Two art fairs excluded from Singapore Art Week booklet; one cries foul

SINGAPORE - The omission of two art fairs from the Singapore Art Week booklet has spawned conspiracy theories among a few art insiders that this is to give prominence to Art Stage Singapore, the premier international contemporary art fair and anchor event for the week.

The Singapore Art Week is an umbrella showcase of the visual arts. It opens on Saturday and runs till Jan 24.

Two fairs - the inaugural Singapore Contemporary Art Show and the Art Apart Fair, both of which open to the public from Jan 22 to 24 - are listed on the Art Week website, but not in the booklet. Meanwhile, Art Stage, which is held from Jan 20 to 24, is listed both in the booklet and on the website.

Art Apart founder and director Rosalind Lim told The Straits Times she wrote in to the arts council on Jan 9 to ask about their policy for listing events in the booklet, but has received no explanation.

While her fair - which attracts about 3,000 visitors each year - has been excluded, smaller events and activities - like a bilingual calligraphy forum and walking tours - have made it to the booklet, she noted.

"Being an art fair, we are a crowd puller, so overseas exhibitors and visitors come by, and then they spin off to drop by the other little events that may interest them. So that's the importance of an art fair: it's good for tourism and good for the art scene here," said Ms Lim.

"I don't understand why tiny events are being listed in the booklet - not that they're not a good thing - but not the two big fairs. These small events will not pull exhibitors or art lovers from overseas."

The booklets can be picked up by tourists at points around Singapore, and are also circulated overseas, she said.

Singapore Art Week was started in 2013 by the National Arts Council (NAC), Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Economic Development Board (EDB). Ms Lim's fair was listed in the first two booklets, when they were produced by the tourism board, but has been left out since then.

While Art Apart, a home-grown art fair, was notified by the tourism board about the production of the booklets and was invited to submit an application for inclusion in 2013 and 2014, "for the 2015 and 2016 booklets NAC did not manage to notify us", wrote Ms Lim in her e-mail to the arts council.

"We were directed to submit only in consultation with STB for the 2016 booklet." That, she said, was either in late October or early November last year.

The director of Singapore Contemporary Art Show Douwe Cramer, said he was suprised that the fair was not featured in the programme brochure - especially as the event is expected to attract 20,000 visitors.

But his team's attention is now on the upcoming inaugural edition of the fair, "then to work with the NAC and other departments on plans for the second edition" in 2017.

He adds: "We have kept the NAC abreast of our plans but we are a new show and we are confident that next year, when we are established as a regular fixture on the Singapore art calendar, we will be included."

Meanwhile Dr Pwee Keng Hock, the managing director of Utterly Art - a Singapore gallery that is participating in the Singapore Contemporary Art Show - sent e-mails to the arts council and to the press, wondering whether the move to omit the two fairs reflected "the bias as to how different art organisations are viewed in Singapore".

"The first booklet of the first Art Week was very inclusive, so I don't understand why it has to be so exclusive now, especially since you did reach out to us originally… It's not as if NAC was aiming to be more institutional and non-commercial since Art Stage and Gillman Barracks are included," he wrote. Gillman Barracks is a cluster of international and home-grown galleries located off Alexandra Road.

And while the fairs are listed on the site, the booklet, explained Dr Pwee, is important as it is distributed to visitors to events and - more importantly - to foreign visitors and collectors.

Art Weeks centred around major art fairs, like Art Basel in Geneva, all have auxiliary fairs running concurrently with the main one, he said, adding that he wondered if the omission of the two art fairs was a move to "protect the status of Art Stage… from the competition".

In a joint statement, Art Week organisers - the arts council, STB and EDB - said: "We strive in every edition to highlight as many events as we can to give audiences a good sense of the diverse offerings under Art Week. But as the programme booklet has a limited number of pages, we have to prioritise every year as it is not possible to highlight everything in the printed guide."

The website thus serves as the primary platform that lists all events comprehensively, it said.

"The marketing support given this year recognises the contributions of Singapore gallerists and fair organisers, including Singapore Contemporary Art Show and Art Apart Fair, to our vibrant arts ecosystem. We will review Art Week's programmes and explore how we can support such commercial players in future editions."

This article was first published on January 14, 2016.
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