Around the world for art

Around the world for art

A night in Paris and four in Arles, then a flight to Venice and a train ride to Rome.

This whirlwind journey was one of several trips art lover and gallery owner Gwen Lee made last year to catch art biennials and fairs overseas, including well-known photography festival Rencontres d'Arles and the famed Venice Biennale.

Her itinerary could easily pass for a leaf out of the travel diary of a growing number of art enthusiasts here who, whether they are industry professionals or aficionados, have centred their travels on the spectacle of blockbuster art exhibitions.

It is not unusual for curious travellers to sneak in a day or more of art and culture when on vacation. But the rise and growing prominence of art biennials and fairs have turned them into a force to behold.

Cultural pride and ambition for international recognition have spurred many cities to organise their own non-commercial biennials, while the hunger for art-collecting has led to the burgeoning of commercial fairs.

This proliferation, in turn, has pushed art shows on to greater scale and scope as they compete for global attention. Often, they present works numbering in the hundreds, produced by an international roster of artists and, especially with biennials, featuring star curators.

There are now more than 150 biennials around the world - on top of hundreds of art fairs and photography festivals - that have sprung up over the last decade, some in far-flung places such as Mali and Haiti.

Indeed, the ascendance of art biennials worldwide has led to the founding of the Biennial Foundation in 2009, an independent, non-profit arts organisation based in Amsterdam that shares information and expertise on these recurring mega art shows.

Singapore too, has held its own contemporary art biennial since 2006 and at least seven art fairs this year.

Art lovers here have, as a result, been drawn into the swirl of biennials and fairs, which have become too big to ignore and too hard to resist.

Marketing consultant Jean Tsai, an avid artsgoer in her 50s, is among those who have fallen headlong into this biennial- and fair-driven wanderlust.

The art travel bug bit her in 2007 after she attended the inaugural Singapore Biennale and an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore on the history of critically acclaimed exhibition documenta held in Kassel, Germany, every five years.

She says: "I began travelling specifically to attend art fairs and biennales in 2007. That was the year that was labelled 'The Grand Tour of the 21st century' because documenta, the Venice Biennale and the Sculpture Projects Munster all took place in the same year, making it an irresistible triple whammy."

The Sculpture Projects Munster is an exhibition of sculptures held every 10 years in public places in the German town of Munster.

Since then, Ms Tsai has been back to Venice for its art and architecture biennales, and has gone to the Istanbul Biennial and Art Basel in Hong Kong fair, "to learn and to feast my eyes on art that I might not otherwise see".

Lawyer Valerie Cheah, 47, who became interested in art in 2011, has likewise been chalking up air miles "to see the world" at art fairs that have become international showcases for contemporary art.

In the last three years, she has visited fairs such as Art Jog in Yogjakarta, Indonesia, and Art Basel in Hong Kong and already, she has drafted a travel itinerary for next year. A must-stop on her list: the Venice Biennale, which opens on May 9.

Ms Cheah, who also runs pop-up gallery Jada Art, had to give the previous two editions of the Venice Biennale a pass because she was too busy. This time around, she has cleared her calendar and plans to take her two children, aged 10 and five, with her.

While it is not her first time to Venice, she says she is looking forward to her first visit to the much talked-about biennale. "I hope to see nonconventional works and large installations in the beautiful setting of Venice."

With more here making arty trips overseas, Singapore-based art gallery Yeo Workshop has found itself offering bespoke tours and art advisory services to a small group of clients, collectors and avid fairgoers at Frieze London last year and Art Basel in Hong Kong in May this year.

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