Art Stage Singapore promises new curated showcases

Fifth edition of premier fair Art Stage Singapore promises new curated showcases

Not just an art fair, but a "coming together" of art, artists, events and a broader community of people interested in the arts. That has long been the aim of Art Stage Singapore director Lorenzo Rudolf.

Five years on, the fair is indeed seeing that happen. It has grown in the quality and range of the works shown and, beyond that, has anchored the Singapore Art Week, an islandwide celebration of the arts, for the last three years.

Opening on Jan 22 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, the flagship art fair of South-east Asia has stayed focused when it comes to scale.

The number of galleries has not changed much. This year, there are 153 galleries from 29 countries, largely from the Asia-Pacific region. Thirty-four are Singapore galleries. Among the new exhibitors are two established galleries from the United States, Paul Kasmin and Marc Strauss.

The big shift is the slow yet steady growth of curated platforms and exhibitions that are given space alongside the commercial booths of the fair.

On the move to introduce these and to build on them over the years, Mr Rudolf, 55, says: "To organise an art fair in South-east Asia is not comparable with doing one in Europe or the US. Here, we are still in the midst of young and emerging art scenes and markets, often with weak or very particular local infrastructures, which need to be brought to the attention of the international art world. Each requires special introduction, explanation, promotion and support."

Mr Rudolf, a Swiss national, directed the once-obscure Art Basel from 1991 to 2000 and turned it into what some now call "the Olympics of the art world".

He adds that the best way to promote the art here is "to present it in context".

"We sink in significant investments into the development of these (curated) platforms, such as the South-east Asia one, which is more than 1,000 sq m and features 32 artists from eight countries."

Some of the artworks presented in such platforms are not for sale, though these artists may have other works sold by galleries elsewhere in the fair.

For the first time, there were eight such curated platforms at last year's edition of the fair, winning bouquets from some fairgoers.

Singapore-based art collector Vishrut Jain, 40, says: "The platforms are particularly useful as they are more open spaces in a crammed fair.

"The works are more challenging and thought-provoking and it is easier to get into a debate with a fellow collector without feeling that particular collectors' pressure of 'What if I tell him I like it and he buys it before me?'"

There is one main platform and five special exhibitions at this year's fair, including the introduction of a Russia showcase and a Video Stage.

The special exhibition on Russia is curated by Olga Sviblova, director of the Multimedia Museum, Moscow, and curator of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2009. It will present contemporary art from Russia.

For Video Stage, the main selection is curated by Paul Greenaway from Australia and focuses on works from that country. Additional selections are curated by Chi-Wen Huang (Taiwan) and Ute Meta Bauer (Germany/Singapore).

Such platforms also allow for large- scale artworks that do not fit in a gallery booth space. Singapore-based curator Iola Lenzi says: "The competition from Hong Kong as well as the blurring of boundaries between commercial and non-profit art institutions in South-east Asia have made Art Stage create an experience beyond the purely mercantile."

Singapore works to look out for include Suzann Victor's red pendulous installation of chandeliers titled Contours Of A Rich Manoeuvre, which will be displayed at the fair.

Other highlights include an installation by Turner Prize-winning duo Gilbert & George; a 3.5m-tall Standing Woman sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero; and an installation of 8,000 brass bells titled Mystic Abode by leading Indian artist Paresh Maity.

The growing vigour of the South-east Asian art can be seen in the increasing number of galleries from the region. This year, there are eight galleries from the Philippines and 10 from Malaysia, the most at the fair from these countries.

Malaysia also has a special exhibition of 16 Malaysian artists, including prominent names such as Ahmad Zakii Anwar. Each will create a portrait painting of at least 2m by 2m. Titled Being Human - Figuratism Of Sixteen Malaysian Painters, this showcase looks at figurative painting in Malaysian art.

Singapore artists have not been neglected. Promising names to look out for this year include multi-disciplinary artist and 2013 Young Artist Award recipient Zaki Razak; Chong Weixin, who has a master's in printmaking from London's College of Art; and painter Hilmi Johandi. Their works are being presented in the fair's South-east Asia Platform exhibition, Eagles Fly, Sheep Flock, curated by Khim Ong.

Curated showcases aside, Art Stage is a place where artworks change hands for thousands of dollars.

Singapore artists have made a mark in previous editions of the fair. Last year, Jane Lee's painting installation 50 Faces sold for US$66,000 (S$88,000) to a Singapore buyer, making her one of the top-selling Singapore artists at the fair.

In 2012, the fair scored its biggest sale, that of a 2001 artwork Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting, 871-1), a 50cm by 72cm oil on Alu Dibond done in 2001.

This is part of the coveted Abstrakte Bilder series by German contemporary great Gerhard Richter. It sold to a Singapore buyer for €1.2 million (S$1.9 million).

The fair has also helped to bring together those interested in the Asian and global contemporary art scenes.

Prominent Indonesia art collector Oei Hong Djien, 75, who will be visiting Art Stage for the fifth year in a row, says: "This is a fair I have followed since its inception. I think each year, it has improved, introduced something new and offered us a very important window to look at what is happening with South-east Asian art scenes.

"For me, it is also an opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones."

deepikas@sph.com.sg