Works of home-grown artists are hot at Art Stage Singapore

A gallerist with what looks like a bust, but is actually made of paper and can be stretched like a slinky tube. Huang Po-chih (above) from Taiwan mixing an alcoholic lemon drink in his performance art. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A gallerist with what looks like a bust, but is actually made of paper and can be stretched like a slinky tube. Huang Po-chih (above) from Taiwan mixing an alcoholic lemon drink in his performance art. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A gallerist with what looks like a bust (above), but is actually made of paper and can be stretched like a slinky tube. Huang Po-chih from Taiwan mixing an alcoholic lemon drink in his performance art. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A gallerist with what looks like a bust (above), but is actually made of paper and can be stretched like a slinky tube. Huang Po-chih from Taiwan mixing an alcoholic lemon drink in his performance art. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A life-like sculpture made of silicone by Sam Jinks from Melbourne drew curious onlookers. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
A life-like sculpture made of silicone by Sam Jinks from Melbourne drew curious onlookers. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Art Stage Singapore, in its fifth year, had a record high of 51,000 visitors and attracted key international collectors

It was once taken for granted that sales for Singapore artists' works would pick up only in the dying hours of Art Stage Singapore.

This time though, collectors were snapping up artworks by the likes of Jane Lee, Suzann Victor and Henry Lee at the vernissage, the fair's opening night for invited guests.

The changing fortunes of home-grown artists contributed to the buoyant mood at the annual contemporary art fair, now in its fifth year and held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre from last Wednesday to Sunday.

It ended with visitor numbers at a record high of 51,000, up from 45,700 last year.

The fair was packed on most days. Students clutching Singapore Art Week pull-outs done by Life! rubbed shoulders with art collectors on the prowl. The Straits Times is the official media partner of Singapore Art Week - a blockbuster week of art events coinciding with Art Stage.

Key international and regional collectors who were checking out the artworks included not just Art Stage regulars such as Switzerland's Uli Sigg, British-Italian art lovers David and Serenella Ciclitira and Indonesia's Dr Oei Hong Djien.

New faces included media baron and prominent Swiss art collector Michael Ringier and Jorge Perez, one of America's leading collectors and the brains behind the Perez Art Museum Miami.

The fair's show-stopper though, was singer T.O.P. of Korean band Big Bang, who created quite a flutter when he showed up for the vernissage last Wednesday. He was in town for the Prudential Eye Awards, a regional arts award organised by the Ciclitiras.

The presence of many collectors from around the world and Asia was reflected in the fair's sales.

British artist Damien Hirst's 2008 artwork Amorous, made up of actual butterfly wings stuck onto a surface of wet paint, hit the headlines after it sold for $2.15 million to a regional collector.

London's White Cube gallery, which made the sale, also sold a work by another controversial British artist Tracey Emin, for £75,000 (S$151,216).

Sundaram Tagore Gallery, which has branches in New York, Hong Kong as well as Singapore's Gillman Barracks, sold several artworks including one by Japanese master Hiroshi Senju for US$410,000 (S$551,357).

A monumental sculpture by famed Colombian artist Fernando Botero sold for an undisclosed amount.

Botero's representative, International Art, was tight-lipped about the price though Botero's large sculptures have in the past set auction records. In 2011, his large-scale bronze Dancers went under the hammer for more than US$1.7 million at a New York auction.

This year, of the more than 150 galleries from 29 countries, 34 were from Singapore.

Most of them, including Fost Gallery, Galerie Sogan & Art, Taksu, print institute STPI, Gajah Gallery, Richard Koh Fine Art, Yavuz Fine Art, Mizuma and Art Plural, have reported encouraging sales. They presented artworks, mostly by Singapore and South-east Asian artists, priced between S$3,000 and $350,000.

Gajah Gallery's Jasdeep Sandhu told Life!: "We are seeing increasing confidence in the works by our artists. I think it is pretty healthy."

Taksu's founder Suherwan Abu pointed also to the fact that "a lot of collectors are younger. They are more open to adding works by younger artists to their collections. Also their price points are more accessible".

Collectors are paying attention not just to relatively established names such as Singapore painter Jane Lee, but also promising newcomers. Galerie Sogan & Art, for example, sold out all five charcoal works by fresh Nanyang Academy of Fine Art graduate Henry Lee, priced between $4,200 and $7,500.

Jane Lee's untitled mixed media work sold to a Singapore collector for US$38,000 within an hour of the vernissage. STPI sold several paper works by Australia-based Singapore artist Suzann Victor and sculptor Han Sai Por for prices ranging between $4,000 and $25,000.

Works by several regional artists, including Entang Wiharso and Yunizar, as well as South Asian masters M.F.Husain, Satish Gujral and Jamini Roy, found ready buyers.

Gallerist Roberta Dans of Artesan Gallery+Studio, who sold all six fabric pieces by Filipino artist Raffy T. Napay, said: "This fair has really matured. Collectors are no longer looking at regional artists as an after-thought."

Pakistani art consultant Ambereen Karamat, who was visiting from Lahore, called it a "highly impressive fair". He added: "It is very different from other art fairs in that you get to see how art is evolving in the South Asian and the broader South-east Asian region. While there are some international names, the focus is clearly on Asia and that is something that makes it worth the trip".

The growing vigour of South-east Asian art could also be seen in the increasing number of galleries from the region represented at the fair, including eight from the Philippines and 10 from Malaysia.

It was not just the commercial elements of the fair that held visitors' interest. Several commended what they felt was a museum-quality special exhibition on Russian contemporary art, which included mixed- media and cutting edge video works. This was curated by Olga Sviblova, director of the Multimedia Museum, Moscow and curator of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2009.

Said student Mingzhen Choong, 20: "I greatly enjoyed Art Stage this year. What stood out for me were the intriguing works produced by Russian artists. Both the presentation and the content made them my personal favourite."

Fair director Lorenzo Rudolf had every reason to smile this year. In his opening speech, he had spoken of the times when the fair failed to get its footing right.

Having the fair as an anchor for a packed Art Week was something he had envisioned and he said it was "beautiful to see it all come together. I think we have finally overcome the initial stumbling blocks. This has become the fair to see South-east Asian art".

Globe-trotting gallerist Sundaram Tagore said that many of his clients had re-organised their travel plans to converge in Singapore last week, and likened the art scene here to " New York in the 1980s".

He added: "Something is clearly happening in Singapore. I think it will all culminate with the opening of the National Gallery Singapore in November. It will put South-east Asian art in a broader international context."

deepikas@sph.com.sg