fair this year (including around 8,000 at the VIP opening) up from last year’s 45,700. A small international presence punctuated the largely regional collectors, according to gallery representatives. Among the dense crowds of uniformed Singaporean students were superstar collectors including Singapore’s Kenneth Choe, Malaysia’s Bingley Iskandar, Robbie Antonio from The Philippines, the Indonesian-Chinese Budi Tek, and Japan’s Daisuke Miyatsu, as well as the Swiss collectors Uli Sigg and Michael Ringier, Israel’s Serge Tiroche, the American Jorge Perez, and France’s Steve and Chiara Rosenblum.

Rudolf says that the coveted Mainland Chinese collectors’ presence was “growing, but slowly.” “More Chinese [buyers] come because they have bank accounts and flats here—and the [adjacent] casino helps a lot,” he says.

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