2013.02.13 Wed, by Translated by: 陈婧婧
Despite Middling Sales at Art Stage Singapore, the City Lives Up to its Hype

During the launch of Art Stage Singapore in Shanghai, director Lorenzo Rudolf did his best to manage expectations, mentioning that it was a rather gloomy time for the art market. The same sentiments are reiterated in this year’s post-fair press release, which remarks that it has been a few tough years for art fairs globally. Though this year’s edition presented, overall, high quality works and over 40,000 visitors, ¬ the usual “we saw strong interest” refrain could be heard mumbled in hushed tones when the topic of sales came up.

Woffles Wu, a plastic surgeon, collector and founder of the Singapore Museum of Contemporary Chinese Art, remarked that the opening-times of the fair did little to attract local collectors. “I think it is ridiculous (and have told Lorenzo) that such an expensive art fair closes at 7pm. Most of the people who have the money and inclination to buy art are all working during the day. Nobody is going to take leave specially to attend the art fair. I fall into this category. So do many of my doctor, lawyer and banker friends. So what they end up with is tourists and local wives who aren’t going to splurge on art any way,” Wu told Randian Editor Iona Whittaker.

And Perhaps due to reports of weak sales last year, there seemed to be a paucity of Chinese galleries with only a few big name participants from Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei. Conspicuously absent were Boers-Li, Magician Space, Vanguard Gallery, White Space, Hanart TZ, Contemporary by Angela Li and De Sarthe — all participants in 2012.

Still, as usual, there were some galleries who were quite pleased with the outcome in terms of sales. These include Gaja Gallery, and ARNDT Berlin. Hong Kong-based gallery Edouard Malingue sold three editions of their Fabiene Merelle elephant sculpture: “The enthusiasm for the work was amazing and we constantly had groups of people gathering to stare at it and photograph it,”, said Mr. Malingue.

Some booths made off quite handsomely in terms of sheer number of sales; White Cube, for instance, sold eight works, and Nadi Gallery from Jakarta sold 6 out of 10 works for a tidy total sum of USD 375,500.

It seems overall that those galleries featuring big names or easily digestible works benefitted most from the collector demographic at Art Stage. Mizuma Gallery from Tokyo sold a hyper-realistic painting of Marilyn Monroe (by Kang Hyung-Koo) for USD 80,000. Israeli gallery Zemack Contemporary (which had a prominent booth in the fair and a giant butterfly-scull sculpture by Philippe Pasqua in the lobby) sold some of Pasqua’s work and a Yue Minjun. Galerie Paris Beijing sold some crowd-pleasing Yang Yongliangs and Timothy Taylor Gallery sold a few Andy Warhols.

Still, not everyone played it safe. AIKE-DELLARCO from Shanghai were rewarded for being experimental with their booth, which featured younger, more challenging work. Says director Roberto Ceresia, ”We sold Li Shurui, Li Ran and Jiang Pengyi to local collectors, Singaporeans and expats, and to some interesting Asian collectors. The quality of the art fair was overall very good in terms of organization and internationalism, with its unique South East Asian flavor, which makes a lot of sense for Singapore.”

We have to agree with other assessments with regard to quality. With the exception of a phalanx of gaudy terracotta-warrior-inspired sculptures at Linda Gallery, organizers did a good job of vetting galleries this year. Gone was the high kitsch of 2012 — mammoth, red, gleaming Chen Wenlings and a gaudy surrealistic mural by Tamen. But also gone were the more edgy works found in the project section. While there were not the wild vacillations in quality of 2012, the fair possessed a certain staid-ness, which made it a little bit too blue-chippy for a fair that brands itself as a platform for cutting-edge Asian art.

What the fair lacked in edge was made up for by Singapore’s galleries and institutions, however. Each night, clusters of openings were arranged in various parts of the city (at the Gillman Barracks or the Singapore Art Museum and environs: Waterloo Street, Queen Street and Armenian Street, for example) where guests sipped wine and munched on satays and kuit — coconut flavored nyonya sweets. Stand-out shows included “The Collectors’ Show: Weight of History,” and “The President’s Young Talents,” at the Singapore Art Museum. Equally enthralling was “For Home and Country” by Vietnamese artist Bui Cong Khanh at Yavuz Fine Arts and “Prototypes” by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan at The Drawing Room in the Gillman Barracks — both shows played with elements of slum architecture. Also at Gillman was “We Are Pirates of Uncharted History,” by Japanese artist by Nobuaki Takekawa, which questions Western notions of scientific progress through a series of delightful installations including maps, shadow lanterns and giant boats.

There is ample evidence that Singapore’s art infrastructure is developing, and this wealth of interesting work will help to make Art Stage Singapore more than just a duty-free store where one makes a pit stop to purchase the brand names of art.

Ceresia feels that Singapore is poised to be an important hub in the mid to long- term, “No fair in Asia can win the competition with Basel Hong Kong. But putting aside Hong Kong, Singapore has a huge potential- as much as Shanghai, but for different reasons and going towards different directions.”

Alexis Kouzmine-Karavaïeff, director of Shanghai’s IFA gallery, was impressed with the number of visitors and the internationalism of the fair but still puts Korea’s KIAF above Art Stage for overall quality, “There is potential, but there is still some work to be done and few years to [go before it can] become a hub. The seven percent GST compared to zero percent tax in HK and the 3.5hrs flying time [from China] — these will be at issue in making it a competitive commercial art hub.” Meg Maggio of Pékin Fine Art said “I go to Art Stage Singapore not to see Western secondary market works. I go to be educated on the South East Asian contemporary art scene. I look for artists I know and work with… In addition, I look for artists new to me. I saw some great new works.”