Affordable Art Fair founder's vision to sell a million artworks

Noted Japanese artist Toko Shinoda’s Midori, 1983 and Singapore pioneer artist Goh Beng Kwan’s Red Balinese, 2014 (above). The two artists are among those whose works will be featured at the fair. -- PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR
Noted Japanese artist Toko Shinoda’s Midori, 1983 and Singapore pioneer artist Goh Beng Kwan’s Red Balinese, 2014 (above). The two artists are among those whose works will be featured at the fair. -- PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR
Noted Japanese artist Toko Shinoda’s Midori, 1983 (above) and Singapore pioneer artist Goh Beng Kwan’s Red Balinese, 2014. The two artists are among those whose works will be featured at the fair. -- PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR
Noted Japanese artist Toko Shinoda’s Midori, 1983 (above) and Singapore pioneer artist Goh Beng Kwan’s Red Balinese, 2014. The two artists are among those whose works will be featured at the fair. -- PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR
Affordable Art Fair founder Will Ramsay never expected the fair would celebrate its 100th incarnation in 15 years. -- PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR
Affordable Art Fair founder Will Ramsay never expected the fair would celebrate its 100th incarnation in 15 years. -- PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR

Affordable Art Fair founder Will Ramsay now plans for the long run as it marks 100th edition

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 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.

deepikas@sph.com.sg