SINGAPORE - It has had its ups and downs but after four years, the annual Art Stage Singapore fair has moved into pole position regionally and brought the country's visual arts scene along with it.
The four-day contemporary art fair, which opens next Thursday, will present 158 galleries from around the world at the Marina Bay Convention and Exhibition Centre. They include big names such as London's White Cube, international galleries with Singapore branches such as Sundaram Tagore and Michael Janssen, and leading home-grown galleries such as Chan Hampe.
As the centrepiece of Singapore Art Week, the busiest week in the country's packed visual arts calendar, Art Stage's impact can be seen beyond immediate sales on the fair grounds.
This year, there are more than 100 events happening around town. These include solo exhibitions, group shows, pop-up art shows, art walks, talks and workshops. The demand has grown - in the first edition of Singapore Art Week last year, there were no more than 20 such openings islandwide.
Adding to the art explosion is the ongoing Singapore Biennale, showing at museums and other venues in the Bugis/Bras Basah precinct. Around town, there is also a bumper crop of at least 16 solo exhibitions by home-grown artists.
Art galleries in the same neighbourhood are also coming together and offering more joint exhibition openings to reach out to international visitors. These joint openings can be seen in the three main gallery clusters - Gillman Barracks off Alexandra Road, the warehouse space Artspace@Helutrans in Tanjong Pagar and the galleries in Raffles Hotel Arcade.
Dr Eugene Tan, 41, who spearheaded the $10-million makeover of Gillman Barracks and is now director of The National Art Gallery, Singapore, calls Art Stage "an event not to be missed by the regional and international contemporary art community".
He gives the thumbs up, in particular, to the new country and regional platforms planned for next week's fair. With that, the Biennale and other exciting new exhibitions, he thinks "Singapore is fast gaining recognition as a site for cultural exchange and collaboration within the global arts community".
Ms Stephanie Fong of Fost Gallery has participated in three editions of Art Stage. The gallerist, who is in her late 30s, notes: "Art Stage has placed Singapore on the contemporary art market map, where previously we registered only a blip at best."
The fair, which has never disclosed its budget, is supported by the Economic Development Board, Singapore Tourism Board, National Heritage Board and the National Arts Council.
Indeed, Art Stage has managed to successfully ride out its early controversies and has grown in spite of them. After a successful start with the first edition, it got a lot of flak in 2012 for organising a collector's tour to Indonesia that got some galleries represented at the Singapore fair that year in a huff.
Fair director Lorenzo Rudolf bounced back in the next edition with stronger regional marketing and a focus on Asian art through the Indonesia Platform. The curated showcase of Indonesian art, which international collectors are increasingly bullish about, was seen as the strongest element of the fair.
Art Stage has never reported overall sales figures, but visitor numbers have grown and feedback has been positive.