Premier art fair Art Stage Singapore saw a 20 per cent drop in visitor numbers for its sixth edition, which ended last Sunday, amid an uncertain economic climate.
The fair at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre drew 40,500 visitors this year, down from a record 51,000 visitors last year. This is the first time attendance to the fair has shrunk.
This year's Art Stage opened as stock markets plunged amid fears of a world economic slowdown.
For some of the 170 galleries at Art Stage, the drop in visitor numbers meant muted sales. But there were also others that saw brisk buying of works priced between five- and six-figure sums.
Two other art fairs held during the same period, coinciding with Singapore Art Week, a nine-day bonanza of visual art events, had promising visitor numbers.
The inaugural Singapore Contemporary Art Show held at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre featured 65 galleries and welcomed more than 16,000 visitors, a number "close to" its target of 20,000 people, said show director Douwe Cramer, 55.
The seventh edition of the Art Apart Fair, with art displayed in 15 hotel rooms at Parkroyal on Pickering, drew about 3,500 people, a number consistent with previous years.
On whether Art Stage was affected by the increased competition, its founder Lorenzo Rudolf, 56, said: "Singapore and South-east Asia are still emerging art markets and the increase in the number of fairs had a destabilising effect on the understanding of quality art content."
Art Stage, however, continued to draw a "significant presence" of international and regional collectors, he said, and the fall in ticketed attendance reflected a mood of cautious spending among the wider public. A single-day ticket to the fair costs $32.
Art Apart Fair, on the other hand, sold three times more walk-in tickets - priced at $10 each - than in previous years. Most of its visitors are usually invited guests. Fair director Rosalind Lim, 65, attributed the rise in ticket sales to a controversy over its omission from the Singapore Art Week booklet, which made the news and generated public interest. She added that sales this year were better than last year.
While the fairs overlapped during Art Week, they appealed to different groups of buyers and collectors.
Engineer Eric Friac, who is in his 40s and attended both Art Stage and the Singapore Contemporary Art Show, said: "Art Stage offers a snapshot of the best galleries but, for my level of investment, the Singapore Contemporary is more accessible and has works that are easier to grasp visually."
Art advisor Jimmy Chua, 59, who also visited both fairs, preferred Art Stage and bought a painting by young Japanese artist Toshiyuki Konishi for US$1,000 (S$1,430).
He said: "There were fewer big-name galleries at Art Stage this year, but the quality of art surprised me. I saw new, interesting works by lesser-known artists."
As the fairs went head to head, a handful of galleries showed at both Art Stage and the Singapore Contemporary Art Show.
Thailand's La Lanta Fine Art gallery had a solo show at Art Stage featuring Bangkok-based Japanese artist Eri Imamura, while its booth at the Singapore Contemporary Art Show featured different artists.
Gallery director Sukontip Fon Ostick, 44, said she decided to take part in the Singapore Contemporary Art Show, after having planned to do a solo show at Art Stage, because it would allow her to promote more artists.
She was pleased that the gallery, which did not make a sale during its first time at Art Stage last year, sold three works by Imamura for between $7,000 and $45,000 and two works at the Singapore Contemporary Art Show for a few thousand dollars.
Art Stage newcomer Lawangwangi, a gallery from Indonesia, similarly had a good response from collectors. Its booth was dedicated to upcoming Indonesian artist Mujahidin Nurrahman and of the five works available, two sold for about US$4,000 each, with one of them drawing a waitlist of collectors.
Not all galleries enjoyed brisk sales however and some attributed this to fewer collectors and buyers among the visitors.
Gallerist Ho Sou Ping, 44, of artcommune, which took part in Art Stage for the second time, said the Singapore gallery did not do as well this year, although it did sell a piece by modern Singapore painter Cheong Soo Pieng for a six-figure sum.
He said: "The Taiwanese collectors I contacted said they will be going to the Art Basel Hong Kong fair in March instead, and the visitors who showed interest in our works did not buy on the spot. They said, 'We'll go to your gallery and see other works.'"
Mr Rudolf considers this edition of Art Stage a "successful fair against the backdrop of a gloomy economic forecast" and cited its inaugural South-east Asia Forum, featuring speakers such as celebrated architect Rem Koolhaas, as offering "new and gamechanging content" at the fair.
He said: "The content that we present… is an important aspect that will distinguish us from others and strengthen our position in these uncertain times."