Singapore's annual blockbuster week of art is back and on a charm offensive.
Bigger and bolder, the third edition of Art Week, which launches on Saturday, is determined to make art for all - the connoisseur, curious and newcomer - and it features an expanded programme of almost 100 shows and events.
The list is so long that it defies the length of a week and now runs over two weekends.
The nine-day extravaganza anchored by annual art fair Art Stage Singapore, now in its fifth year, goes beyond the visual arts to include activities such as a family-friendly carnival, neighbourhood walking tours and music parties.
The buzz is embraced by art industry insiders and art enthusiasts, although some wonder if there is a surfeit of events and if there should be more rigorous selection of what makes the event's calendar.
Art Week is driven by the National Arts Council in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Economic Development Board.
They initiated the event in 2013 to ride on the momentum of the rising visual arts scene, including the growth of Art Stage Singapore and the launch of the art gallery cluster and NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore in Gillman Barracks.
The agencies did not track overall attendance at previous editions of Art Week and there is no estimated figure for total visitors this year.
But key Art Week events last year such as Art Stage Singapore drew 45,700 visitors - a record for the fair - while the inaugural Aliwal Urban Art Festival had 3,500 visitors.
On the wide appeal of Art Week activities this year, the arts council's deputy chief executive Paul Tan, 43, says: "Art can be appreciated by anyone and everyone, and a diversity of experiences, both accessible and serious, incorporating music and history, creates novel ways for audiences to experience art."
As for the growth of Art Week, he says this has "largely been, and will continue to be, organic as the visual arts community sees the value in being a part" of it.
He adds that along with developments led by the arts industry, the agencies also work with event organisers, arts groups and institutions to "add diversity and depth" to Art Week.
This includes encouraging groups to hold complementary events and commissioning projects by home-grown artists and art groups.
A first-time participant is the Sculpture Society. Its sculpture carnival at the foothills of Fort Canning Park this weekend includes stalls showcasing 3-D arts such as 3-D printing.
The society's vice-president Chua Aik Boon, 39, says he has long wanted to bring back its "fun and accessible" carnival that was last held more than a decade ago.
"However, the project would not have been possible without funding, so when the arts council approached me, I jumped at the opportunity."
The increase in Art Week events from about 70 to almost 100 this year is welcomed by Art Stage Singapore's founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf, 55.
"In 2011, at the first edition of Art Stage Singapore, we had to organise the side events ourselves to create a dynamic ambience surrounding the fair.
Today, I am happy to see that Art Stage Singapore has made such an impact on the Singapore art scene that an entire Art Week has sprung up around it."
Similarly upbeat about a bustling Art Week is gallerist Matthias Arndt, 46, whose Berlin gallery, Arndt, has an outpost here and is showing at Art Stage Singapore. "In principle, the more activities about art and the arts during Art Week, the better the energy here."
Still, the bumper list of events can be "too much" for the average artsgoer, says Mr Daniel Komala, 52, chief executive of the regional auction house Larasati. It will be holding an auction at Goodwood Park Hotel on Jan 24.
But he adds: "For seasoned art collectors, the wide variety is something to look forward to. It means they are bound to bump into something new."
Much as the bonanza of events is a boon, Mr Rudolf says these should be "quality and relevant art activities that have strong synergy with one another". He adds: "To do this, there must be a selection process in place for a meaningful programming of Art Week."
Currently, there is no selection process for Art Week activities because its growth is intended to be organic. Any artist or arts group can submit a synopsis for a programme of reasonable quality to be included as part of the event.
To help the audience navigate the busy week, the Art Galleries Association Singapore is offering a curated tour of galleries with buses running between art gallery precincts such as Gillman Barracks and Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
Many exhibitions launched during Art Week also run on after Jan 25, when the marquee event ends, so artsgoers have ample time to check out the shows.
An element that is lacking, says Singapore artist collective vertical submarine, which is presenting an installation work at Golden Mile Tower in conjunction with Art Week, is critical discourse.
Comprising Joshua Yang, Justin Loke and Fiona Koh, the group says: "Conversations often deteriorate into base considerations such as how much a painting was sold for."
