Singapore Art Week signals the beginning of the 2017 international art fair calendar in Asia. Ran Dian spoke with Douwe Cramer, director of Singapore Contemporary, about how the show is developing in the Singaporean art market.
January 19-22 (Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre)
Singapore Contemporary launched in 2016 as the first serious “satellite art fair” to the established Art Stage Singapore event at Marina Bay Sands Convention center (and casino). It did well. More centrally located than its competitor and with the fresh chutzpah of the interloper, Singapore Contemporary drew visitors and collectors. Crucially, with its sights not as hifalutin (pretentious?) as its competitor, Singapore Contemporary succeeded with its sales targets and delivered a stylish fair at a fraction of the cost. It may not be Art Basel but it looks just right for Singapore.
Ran Dian: Let’s start with the basics – where and when? And how many exhibitors will Singapore Contemporary have?
Douwe Cramer: It will be in the Suntec Convention Centre again, from 19 to 22 January. The show has over 6,100 square meters of exhibition space and we will have about 89 exhibitors – up 30% on 2016, which we are really pleased with, especially as economic conditions for the [regional] art market are tough.
Ran Dian: Sure but isn’t your growth also because what you are offering is particularly suited to Singapore?
Douwe Cramer: We are positioning the fair as a middle-of-the market event, with some outliers at the top. We try to match the audience to the exhibitors, of course. We are aiming for people with a good, solid professional career, who are maybe 35 to 45 [years old], who have some savings, have a house, and have the ability to buy some art. The point is: show them the art and make them interested, because in Singapore, we have a way to go to get more people interested in buying art. And I think Singapore Contemporary is in the area of the market where the growth is going to take place. Honestly, Art Stage has come down to that market segment for the majority of their exhibitors too. [Art Stage will be smaller than previous years]
Ran Dian: Yes, because the price point of the big international galleries is just too high for Singapore.
Douwe Cramer: And they depend on collectors from outside of Singapore, similar to Art Basel and Hong Kong. There is real difficulty getting the big international collectors to come here. [But] getting the regional collectors to come – there is a good chance. That is more the focus now. The media reflects that too. There is more [local] interest in South East Asian art and collectors.”
Ran Dian: Can Singapore be an art market center then?
Douwe Cramer: I do think Singapore has the potential to be the art hub in South East Asia. From being a freeport to the logistics, –the expertise, –the infrastructure, –the business conditions in terms of customs and regulations, it’s an easy country to do business with compared to any other country in the region. It has every opportunity to be the regional center for art investment. You can bring in more art from around the world to Singapore than to Indonesia or the Philippines or Malaysia. And the same for international buyers. It is easier for them to buy art here than in Jakarta. It is as simple as that. And I am not even talking about the enormous amounts of wealth that is parked in Singapore.
Ran Dian: What’s is the geographic spread of the exhibitors?
Douwe Cramer: We have very good representation from Malaysia this year compared to last year but we are down in galleries from Indonesia. I think that’s partially due to the economy in Indonesia and partly due to [the new] Art Stage Jakarta. Singapore – we’re up from last year but not quite where we want to be. Singapore has had a tough year for galleries. The economy here and the gallery sales really haven’t been very good. We have more galleries from Japan and we have a good group of galleries from China and Korea and 6 galleries all the way from Latin America.” So basically the mix is 75% Asia and almost half of that is Malaysia and Singapore.
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A new section of Singapore Contemporary is Photo 17, curated by Patricia Levasseur De La Motte, former curator of photography at the Singapore Art Museum.
Douwe Cramer: Photo 17 is probably the biggest photography exhibition for South East Asia for the year. We have four sections: Documentary, Fine Art, Mixed Media and Installations.
Ran Dian: Why photography?
Douwe Cramer: It is really up-and-coming! Everyone is involved with daily snapshots and social media and the interest in [collecting] photography has really developed in the past few years. There is still resistance to paying thousands of dollars for a photograph but there is growing appreciation that the medium involves much more than taking a snapshot. There needs to be an idea behind [the artwork] and there has to be an understanding of the production – the materials that are used and a lot of new technologies that are being applied. We want to open the medium of photography to a wider audience, which is why we will have a specialised 360 square metre pavilion and put it in the middle of the fair, so that it’s not just attracting people who are already collecting photography but general art collectors and art buyers too and give them an opportunity to familiarise themselves with art photography.
Ran Dian: Collecting photography is also more accessible. It is still possible to have a really good collection without breaking the bank. Even small paintings by young artists can be relatively expensive for first-time collectors, compared with photography.
Douwe Cramer: Yes. So we have photographic works from USD 2,000 all the way up to USD 20,000 in some cases. We have top tier photographers and also many emerging artists, from South East Asia, from Australia, the USA, and South America. From Japan we have two of the top 3 photography galleries. Akio Nagasawa is bringing works from Daido Moriyama among others, and Systema will show Cats Ishida. We are featuring a 9 meter photographic work by Chinese artist Bu Junyun, represented by Gallery 55 from Shanghai, and from South Korea we have Dayspring, who will show Roberto Dutesco, a Canadian photographer.