Affordable Art Fair: More visitors, less buzz

Some visitors made going to the Affordable Art Fair a family outing.
Some visitors made going to the Affordable Art Fair a family outing.ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Total sales up from May edition, but some gallerists report poorer sales and say there were few new buyers

The November edition of the Affordable Art Fair ended on Sunday with noticeably less buzz and mixed reactions from gallerists and visitors, though organisers reported improved sales and visitorship.

The organisers of the fair told Life! they saw a total of 18,200 visitors and that the four-day fair closed at the F1 Pit Building with total sales of $4.96 million, among the best results since the popular, family-friendly global fair was launched here in 2010.

This was more than the May edition of the fair, which drew 13,300 visitors and rang up $3.7 million in sales over four days.

On the ground, several gallerists who have done well in the past reported weak sales. They said they did not make major sales on opening night - typically when collectors descend to get first dibs on choice works of art. And in the closing hours of the fair, when wrapping stations in the past had seen long queues, there were only a few people lining up to get their purchases wrapped.

This is the first year with two editions of the Affordable Art Fair instead of one. And over the weekend, there were at least two newer art sales competing with it: Bank Art Fair at Pan Pacific Singapore hotel and Spot Art at the Old Hill Street Police Station.

After a quiet Thursday and a not-so-packed Arty-Licious evening on Friday - an evening for art lovers to raise funds for a local arts organisation - the crowds picked up over the weekend.

However, Mr Giorgio Pilla of ReDot Fine Art Gallery, one of 108 participating home-grown and international galleries at the fair, pointed out: "We must not confuse schoolchildren with collectors. This is starting to look more like an outing for families, which is great for the future as new people are introduced to the world of art perhaps, but not so encouraging for the immediate future."

He paid about $10,000 for a fair booth which he manned, while his gallery at Artspace@Helutrans in Tanjong Pagar Distripark was handled by a gallery sitter.

He declined to say how many works he sold, but said that for the effort put in, the outcome was "disappointing by past fair results". This was the third time he was participating in the Affordable Art Fair.

"We need to see how all these art fairs will pan out over the next 12 months. Singapore has become the new home of art fairs, too many in way too short a space of time - indeed too many, period," he added.

This year has seen at least six art fairs held here, with the newest, the Singapore Art Fair, opening at Suntec City on Thursday.

His sentiment was shared by several other gallerists Life! spoke to, who felt their sales took a hit from having two Affordable Art Fairs so close to each other.

Artist and gallerist Ho Sou Ping of home-grown Artcommune gallery, who was participating in the fair for the third time, said: "We had no sales on opening night, which is very unusual. While lots of people visited the fair, they were mostly onlookers and I get the sense that even buyers are looking for more decorative art. People are just not buying the way they used to."

Some gallerists also felt most of the buyers this time were existing customers, whereas the purpose of participating in an art fair is to reach out to a new client base. While they lauded the fair's organisation and strong focus on public programming, they pointed out that ultimately the purpose of an art fair is generating sales for participating gallerists.

Korean gallerist Janice Kim, who runs Space Cottonseed in Gillman Barracks, said: "This edition is very disappointing. I sold to collectors I already know and could not even cover my cost."

Filipina gallerist Susanne DS Tiausas, who owns Galerie Francesca in Manila, also did not recover her costs. She felt two editions in the same year as well as the presence of so many other art fairs in Singapore has "diminished the buyer base".

However, other galleries, such as Singapore galleries Redsea Gallery, Cape of Good Hope and Goldmann SAGG, and London's Bicha Gallery reported enouraging sales.

Mr Yann Bombard, who runs Galerie Envie D'Art in Paris and has participated in the Singapore edition since 2010, said the big change he saw was "buyers taking a lot longer to buy. They are opting for cheaper and smaller artworks. I get the impression in the initial editions the art enthusiasts were visiting. Now, we are seeing more first-time collectors".

In response, fair director Camilla Hewitson said that while it is satisfied with the November edition's sales and visitorship, it will listen to the feedback from galleries. She added: "We will continue to differentiate the May and November editions of the fair and make them very different experiences, both in concept and the art showcase, so that we are continually providing a win-win scenario for both our galleries and visitors."

Visitors such as art lover and civil servant Adeline Yeo, 33, felt the fair still plays an important role in introducing newcomers to art, "though I did get the impression some of the galleries had recycled their artworks even though we were told there would be completely different artworks in each edition".

Others such as Mr George Kypraios, 43, a Singapore-based art collector from Australia, felt like it was "only yesterday I attended the last edition of the Affordable Art Fair".

He said: "While I have enjoyed going to the fair and seeing the artworks on offer, I think we need to take stock of the number and frequency of art fairs in Singapore."

deepikas@sph.com.sg