Learn lessons from Art Stage fair cancellation

Since it opened in 2011, Art Stage Singapore has been Singapore Art Week's anchor event, giving the local art scene vibrancy and international visibility.
Since it opened in 2011, Art Stage Singapore has been Singapore Art Week's anchor event, giving the local art scene vibrancy and international visibility.PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

The sudden cancellation of an art fair about a week before its opening is unprecedented and unheard of (Art Stage fair cancelled days before opening; Jan 17).

I know of artists and galleries left high and dry by the abrupt cancellation - artists who had created works for the event and galleries which had shipped works to be sold at the fair. Many are obviously angry and frustrated.

We need to know how such a debacle was allowed to happened, and learn what we can from it if we are to sustain our vision of becoming the region's art hub.

In a previous letter (Revitalise and reposition Art Stage Singapore; Dec 9, 2017), I pointed out the difficulties faced by Art Stage Singapore and the need to revitalise it.

So it's fair to say the writing was already on the wall, in terms of the unsustainability and possible exit of Art Stage Singapore.

Yet the reason given by fair director Lorenzo Rudolf, that the pull-out was a commercial decision, cannot explain why the fair was cancelled at the eleventh hour.

Since it opened in 2011, Art Stage Singapore has been Singapore Art Week's anchor event, giving the local art scene vibrancy and international visibility. Its exit leaves a void to be filled.

Can new players step into this void and put us back on the regional, if not global, art map? Are there too many art fairs for a market like Singapore with a small collector base? Are art fairs an important barometer of the development and maturation of our art scene, or should we look for other models?

The circumstances surrounding and leading up to the cancellation of Art Stage Singapore should give us pause regarding the future direction of Singapore's art scene, in the light of increased competition from other regional art centres.

Jeffrey Say Seck Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2019, with the headline 'Learn lessons from Art Stage fair cancellation'. Print Edition | Subscribe