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Culture Vulture

Five ways to survive this year's art blitz

With so many arts events and so little time, here is a cheat sheet to help

Nine days, 100 activities and 72 hours to go - welcome to the start of a busy visual arts year that opens with the Singapore Art Week on Thursday.

The nine-day event features art fairs, exhibitions as well as talks organised by public and private organisations that take place across the island. The scope of activities and their reach make the event, which is into its fourth year, a recurring highlight of Singapore's increasingly bustling visual arts calendar.

Indeed, this whirlwind of art happenings will not peter out by the end of the year.

Come Oct 28, the home-grown, regional and international art community will convene here for the Singapore Biennale, a major contemporary art exhibition organised by the Singapore Art Museum.

With a jam-packed agenda and works of art on show that demand earnest looking, the impending flurry of happenings, beginning with Art Week, might leave even a seasoned artsgoer contemplating flight rather than fight.

Staying the course and tackling the slew of art fairs, shows and panel discussions count for little if one ends up steamrolled mid-way through the nine-day Week.

To fight and win in style, it is essential to devise a personal strategy, as I have come to realise from attending various Art Week-type events here and overseas.

Here is a cheat sheet with five suggestions for surviving the art blitz.

1. Know the programme and know yourself

As with events that run over a few days, there will be the headline shows and the off-beat offerings, things that tickle your fancy and others that oblige you to attend to remain au courant with the scene. How do you choose from the surfeit of programmes and decide on one event over another?

Go with your head, but listen to your heart.

If you are an art dealer from out of town sniffing around for the next big thing in art, visits to shows with lesser known artists will be your priority, but also make time for headline exhibitions and gallery show openings. There is every chance that the emerging talent you are looking for is at one of these networking opportunities.

If you are a curious newcomer to the art world whirlwind, guided tours are safe bets, offering an easy introduction to the myriad offerings of Art Week.

But should headline exhibitions in formal art institutions pique your interest, you have nothing to lose by dropping in on them without a docent. Confusion about why a work of art is considered art could kill a few brain cells, but it is not fatal.

Fortunately, those looking to add pieces of art to their collection will be spared the headache of overlapping vernissage dates.

Art Stage holds its VIP preview on Jan 20 and the Singapore Contemporary fair holds its private viewing session on Jan 21.

Shows at art galleries, on the other hand, mostly have staggered opening dates while the launch of Art In Motion, featuring shows at 18 participating art galleries around the island, is on Jan 19.

2. Avoid prolonged art expeditions

Pounding art fairs and galleries can prove tiring, not just physically, but also mentally and optically.

If you can, limit the number of hours you spend looking at art.

If not, sneak in breaks - a quick foot reflexology session perhaps? - that will keep you refreshed.

At the 2014 Art Basel Miami Beach fair, weary visitors like myself could escape the bustle without leaving the fair grounds by participating in the interactive installation Sleeping Exercise. Designed by performance artist Marina Abramovic, the work occupied a corner of the fair and folding camp beds - each came with a blanket and a pair of noise- cancelling headphones - were laid out for those seeking respite.

3. Know when to move and when not to move

The shows and talks that make your must-see list may present time conflicts, so pay attention to the duration of their run.

Some exhibitions last longer than the nine days of Art Week so you do not need to scramble to catch them.

Choosing against haste may also bring rewards. Reviews of exhibitions, either through word-of-mouth or in publications, usually surface soon after shows open. So if you had to miss some openings, these critiques can help you reassess the shows you have picked to catch and refine your game plan if necessary.

4. It is okay to deviate from plan

Need more time than you had planned to view an exhibition?

Stay on.

Missed something in a show and feel the urge to double back? Do it.

Too tired to make that next art exhibition, talk or gallery opening? Skip it.

Plans are there so you can detract from them and art is meant to bring delight, not torture. If a change of plans is required to up the pleasure quotient, go with the flow.

5. Accept that you cannot catch it all

Greed never did anyone any good. Trying to attend all 90 activities in 90 days may turn you into an art zombie and it is too early in the visual art year for this.

It is better to live and die another day. Here's to an artful 2016.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Five ways to survive this year's art blitz'. Print Edition | Subscribe