Vision to sell a million artworks

When Mr Will Ramsay started the Affordable Art Fair in London in 1999, he never expected that it would celebrate its 100th incarnation in 15 years - and as far away as in Singapore.

In town for the opening of the 100th edition today, the dapper Scotsman says he "never thought it would happen".

The fair is now in 14 cities worldwide, including New York, Milan and Hong Kong. All artworks shown are between $100 and $10,000, with three-quarters of them below $7,500.

The Singapore version of the fair is in its fifth year, and the event at the F1 Pit Building sees 82 galleries participating this time around. Almost half of these are new galleries.

Last November, the Singapore fair wrapped up its fourth edition with a record 17,800 visitors, and sales hit a new high of $4.9 million. But even before that, fair director Camilla Hewitson had confidently announced that the then annual fair would go biannual, with dates in May on top of the usual November slot.

At a media lunch ahead of the fair's opening, Mr Ramsay retells his nowfamous story of how he started the fair in his 20s after he was "not helped as a customer" when he visited galleries out of curiosity.

"A lot of people are interested in art but have no clue where to start, and when I was in my 20s, I found many of the galleries I visited rather intimidating," says the 45-year-old.

After a five-year stint in the army, the history graduate from Newcastle University opened a gallery in Putney, London, in 1996. Will's Art Warehouse is still there today.

In 1999, he started the fun and friendly Affordable Art Fair to give new artists a chance to showcase their works.

He started his venture with a £100,000 (S$211,000) bank overdraft secured against personal assets. At one point, it seemed like his funds would run out. The business eventually became profitable, he told British entrepreneurship magazine YHP in 2012.

For the milestone 100th outing in Singapore, several artists are being shown at the fair for the first time. They include Singapore pioneer artist Goh Beng Kwan, who is represented by local gallery Art Forum; emerging home- grown artist Don Low, by Singapore's Goldmann Inc; emerging Thai artist Chitmanee Chongwitookit, by Bangkok's La Lanta Fine Art; and emerging Chinese artist Yang Peng, by Singapore's Y2Arts.

Among the galleries participating in the fair for the first time is prominent Japanese gallery Nikei Fine Art, which has a branch here and specialises in Japanese art.

The gallery will be showing lithographs as well as mixed media on canvas works by noted Japanese artists Ryo Yoshikawa and Toko Shinoda.

While the fair's focus is on South-east Asia, galleries from Europe - Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Britain - are also taking part.

Mr Ramsay's vision for the fair now is a long-term one - spanning the next decade or so. His plan, however, is "not to be focused on just the dollars and cents".

"It is to sell a million artworks, reach a million homes and support artists globally," he says.

Book it

AFFORDABLE ART FAIR

Where: F1 Pit Building, 1 Republic Boulevard

When: Today to Sunday, noon to 8pm (today), 11am to 8pm (tomorrow), 11am to 6pm (Sunday)

Admission: $15 (adults), $8 (students and seniors), $50 (four adults), free for children under 16

Info: Call 6220-5682 or go to AffordableArtFair.com/Singapore

What's new

1. 100TH FEATURE EXHIBITION

This year's Singapore edition marks the 100th Affordable Art Fair in the world since the brand was launched in 1999. To celebrate this and the Singapore fair's fifth anniversary, this exhibition is showcasing A5-size works donated by 100 artists from across the globe.

Selected by Affordable Art Fair director Camilla Hewitson, curator-art director Seah Tzi-yan and gallerist Kenneth Tan, each is priced at $100.

You will find out about the artist behind the work and other information only after you buy it. The idea: to offer everyone the chance to buy art by both known and fresh artists at affordable prices.

When: Throughout the fair, subject to availability

Where: Level 2, Paddock 3

2. INTERACTIVE POTTERY STUDIO DEMONSTRATIONS

Get your hands dirty at pottery demonstrations by Thow Kwang Pottery, which owns one of the oldest surviving brick dragon kilns in Singapore for wood-firing.

Be inspired by resident artist Steven Low's demonstrations, then try your hand at creating your own masterpiece with clay.

When: Today, 4pm (big objects); tomorrow, 4pm (functional ware) and 6pm (finishing touches); Sunday, noon (functional ware - teapots) and 4pm (finishing touches)

Where: Level 2, Paddock 1

3. FRED LOVES FURNITURE ART EXHIBITION

Presented in collaboration with furniture company Fred Lives Here, this event showcases the winning designs after artists were let loose to work their magic on Fred's matte Pink DSW chair. The best creations will also become part of a new collection for sale in stores.

When: Throughout the fair

Where: Level 2, Paddock 1

4. GALLERY SPEED DATING TOURS

Looking for an artistic soul mate? Join these Gallery Speed Dating Tours, essentially 30-minute gallery tours on which you can chat up beautiful strangers.

Canvas(s) for a potential mate while listening to talks by five gallerists about the artists they represent and their artworks. Continue the conversation with an interesting new friend long after the tour is over.

When: Today, 2pm, tomorrow, 1pm, Sunday, noon

Where: Register and meet for the tour at the information desk on Level 2, Paddock 1

5. FREE NESPRESSO

Sample complimentary coffee by Nespresso, the capsule coffee machine brand, at the Nespresso Maison in Paddock 3. During select hours, baristas draw on their art to make visitors cups of fresh brew.

When: During fair hours

Where: Nespresso Maison, Paddock 3


This article was first published on May 23, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.