To get around it, the collective, represented by Loke, will hold a public discussion on the installation with Singapore architect Randy Chan and artist and art lecturer Ian Woo.
An arts enthusiast who is looking forward to being spoilt for choice during Art Week is Madam Tay Bee Chiang.
The 49-year-old, who runs a furnishings company and takes her three children aged seven to 13 to art shows, says: "I did not hear about Art Week last year, but with so many events happening over two weekends this year, we can easily pick one and go for it."
Who's who: noted artists to catch
GILBERT & GEORGE
Who: Gilbert Proesch (above left), 71, and George Passmore (right), 73, have been working as one artist since they met at London's Saint Martins School of Art in 1967. They are best known for their large-scale serial photo prints which address social issues and conventions in art. Much of their art draws on life in London's East End, where they have resided for more than 40 years.
What: Their show, Utopian Pictures, from Tuesday to April 5, features 26 pictures that will make their world premiere here. They depict an amalgamation of statements and imagery from London's street signs and graffiti which conjure a raw picture of a world where life carries on even as authority and apostasy co-exist. In an interview with Life! in London, Gilbert explains: "London is utopia because there is an extraordinary amount of liberalism going on here. You can do whatever you want and nobody actually complains."
Where: Arndt, 9 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks, 03-21, 11am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday), 11am to 6pm (Sunday), closed on Monday.
Admission is free.
The artists will sign the show catalogue at the Vernissage at Art Stage Singapore, Booth E13, Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Halls D, E and F, on Wednesday from 4 to 6pm.
They will speak at Lasalle College of the Arts (1 McNally Street, basement, The Singapore Airlines Theatre) on Jan 22 from 7 to 9.30pm.
Admission is free, but registration is required at www.eventbrite.sg.
Who:Ocampo, 49, is known for his use of icons drawn from popular culture as well as East and West. His controversial works containing swastikas were banned from Documenta 1992, a major contemporary art event held every five years in Kassel, Germany.
He continues to stick with what he believes in. You often see swastikas re-emerging with crucifixes, pizza slices, liquor bottles and large dripping eyeballs in his works.
The Filipino artist has had major museum exhibitions in Spain, France and the United States. His international followers include prominent Miami- based art collectors Don and Mera Rubell, who are among the world's key art collectors.
What: The Devil Follows Me Day And Night, Because He Is Afraid To Be Alone is his solo exhibition from Jan 23 to Feb 22, featuring new works.
It explores the artist's pursuit to be critical of his art-making process and grapples with the motivation behind an artist's work. He declares "that the age-old tradition of painting has become a laughing stock in the academia. Therefore, it is paramount for artists to be compelling and paintings to be stimulating".
Where: The Drawing Room, 5 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks, 01-06, 11am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday), 11am to 6pm (Sunday), closed on Monday and public holiday. Admission is free.
Ocampo will give a talk at the gallery on Jan 23 from 5 to 6pm.
Admission is free, but seating is limited. E-mail info-sg@drawing roomgallery.com with the subject Artist Mentor to register.
Who: The renowned Taiwanese sculptor, 76, is famed for his poetic sculptures that are imbued with the essence of Chinese painting and calligraphy.
Trained as a woodcarver, Ju worked as a successful craftsman before pursuing his love for art full time, studying under Taiwanese sculptor Yang Yuyu, a pioneer of the modern art movement in Taiwan.
Ju's abstract sculptures range from wood to bronze and stainless steel, and they all bear strong, evocative outlines.
His extensive body of work includes two major series of sculptures, Taichi and Living World.
The Taichi Series is widely acclaimed for vividly capturing the strength and grace of the Chinese meditative exercise.
The Living World Series, on the other hand, comprises lively depictions of people of all ages and from all walks of life.
What: His Taichi Series Outdoor Exhibition runs here from Saturday to April 16 and features 15 monumental bronze sculptures.
The show, organised by home-grown iPreciation gallery, has the works installed near the Singapore Botanic Garden's Eco Lake, heightening the harmony between art and nature.
Where: Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Road, from 5am to midnight. Admission is free.
The sculptures are installed near the gardens' Eco Lake, which is in the Bukit Timah section of the park, near its Bukit Timah Gate.
This article was first published on Jan 15, 2015.
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