This month 《randian》 will be visiting Singapore. As part of our coverage we will be profiling a number of galleries and institutions active in Singapore and the South East Asia region, all of whom regularly participate in South East Asia’s premier art fair, Art Stage Singapore.
We begin this series visiting Richard Koh, whose eponymous gallery in Kuala Lumpur is one of Malaysia’s most influential, representing artists throughout the region, including Haffendi Anuar, Justin Lim, Natee Utarit, and Pattana Chuenmana—one of the gallery’s strengths being Thai art.
Soft-spoken and with a gentle sense of humour, Koh, a Kuala Lumpur native, sways between wry remarks to contemplativeness. On the art scene in Kuala Lumpur, Koh notes that “It’s a bit more distinct [than Singapore], in its own way, but it is still very much part of the South East Asia Scene.” In 2015, 《randian》visited Koh’s booth at Art Central in Hong Kong. When asked whether he would prefer to show at Art Basel, he laughed “Art Basel is great but so many of my collectors come to Art Central and it has been very successful for me!” The point is important.
Art Basel Hong Kong is oriented not exclusively but very firmly towards China. Art Stage Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Art Central, reflect a more regional outlook, one still relatively unexplored. While the Indonesian art scene is quite established, and now attracting more and more artists from the Philippines (we note the major Philippines art exhibition currently on show at ARNDT Berlin), other countries like Thailand and Vietnam remain surprisingly reticent regarding the development of febrile art scenes, good or bad (we will investigate the case of Vietnam further this week when we speak with Zoe Butt of Saigon’s Sàn Art).
Koh comments that “As the region is very diverse and art awareness is nascent, everything is finding its way, and growing, organically, [particularly] after the last few years of an auction driven market.” Asked further about the particular role of Art Stage, Koh is adamant about the importance of the fair: “Art Stage is in many ways important . . . because it is the epicentre of South East Asia, and because I work in a more South East Asian context. Also, we have many clients from the region who come to Art Stage to visit us.” This is the key question we will be looking at this week: why is Art Stage important not only to Singapore but to South East Asia generally, and what that tells us about how the international art market has developed over the past few years.