2017.08.25 Fri, by Bruce Quek
A Tale of Two Fairs?

“Things are not, in fact, bad,” seemed to be the sentiment of Lorenzo Rudolf, the founder and president of Art Stage, back at Art Stage Singapore back in January this year, striking a pre-emptively defensive and reassuring note.

The contrast at Art Stage Jakarta could not be more different. Rudolf’s tone was ebullient, even triumphantly expansionist. “Our goal, for this year and also for the future, is to really bring up the quality of the fair, year by year, and I think we’re on a good way,” he boomed. And with good reason: the fair reportedly tripled their visitor numbers to over 50000. This impressive figure, it should be noted, includes The Art Square, a five-day mini-fair aimed at smaller galleries, non-profits, and other groups otherwise priced out of the main fair.

Regardless of their rising (or fading) fortunes, further comparisons can be drawn between the sister fairs. At the most general level, Art Stage Singapore—cloistered in an underground convention hall—feels rather more self-enclosed, even chilly, with the upside that it is fairly easy to navigate. Art Stage Jakarta, on the other hand, sprawls through its host mall (mall-hotel-convention-center, which seem popular in Jakarta) in a seemingly organic fashion, lending it a sense of openness and, unfortunately, confusion.

Art Stage Jakarta (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Art Stage Jakarta (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Art Stage Jakarta (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Art Stage Jakarta (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Art Stage Jakarta (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Art Stage Jakarta (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

In the fair proper, some exhibitors stood out among a generally strong crowd: the acrylic topography of Ng Joon Kiat and the actinic alkyd abstraction of Ruben Pang at Gajah Gallery; the textural susurrus of Javier León Pérez’s paper works at Hong Kong’s Puerta Roja; Richard Koh Fine Art’s austere-yet-confrontational solo exhibition “Self-Rule” by Yusra Martunus; and the eye-popping surround-maximalist hang of Kemal Ezedine’s paintings at CG Artspace.

Outside Art Stage Jakarta, art events coalesced around the fair, with the city’s legendary traffic complicating access, particularly for weekend visitors to the fair. Taking a fair to task for city infrastructure might be peevishly Singaporean, though future editions might benefit from transport upgrades promised by next year’s Asian Games.

Two programs serve to entertain in the Art Stage Jakarta experience. “Off The Wall Jakarta: Europe—ASEAN” was a showcase of European and Asian street art that feels both physically and tonally isolated from the fair at large. Meanwhile, as part of Art Stage’s continuing efforts to foreground the figure of the collector in the art world, the Collectors’ Show “Spirit Today” is as refreshingly disquieting as it was difficult to find, featuring such gems as the Chapman brothers’ “HELTER-SKELTER-ALKA-SELTZER” (2014) and Granular Synthesis’s “Modell 5” (1994).

Infrastructural bellyaches aside, highlights outside the fair included the “First Sight” performance program by MACAN (Museum of Contemporary Art in Nusantara, which will soon officially open), featuring landmark performances by the likes of FX Harsono and Melati Suryodarmo. Another standout is Kei Imazu’s “Overgrown”, an exhibition of digitally inflected, processual painting at ROH Projects. Rather impressively, the gallery also won both the Best Gallery and Best Young Gallery awards in the inaugural “Indonesian Award for Authenticity, Leadership, Excellence, Quality, Seriousness in Art”. Not bad indeed.

Best Gallery, ROH Projects (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Best Gallery, ROH Projects (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Collector's Show Spirit Today, Chapman (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Collector’s Show Spirit Today, Chapman (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Collector's Show Today, Granular Synthesis (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Collector’s Show Today, Granular Synthesis (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Off The Wall (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Off The Wall (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Ruerta Roja (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Ruerta Roja (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Richard Koh Fine Art (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

Richard Koh Fine Art (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

The Art Square (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

The Art Square (photo courtesy of Art Stage)

FX Harsono,

FX Harsono, “Writing in the Rain” (Live Performance), 2017. Performance: First Sight, 12 August 2017 at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN). Image Courtesy of Museum MACAN

Melati Suryodarmo,

Melati Suryodarmo, “Eins und Eins”, 2017. Performance: First Sight, 12 August 2017 at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN). Image Courtesy of Museum MACAN