Affordable Art Fair numbers fall short

Affordable Art Fair numbers fall short
The Affordable Art Fair brought in crowds but not as many people were buying.

The first of the Affordable Art Fair's two annual editions in Singapore for this year brought in $2.8 million in sales, a dip from last year's edition that signals the saturation of the art market here, as more fairs open while galleries shutter.

The figures notched by the three-day fair that ended on Sunday were lower than the initial projection of 14,000 visitors and earnings of more than $4 million that fair organisers had given Life! at a media preview last Thursday.

Visitor footfall stood at 13,400, a slight bump from last year's May edition, which pulled in 13,300 visitors. But sales then amounted to more than $3.7 million.

The fair's director Alan Koh, 32, said in a press statement that the lower sales figures "could be attributed in part to the smaller number of galleries this year".

Seventy-four galleries from 21 countries took part in the latest edition of the fair here last week, as compared to 82 galleries in the 2014 May edition.

In fact, the previous edition of the Affordable Art Fair competed with two other ongoing art fairs last November. In total, there were nine such events held last year.

Industry insiders say the growth of such commercial fairs reinforces the trend that some buyers here prefer to shop at art fairs rather than buy directly from galleries, five of which are exiting the three-year-old Gillman Barracks art cluster due to poor sales.

Founder of Y2Arts Ken Chang, who has taken part in the fair since 2012, says: "Fairs are a one-stop place for new buyers as there's more variety. But regular collectors come back to the gallery all year round as they know we carry other works. At fairs, each gallery has limited wall space."

His gallery reported about $40,000 in sales, with the top-selling piece being an acrylic and oil on canvas painting by Chinese artist Ocean Wang that sold for $5,000.

The Affordable Art Fair is held in 11 countries worldwide, and more than once annually in art capitals such as London and New York. Organisers decided last year to make the Singapore fair a biannual event due to "steady growth in the past five years", says the fair's chief executive Will Ramsay, who is based in Britain.

"We've more galleries which want to participate in the fair and bring in new artists... as for the other art fairs, I think there will be a natural filtering as to which ones succeed and which ones, sadly, don't," he tells Life!.

But he dismisses the notion that the spike in art fairs has torpedoed business for galleries here.

He explains: "Art fairs create a focus for the galleries during the week that the fair is on. I own a gallery myself and it's very hard to get people to come back after a few visits as they get bored.

"For Gillman Barracks, of course, not everything works straightaway... but it should be seen as positive, not negative, that it exists at all, that the Government has created it and that other galleries are succeeding."

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