Paying to get to know Picasso

Imagine forking out $70 to listen to an expert guide you in the mysteries of Picasso or Italian Renaissance art. A small but growing number of people are signing up for such ticketed talks offered by private art institutions.

At least four organisations here offer talks given by art industry professionals. They tell Life that these talks provide an intimate, relaxed setting for aficionados to learn more about the visual arts - experiencing a mini-boom of sorts here with several art fairs and museum openings this year.

At these ticketed talks, class sizes are kept small, with most capped at 25 people or fewer. Galleries or museums usually include tours where participants are brought around the space by a guide who highlights artworks referenced during the lecture.

The newest player to the scene is the Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, an offshoot of the French private museum which recently opened at Fort Canning Park.

Alongside treasures on loan from international private collections, the museum also houses an Art Academy which kicked off its second 10-week lecture series earlier this month. Each 90-minute session is priced at $68, which includes a one-day, full-access ticket to the museum.

Such ticketed talks satisfy a curiosity about art in a city where knowledge of art history does not run deep, organisers say.

These paid talks exist alongside free ones held on an ad-hoc basis at other local galleries and public art institutions.

Mr Ronald Stones, director of the Pinacotheque's Art Academy, says: "It is our mission to provide this education and we hope to promote a deeper understanding and knowledge of what is being exhibited in the museum."

The demand for these talks is "growing nicely" through "word-of mouth", the educationist in his 60s adds. Its last two lectures on the topic of Dutch Golden Age Painting: Rembrandt's The Night Watch and abstraction in art were each attended by 15 people, up from an average of 10 a lecture during the run of the first 10-week series from May to July.

Places are available for upcoming lectures on subjects such as French Impressionism and Picasso's relationship to the Batak tribal art of Sumatra.

Over at ArtCommune Gallery at Bras Basah Complex, two art talks are conducted every month by gallery owner Ho Sou Ping, 43. ArtCommune has offered regular ticketed art talks since the gallery opened five years ago.

Mr Ho says: "Art is an intellectual field and Singapore is lacking in this kind of education. We want to reach out to the public so they can better understand the technical aspects of art from cultural, investment and aesthetic perspectives." He sees an average of five people at each session, which is priced at $25 and runs for 2 1/2 hours.

Ms Audrey Yeo, 33, director of the Arnoldii Arts Club, says art talks are good platforms for potential buyers to obtain information on artworks they are interested in.

"Every time my clients wanted to buy a piece, they needed the background information on the art history, art production and conservation. We decided to create lectures for people to attend with professionals to explain these things," she says.

The club, a project under her gallery Yeo Workshop at Gillman Barracks, organises exclusive art courses for corporate partners four times a year. These talks typically include dinner and wine-tasting and can take up to 40 people, who pay around $200 to $350 each.

Corcovado Arts, a company which started organising ticketed public and private art history courses and talks two years ago, has been increasing the number of art topics for its courses.

Such talks are held at the Singapore Management University, as well as at museums and galleries in connection with certain exhibitions. Past topics have included Italian Renaissance art, Indonesian contemporary art, Expressionism and Cubism.

Its short-term public courses cost $350 for five sessions, while stand- alone talks range between $50 and $70. Light refreshments are provided at these sessions and participants can download the visual materials presented.

Ms Carmen Garcia Velasco, Brazilian founder and director of Corcovado Arts, says: "When I moved to Singapore 10 years ago, I could not find such courses or talks."

She sees an average of 20 people at each session, with participants ranging from students to professionals to retirees.

Lawyer Peggy Pao-Keerthi Pei Yu, who started informal arts circle Artizens in May with friends as a hobby, welcomes the rash of art talks at a time when "the art scene here is increasingly maturing".

"Singaporeans are increasingly well travelled and looking for meaningful interests. There is a strong support among our peers for art talks and events so long as they are well curated and informative," she says. Targeted at young professionals with an interest in the visual arts, Artizens has organised four talks for its members so far. Participants have to pay the entry fee to the venue, if there is one.

While ticketed art talks may cost as much as a meal in a fine-dining restaurant, participants say that, like good food, a good talk can stimulate the senses and bring an art collection to life.

Housewife Sandra Turysk, who is interested in art history, has attended more than 20 courses and talks by Corcovado Arts in the last two years. The 40-year-old French national studied the subject through books and the Internet before chancing on Corcovado Arts' offerings.

She says: "The talks are worth paying for because the sessions are easy to understand. The speakers are close to their students and I get to share my ideas and perspectives with people who love art in an open-minded atmosphere."

Mr Liao Jun Hui, a part-time arts tutor at Lasalle College of the Arts, enjoys the interactive environment at these talks.

He attended one on contemporary art replacing modernism last month at the Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris.

Mr Liao, 36, says: "The class is cosy and and you can ask the speaker questions one-to-one. Her opinions were unique and personal and I learnt a lot about an era I did not know much about. "

Introduction to Appreciating Western Painting
Where: ArtCommune Gallery, 231 Bain Street, 02-43, Bras Basah Complex
When: Sept 4, 7 to 9.30pm
Admission: $25 a session
Info: E-mail to register

A Story of Singapore Art
Where: ArtCommune Gallery
When: Sept 27, 7 to 9.30pm
Admission: $25 a session
Info: E-mail souping@ to register

The Singapore Contemporary Art Scene
Where: ArtCommune Gallery
When: Every Wednesday, 7 to 9pm, starts on Sept 16
Admission: $50 a session or $120 for three sessions
Info: Go to to register

Lecture Series 2
Where: Singapore Pinacothe que de Paris, Fort Canning Arts Centre, 5 Cox Terrace
When: Every Thursday until Oct 13 (Tuesday) , 7 to 9.30pm
Admission: $68 a session
Info: E-mail to register

This article was first published on August 25, 2015.
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