Is the art fair scene getting too crowded?

Artist, curator and writer Jason Wee on the proliferation of art fairs. The upcoming fairs featuring art includes another edition of the Affordable Art Fair, which had a May edition (above) earlier this year.
Artist, curator and writer Jason Wee on the proliferation of art fairs. The upcoming fairs featuring art includes another edition of the Affordable Art Fair, which had a May edition (above) earlier this year.PHOTO: ST FILE

Organisers of four upcoming art fairs are confident their events can draw crowds, but some insiders believe the scene is getting too crowded

Three art fairs and one commercial art exhibition - Affordable Art Fair, the inaugural edition of the Singapore Art Fair, Bank Art Fair and Spot Art - go head to head in the coming fortnight.

While organisers say their events were planned in isolation, the year-end holiday season tends to be a draw for art buyers. As a result, the visual arts calendar is suddenly packed ahead of the December holidays.

Nonetheless, organisers are confident each event can stand its own ground, given the different branding and audience target.

The most established of these fairs, the Affordable Art Fair, says its focus remains the same. This is the fifth edition of the global fair to be held in Singapore.

Fair director Camilla Hewitson tells Life! the decision to hold two fairs a year instead of one was taken after careful consideration. It was based on the good response to the fair's concept over the last four years and the growing interest in contemporary art here and in neighbouring countries.

All art sold at the fair are priced between $100 and $10,000.

Ms Hewitson says: "We have developed a reputation for delivering a forum that has a fun and friendly vibe, offers a real opportunity to learn about contemporary art and is an event for the entire family."

The upcoming edition runs from Thursday to Sunday at the F1 Pit Building with more than 100 galleries from here and overseas.

While the May edition drew 13,300 visitors and rang up $3.7 million in sales over four days, exceeding organisers' targets, this time around, the fair has significant competition.

One is the new Singapore Art Fair, a spin-off of the Beirut Art Fair which has had five successful editions in Lebanon.

The company behind the Singapore Art Fair, Orchilys, is a joint venture between the organiser of Beirut Art Fair and MP Singapore, a local exhibitions and conventions specialist.

The fair is banking that its focus - art produced in the Middle Eastern, North African and South and South-east Asian regions - will resonate with buyers.

Ms Laure d'Hauteville, founder and fair director of the Beirut Art Fair and Singapore Art Fair, says it is timely that an event spotlights art from these emerging regions because "of the shared history and the connection through the Silk Road", the historic trade routes that connected China and India with Central Asia and the Middle East.

She adds: "People from these places are starting to look at one another, to understand one another's heritage."

About 60 galleries, including several from the Arab world, are participating in the fair at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre from next Thursday to Sunday.

Rounding off the pack are two smaller, relatively new art sales.

There is the Bank Art Fair, first held at Island Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong last year. The three-day Singapore edition opens to the public on Friday at Pan Pacific hotel and organisers plan to return annually. About 50 galleries are set to participate, showing artists mostly from South Korea, North and South America, Myanmar and Hong Kong.

Its premise - the art for sale is displayed in the more intimate setting of hotel rooms - is broadly similar to Singapore's first hotel art fair, the Art Apart Fair, which made its international debut in London last month.

Then there is Spot Art, the sophomore edition of which runs from Friday to next Tuesday at the Old Hill Street Police Station, featuring more than 100 works by 48 artists from 12 countries. Though the art is for sale, Spot Art says it is not an art fair in that it selects the works of young artists through an open call and sells the works directly to buyers, without any middlemen galleries.

However, with all these art showcases happening at the same time, arts insiders say Singapore could run into art fair fatigue very soon.

Gallerist Benjamin Hampe, who is not participating in any of the four upcoming art showcases, says: "My main issue is that these fairs - because of their structure and intent - degrade the essential relationship between artist, gallery and collector because they have no long-term commitment to any of these parties.

"I feel Singapore has become an opportunity for overseas operators to make profits and nothing more. It is a flaw in our current art fair landscape and one that will change only with collective organisation among the visual arts community in Singapore."

Artist, curator and writer Jason Wee questions the viability of having lots of art fairs, what with the inaugural Milan Image Art & Design Fair Singapore held last month and the annual Art Stage Singapore, a major contemporary art fair, coming up in January.

"Already, the Milan Image Art & Design Fair was a lot quieter than expected. Singapore does not need more art fairs. What we need instead are more artist spaces, such as The Substation and Latent Space, to provide platforms for fresh artistic voices and then help grow them," says Wee.

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