Art Stage scores record turnout

Visitors flocking to Art Stage Singapore, held at the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre over four days.

The fourth edition of Art Stage Singapore ended on all the right notes, with record visitor numbers and healthy sales.

The four-day premier contemporary art fair, which opened with a private viewing on Wednesday evening last week, drew 45,700 visitors, up from 40,500 last year. A total of 14,600 invited guests came for the fair preview and vernissage alone.

Spread over three sprawling halls of the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre, the fair was especially crowded in the last three hours before closing time at 6pm on Sunday. Collectors made feverish last-minute purchases and visitors took their last glimpses of works shown by 158 galleries from around the globe.

At 6pm, the fair organisers had to make repeated requests for visitors to leave so art handlers could start moving the artworks on display.

Several strongly curated gallery presentations, the introduction this year of curated country and regional platforms showcasing mostly art from Asia, and a much improved fair layout appealed to collectors, gallerists and visitors alike.

Singapore art collector Colin Lim, 48, who has attended all editions of the fair since it started in 2011, said Art Stage has responded well to competition from other regional fairs such as Art Basel Hong Kong, inaugurated last year, and Art Taipei.

He said: “Art Stage was, in a word, good. I was pleased to see new work by both established and emerging artists. There were some repeated showings of artists among galleries but, by and large, these were minimal.”

He and several other collectors interviewed gave the thumbs up to the country and regional platforms, which took up about 2,000 sq m or 20 per cent of the fair. They were “a near perfect mix of aesthetically pleasing and conceptually rich works”, said Mr Lim.

A visibly tired but elated fair director Lorenzo Rudolf told Life! that this year, he wanted to try new things and explore new formats to help contemporary art be embraced by more people.

“The country-specific platforms were a catalyst. They added depth to an art fair format. We are more than pleased with the result and the response the fair has received,” he said.

Indeed, this could be seen in the profile of visitors. On the one hand, prominent collectors from around the world could be spotted browsing at the fair, such as American Dorothy Vogel, French couple Dominique and Sylvain Levy, Chinese-Indonesian Budi Tek and Swiss Uli Sigg, a well-known collector of Chinese contemporary art.

But this year’s fair was not just about big names in terms of artworks on show or the visitors who attended. More families with young children were spotted doing art rounds. And students spent a lot of time looking at artworks, such as Miss Choong Mingzhen, 19. She said what appealed to her was the “simplicity of concepts” explored in some of the pieces she saw. A day pass at the fair cost $33.

Miss Choong, a Hwa Chong Junior College student, said: “I saw several themes I could identify with. Some of these were drawn from everyday life. Others banked on celebrity. All in, what made it interesting for me was the exploration of artistic ideas driven by these. It helped me relate to many of the artworks I saw.”

For others, it was the focus on Asia – South-east Asia, in particular, and the platform section – which was a big draw.

Curator Iola Lenzi, who has been going to the fair since its inception, said it was “busier than ever”. She liked the emphasis on South-east Asia, underlined by the more visible presence of art from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

She said: “The platform section, ‘curated’ mostly by dealers, though criticised by some for its hybrid non-commercial/commercial identity, brought welcome variety with predominantly installations.

“Importantly, it introduced experimentation to the standard mall-fair format that benefited both represented artists and audiences alike.”

Gallerist Stephanie Fong of Fost Gallery at Gillman Barracks said this year’s fair has been the best for the gallery. “I finally see the results of the groundwork that has been laid in the last couple of years. The quality and quantity of the viewers have improved drastically. Best of all, the fair also helped drive the crowds to my gallery at Gillman Barracks.”

Art Stage is billed as a fair for Asia and it was Asian art which eventually stole the show at the fair, where Asian artists commanded the most attention.

Big-ticket artworks sold at the fair included the late Chinese-French painter Zao Wou Ki’s oil on canvas, 1966, which sold for US$1.2 million (S$1.53 million).

A mainstay at the fair, Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama proved to be a big draw once more. Japanand Singapore-based gallery Ota Fine Arts sold her colourful sculpture Flowers That Bloom Tomorrow for US$500,000.

Another Japan-based dealer, Tomio Koyama Gallery, sold four works by famed Japanese illustrator Yoshitomo Nara at $11,000 each, while Singapore’s Ikkan Art Gallery sold 20 digital media works by Japanese collective teamLab and Naoko Tosa for a total of US$550,000.

Singapore’s Gajah Gallery sold 15 of the 22 artworks it presented at the fair. Among these were five works – three bronze sculptures and two acrylic painting – by rising Indonesian artist Yunizar, priced between $27,000 and $63,000.

Interviewed by Life!, Mr Sigg, 67, said the fair always brings in new artists, which makes it appealing to collectors. He has visited all editions of Art Stage. He added: “It is also a place to get to know the artists and learn more about them and their works. It has a good mix of galleries and I hope Art Stage will continue that while keeping its focus on art from Southeast Asia.”

Spotted on the fair grounds two hours before it ended were former French Culture Minister Jack Lang and British art patron David Ciclitira and his curator wife Serenella. The Ciclitiras helped to organise the inaugural Prudential Eye Awards here last Saturday, which celebrates contemporary art across greater Asia and the Pacific.

All three lauded Art Stage for its content and curation.

Mr Lang said he was equally impressed with all the arts events held around town under the Singapore Art Week umbrella, particularly the ongoing Singapore Biennale.

“I have had a fantastic time looking at all the art. It has been a very interesting few days in Singapore,” he added.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.