VERA WIJAYA, 37
Galerie Sogan & Art
Gallerist Vera Wijaya knows a lot about going off the beaten track.
Her Indonesian family, which is in the diamond business, moved to Singapore in 1984. She studied psychology and sociology at Harvard but gave that up to become a data analyst for Nielsen Media in San Francisco in the 1990s.
"Those were heady times. It was the dot-com boom. It seemed like the most logical thing to do," says Ms Wijaya.
She returned to Singapore in 2006 to be near her family. It was during this period that she started freelancing for art journals and magazines.
"I had been collecting mostly prints when I was based in the United States. By 2010, I had decided I wanted to be a gallerist. I enjoy art and decided to get a physical space."
Having grown up here, the Singapore permanent resident says she "feels strongly about the place".
"I felt there was enough room to promote art with contemporary issues that bring relevance to the local context."
But her focus on young artists, some of whom had not even graduated, was accidental. It was not something she had planned when she opened her gallery in Chinatown. "Many of these artists were introduced to me either by other artists or collectors or people I know."
Such introductions have resulted in several discoveries, the most prominent being photographer Sarah Choo, 23, who unexpectedly won Singapore's richest photography award, the $30,000 Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu 2013, in September.
Ms Wijaya regards Choo's solo exhibition Disillusioned: Conversation Between Photography And Painting, held in September last year when the artist was a final year student at the Nanyang Technological University's School of Art Media & Design, as her most successful to date, as nearly 90 per cent of the works priced between $400 and $6,900 sold.
She has had similar success in picking untapped talents to showcase. Painter Jolene Lai's solo exhibition, Allegory, in November last year sold out and she gave Lai a solo outing at the Affordable Art Fair last year.
In October this year, another local artist Xin Xiaochang's solo exhibition reSINGAtion, had similar success at Ms Wijaya's gallery. Ms Wijaya, who is married to management consultant Henky Agusleo and has no children, says the works, which ranged in price from $400 to $6,900, found collectors easily.
As a gallerist, her approach now is different from when she started out. She has moved from Chinatown to a 1,300 sq ft gallery space in Mohamed Sultan Road, a more central and larger gallery space, to reach more collectors. Her earlier gallery space in Chinatown was about 1,000 sq ft.
During the early days of promoting works by young and unknown Singapore artists, Galerie Sogan & Art presented thematic group shows that corresponded with events such as Mother's Day, The Great Singapore Sale or National Day. These exhibitions, she says, "were fun and attracted a lot of visitors. They also showed me what type of art would work and it helped me give more artists solo shows in the gallery".
Now, her focus is on developing long-term relationships with her artists. One way of doing it is offering them solo shows even when they are in school.
Ms Wijaya says she has "been extremely fortunate to have artists, curators and collectors who actively recommend talented artists to the gallery".
"So far, this has worked out very well. In three years, since we started working together, many of them have grown tremendously in their artistic career and that is what I want to see as a gallerist. It cannot be about one successful solo exhibition."
GALERIE SOGAN & ART
Where: 16 Mohamed Sultan Road
When: Noon to 7pm (Mondays to Saturdays). By appointment on Sundays
Info: Call 8138-0277 or go to www.soganart.com
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