Expansion plans for art gallery group

From left, Benjamin Hampe, owner/director of Chan Hampe Galleries, Emi Eu, vice-president of Art Galleries Association (Singapore), Ms Vera Ong, president of Art Galleries Association (Singapore), Kamiliah Bahdar, curator of Galerie Steph and Linda Gallery's David Fu.

SINGAPORE - The Art Galleries Association (Singapore) is looking for fresh blood to propel it into its next phase of growth.

The 17-year-old non-profit organisation of art galleries has been getting a makeover in the last few months to woo new members and its latest move is a joint exhibition.

Confluence, the upcoming showcase at Artspace@Helutrans by curator Kamiliah Bahdar of Galerie Steph, will feature more than 40 works of art from most of the association's 25 member galleries, including stalwart Art Forum and relative newcomer Art Plural Gallery.

The works are priced for sale from upwards of a few thousand dollars and they include pieces by artists such as Cultural Medallion recipient Goh Beng Kwan and acclaimed Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.

The association's president Vera Ong, 55, says the relaunch is timely given the increase in art galleries in recent years, including the cluster of 14 galleries that opened in Gillman Barracks last year.

Ms Emi Eu, 43, vice-president of the association, adds: "Every gallery is dedicated to different types of artwork and they work with different artists. But when a place is small like Singapore and everybody is trying to do many different things, at times it is disadvantageous because you are trying to get attention from this small group of people."

As a member of the association, however, galleries have "the advantage of working as a group and being recognised as a group", says Ms Eu, who is also director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

Ms Ong, who is also the owner of Art-2 Gallery, adds that as the association expands its presence, it will also gain a bigger voice to advocate for art galleries, art collectors and art lovers here.

One way is to launch a polished gallery guide, says the association's treasurer Benjamin Hampe.

Beyond listing member galleries, the guide will include editorial content by dedicated arts writers.

The association will partner an art media company to publish the guide and the launch date will coincide with a major event on the Singapore visual arts calendar such as the Singapore Biennale in October or next year's ArtStage art fair.

Mr Hampe, 33, director of Chan Hampe Galleries, says an art gallery tour is also in the pipeline for ArtStage next year, with shuttle buses plying routes that will take visitors to the galleries of its members.

"The intention is to drive the traffic that will be in Singapore during ArtStage, collectors from around the region and the world, to galleries here. This will lay it out all for them," he says.

The association also updated its website with a comprehensive listing of events held at member galleries.

The association's secretary David Fu, 30, says the user-friendly site has attracted membership inquiries from galleries. Membership costs include a one-time charge of $300 and an annual fee of $850.

The association was formed in 1996 to represent the interests of art gallery owners and collectors here.

Ms Ong, a founding member, says: "Frame shops selling art would list themselves as galleries in the phone directory even though they did not hold exhibitions. We wanted to highlight the professionalism of the business."

The association's criteria limited the number of members to a handful initially but it gradually grew to 15, where it remained for many years because members were too busy to actively recruit more participants.

Although the association was small, it was recognised by government agencies as the leading body for galleries here and its views was sought on arts development in Singapore.

The long-term vision for the association, Ms Ong says, is for members to expand their reach through group participation in overseas art fairs or partnerships with foreign art gallery associations in cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei to hold joint events.

She also hopes the association will grow to have between 50 and 60 members. She jokes: "I'm very happy that more people are thinking to join. The next election, I can step down."

- lijie@sph.com.sg

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