Singapore Art Fair postphoned

Singapore Art Fair postphoned
Visitors walking past Hong Kong artist Xie Ke’s sculpture Burning Love at the Singapore Art Fair at Suntec last year.

A year after its first outing, the boutique Singapore Art Fair has "postponed" its edition this year, which was to have been held in November.

And in yet another sign of a slowing art market, Singapore's largest private gallery Art Plural in Armenian Street is vacating the space after four years.

Ms Laure d'Hauteville, founder and fair director of the Beirut Art Fair, which is behind the Singapore Art Fair, told Life! in an e-mail it is "taking a break" because the organisers are "fully stretched" with the Beirut edition in September.

Mr Frederic de Senarclens of Art Plural Gallery would only say that it has closed its physical space to "work on interesting projects that will be unveiled in due time".

Last month, the industry was reeling when six galleries decided not to renew their leases in the country's only dedicated visual arts cluster, Gillman Barracks.

Insiders say this is a setback to Singapore's aspirations to become an arts hub. Nearly 10 art fairs were held last year, with gallerists expressing reservations about an over-saturated art market and collectors complaining of "fair fatigue".

Gallerist Benjamin Hampe feels the surge in art fairs and pop-up events has lowered the bar for serious and quality art, and it also reflects at a deeper level the lack of long-term commitment to artists, galleries and collectors.

He says: "Singapore has become an opportunity for overseas operators to make profits and nothing more. It is a flaw in our arts landscape and it will change only with collective organisation among the visual arts community here."

Gallerist Richard Koh, who runs the eponymous Richard Koh Galleries and was initially associated with the Singapore Art Fair, said he was "surprised" to hear the fair would not be on this year, after announcing its 2015 dates right after last year's edition in November at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

It drew more than 10,000 visitors and won praise for its manageable scale, the mid-range pricing of its works and for including curated platforms in a commercial fair setting.

Mr Koh, who bowed out of the fair be- cause of his work commitments, says the recent developments are expected because the art market grew a little too quickly.

He says: "People are becoming more discerning. Singapore is an expensive place to run a business in.

"Currently there are too many art events, most without any relevant focus. Some present big themes, but when you walk in there, there is hardly any content. The issue is not just fair fatigue, the pool of collectors is very small and you cannot keep selling to the same people."

Cedralys, organiser of the five- year-old Beirut Art Fair, and MP Singapore, a local exhibitions and conventions organiser, are the partners behind the Singapore Art Fair.

Ms d'Hauteville says it will return next year: "We are very busy this year as there are two museums opening in Beirut during the time of our fair and we are partnering with extra events."

Gallerist Valerie Cheah of Jada Fine Art says the timing of the Singapore Art Fair was unfortunate. "It was held in the same month as the popular and well- received Affordable Art Fair and barely two months before the more established Art Stage Singapore. On top of that, it was held during the start of the school holidays when many people are away on year-end long vacations."

Among the Singapore Art Fair's highlights was a 300 sq m exhibition space dedicated to a pavilion showing art from the Middle East and North Africa, curated by Catherine David, a former artistic director of the prestigious international art exhibition Documenta.

Art from South and South-east Asia featured prominently in the 6,100 sq m fair that had about 60 galleries and 20 smaller booths dedicated to solo shows.

Singapore's Utterly Art was one of the galleries in the debut edition.

Owner Pwee Keng Hock reported good sales in excess of $60,000, comparable to the $90,000 at the November edition of the Affordable Art Fair, which sells artworks priced below $10,000 and where the gallery had a larger booth.

He said the new fair gave them a chance to showcase larger and more expensive works and reach out to new clients.

He says: "Singapore is a good market, but too many players are rushing in. Expansion of our art market can happen only if we can persuade our South-east Asian neighbours to come in and buy too, but even the Indonesians have slowed down on buying recently.

"While there is room for more players, the art market here needs time to grow. It is not about the short term."


This article was first published on May 15, 2015.
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