Art Stage Singapore 2018: The Days of “Kiasu” Are Over
I Nyoman Masriadi, Great Daddy, 2014.
Hyung Koo Kang, Self Portrait, 2010. Oil on canvas, 300 x 690 cm.
Lorenzo Rudolf, Fair President, Art Stage Singapore.
Visitors to an art exhibition take photos of an installation titled “No Past No Present No Future” by Kamin Lertchaiprasert of Thailand on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Singapore during a preview of ART STAGE Singapore 2018 Edition. ART STAGE is a show of Southeast Asian art and it is the region’s voice in representing Asian art in the global arena. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
With Naima Morelli, specialist in Southeast Asian art, CoBo looks at the perks and the downsides of downsizing Art Stage Singapore. Is it just bad news for the Lion City’s art ecosystem or is it also an opportunity for a fresh start?
TEXTS: CoBo Editorial Force
IMAGES: Courtesy of Art Stage Singapore
We can’t honestly say that Art Stage is getting better each year, but we can undoubtedly state that everybody would like it not to get any worse or, if that’s too much to ask for, to simply continue in future.
So, do you want me to start with the good news or the bad news? Maybe we can start with the hard facts. The recent Art Stage 2018 (held from January 26 to 28) was the most modest edition to date. The absence of some of the most influential galleries with a space in Singapore, such as Pearl Lam Galleries, ShanghArt, Fost Gallery, Mizuma Gallery, etc., is an alarming statement. With less than 100 galleries participating, (compared to 130 in the criticised 2017 edition and 170 in 2016), the location was smaller too. It moved from the basement to level one of the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
So why is it shrinking, if there’s a willingness to make it better? According to the fair’s director, Lorenzo Rudolf, it is all due to the difficult economic situation worldwide. To that, one must add that participating at Art Stage is still an investment. Understandably, many galleries asked themselves if it was worth having their name printed on the booth, considering the disappointing sales of previous years.
And then there is the increasing number of fairs. After the upcoming fairs in the Philippines and India, and Art Basel Hong Kong, the Indonesian capital hosts the sister fair, Art Stage Jakarta in August. This is much more convenient for Indonesian collectors and galleries, who take a good piece of the pie when it comes to the Southeast Asian art market.
Did Lorenzo Rudolf cause this market fragmentation by rushing off and branching out with his art fair? Or did he just create a Plan B for his brainchild? The one thing we all know for sure is that having too many art fairs will only dilute the market, as well as the collector base and audience, as they are not big enough to participate in every single fair.
This year, the audience, who dressed up for the hype, the celebrities and influencers all felt a little disappointed as the sparkle was just not there. It was like going to a party to dance but then finding that, as much as the DJ is doing their best, everybody stays clear of the dance floor. So you end up going back home feeling cranky because you haven’t shown your dance moves.
However, those who were less keen on the party side and happy to see good works appreciated the smaller fair. I personally felt a bit lost and overwhelmed during the art fair’s previous editions, and hadn’t been able to really filter through the works because of the infamous FOMO – the “Fear of Missing Out” – which I have been told translates into Singlish as “Kiasu”.
The Tiroche DeLeon collection was nothing short of exceptional and presented the best pieces from the biggest, coolest household names of Southeast Asia, which were showcased using a good criteria. However, collectors were very sceptical about this kind of buying and reselling of artwork, which was done through private foundations, not to mention the “horror” that the artists felt at being treated as producers of commodities and speculative goods. Many people question this kind of presentation at an art fair that is reserved for the galleries and primary market. Yet one of the biggest booths at Art Stage was given over to the reselling show of a private foundation where some recent works of the region’s top-notch artists were to be dispersed.
The Thai Focus was perhaps the best part of this edition of Art Stage, especially Kamin Lertchaiprasert: Timeless Present Moment, which is a shorter re-edition of his big retrospective at MAIIAM Contemporary Art with selected artworks from two periods of the artist’s life. While Untitled Poems Of Théodore Rousseau, by Natée Utarit, presented by Richard Koh Fine Art, gave the viewers a great place to nurture their eyes. The most attention grabbing presentation in the Thai Focus section was Tada Hengsapkul’s installation at the Nova Contemporary, which was showing with Art Stage for the first time.
Tada’s interactive work invites visitors to touch and hug a piece of black cloth of their choice on the display rack. A palm print then appeared on the black cloth, as well as a number, which directed you to a story that is narrated on the wall notes. All of these stories were portraits of victims of social injustice and human rights infringement. The work’s 3 editions were sold to important private collections from Thailand and Singapore.
However, some of the galleries we spoke to at the fair weren’t very happy with the sales. “Let’s wait until tomorrow,” they told us on Saturday, hoping for a miracle on Sunday. Clearly, those who decided to stick with Art Stage resisted any open criticism, and some participants saw a silver lining.
Guillaume Levy-Lambert from Art Porters declared he was very happy with the quality of the interactions at the fair, which resulted in good business for the gallery. The collector in him was a little disappointed, but being a gallerist, he knew about the difficulties of participating in an art fair and justified some of the choices that had been made.
On the other hand, Richard Koh found that the fair was more crowded than the previous year: “The fair is a bit smaller in terms of galleries, but there have been more collectors coming here. I think it’s good to have a smaller fair, as people can take their time looking at the works and focus. Overall, it has been better for me than last year.”
Jasdeep Sandhu from Gajah Gallery was on the same page. He thought the fair was a little better compared to the previous year, as far as his sales were concerned. He pointed out that it is the fair’s quality rather than size that can always improve. “The smaller scale is actually a good indicator of where Southeast Asia in general, and Singapore in particular, can start from again. We actually have enough collectors to support up to 80 galleries, so it has been positive for us.” Southeast Asia already has a good base of collectors, and he is confident that the importance of Singapore in the region will continue, especially if the art market starts to rise up to the same level of excellence provided by Singapore’s excellent infrastructure.
While some key players in the art market chose to subscribe to a positive vision like this when looking at the latest edition of the fair, others started to anticipate the endgame of this regional art fair. Indeed, there would only be sadness if we looked at Art Stage through the lens of the ‘shoulds’, rather than looking at the possibilities and opportunities provided to it by Singapore.
Everyone hoped that the fair would stay and grow and consolidate the position of Singapore as a base; something solid and exciting for Southeast Asia to wait for, a special time of the year when we would all fly into the Lion City to buy work, exchange contacts, meet the artists and get to know new art spaces.
These are the “shoulds”. Let’s keep them, as they give us a vision for the future. But let’s also be realistic. We all understand that such meteoric ambitions and rhythms would only be achievable with visionary thinking & coherent actions. There is beauty and audacity in being small and patient. So there should be no fear of missing out. Hopefully, the days of Kiasu are over.