BENJAMIN HAMPE, 32
Partner of Chan Hampe Galleries at Raffles Hotel Arcade
Young Singaporean artist Dawn Ng might not be an international art name, but at the highly anticipated debut of the Art Basel fair in Hong Kong in May, she sold her work before the vernissage ended.
Local gallery Chan Hampe sold the 31-year-old's installation of 16 mysterious wooden chests titled Sixteen to a Chinese collector for $60,000.
Ng is not the only young artist to do well at the gallery. Last month, in his first solo after a successful Italian outing, 23-year-old painter Ruben Pang sold out his works before his show opened.
This commitment to promoting young local artists has been Mr Hampe's mission from the time he moved from Brisbane to Singapore in 2010. The bachelor opened the gallery with support from his business partner Angeline Chan.
The Australian, who has a journalism degree from the University of Queensland, was working for an art consultancy in Brisbane when he visited Singapore in 2009 for work. That was the first time he took a closer look at the art scene here.
"I knew it was a very interesting time to be in the arts in Singapore," the chatty Mr Hampe says. "Soon after I moved here, it became pretty apparent to me that while there were lots of group shows and solo exhibitions by established artists, there was no consistent support for young Singapore artists." Fresh to the scene, he started talent scouting by visiting art schools, making it a point to be at graduation shows and that is where he spotted Pang. "I knew from the start Ruben would sell. There was no doubt about it. He did not know I was a gallerist. He was standing in front of his painting and talking so passionately about it," Mr Hampe recalls.
By the end of that conversation at the Lasalle College of the Arts, Mr Hampe had offered Pang a solo.
Chan Hampe Galleries, which has been based at Raffles Hotel Arcade since August 2010, gave up its second space in Tanjong Pagar earlier this year. It also moved from a smaller 700 sq ft unit in the hotel to a 1,346 sq ft space.
The draws, says Mr Hampe, are the hotel's proximity to the Central Business District, being in a high-end shopping area, accessibility and ample parking.
From this location, he has promoted the works of several Singapore artists including multi-media artist Jason Wee, ceramicist Jason Lim, mixed-media artist Robert Zhao and recent NTU graduate Eugene Soh.
Soh, 27, is known for his tongue-in-cheek works and was a finalist at the Sony World Photography Awards held in London in April.
Mr Hampe says he has been interested in finding these artistic voices and using a commercial gallery space to "support young Singapore artists and to do it with consistency".
Even at art fairs, the gallery prefers to use its booth to offer artists a solo showcase instead of "showing a bit of everything".
The approach has clearly worked, judging from the healthy sales of young artists and Mr Hampe's calendar for next year. He has lined up shows by Ng and Soh, as well as contemporary Chinese ink painter Tay Bak Chiang and painter Esmond Loh.
Even though some artists represented by the gallery have had their art sell for five-figure sums in local art auctions, Mr Hampe believes getting the price points right is important. Works in his gallery usually start from $2,000.
"As a gallerist, I want collectors to be able to afford the artist's work. It does not help if it goes up too fast. One of the challenges facing Singapore artists is the size of the market. It is not as large as Indonesia, Thailand or Philippines. To create a self- sustaining market, as gallerists we need to work closely with artists and be mindful of getting the price right."
CHAN HAMPE GALLERIES
Where: Raffles Hotel Arcade, 01-20/21, 328 North Bridge Road
When: 11am to 7pm daily
Info: Call 6338-1962 or go to www.chanhampegalleries.com
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.