Big business for some galleries, consolation for others at Art SG

Gallerist Kevin Troyano Cuturi (left) saw works by five Singapore artists represented by his Cuturi Gallery, including Khairulddin Wahab (right), find buyers at Art SG. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE – Business was good at the Cuturi Gallery booth at Art SG. Although its booth was just 25 sq m, the local gallery sold large paintings by all five of the Singapore artists that they represented at the art fair at Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre.

The artworks by artists including Khairulddin Wahab and Aisha Rosli ranged between $3,000 and $15,000. Buyers also bought works that were not displayed at Art SG. Gallerist Kevin Troyano Cuturi, 33, says: “We have loved the experience and we’ll definitely explore a bigger presentation next year.” The art fair ended on Sunday.

At the Richard Koh Fine Art booth, Singapore artist Melissa Tan sold a laser-cut, stainless steel sculptural artwork for $45,000, exceeding the $30,000 price threshold that gallerist Richard Koh usually sees for art collectors here. While the artwork went to a Singapore collector, Mr Koh, 58, says: “We need more regional collectors.”

The international gallery David Zwirner said last Friday that it sold US$2.5 million (S$3.3 million) worth of art last Wednesday to collectors in Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China and across South-east Asia.

At the closing on Sunday night, Art SG organisers said it had welcomed almost 43,000 visitors, exceeding its earlier reported target of 40,000 visitors.

Speaking at the fair last Saturday, Mr James Green, senior director and head of David Zwirner in London, says: “Selling to someone new is a mark of success.”

The gallery opened its Hong Kong location in 2018, so it has a head start in Asia. For Art SG, it brought in artists Katherine Bernhardt and Oscar Murillo. “We weren’t coming in blind. We already had requests,” adds the 39-year-old.

Of course, not all galleries sold works. Local gallery artcommune, which featured a solo presentation by second-generation Singapore artist Wong Keen, did not register sales by Saturday evening.

Regardless, gallerist Ho Sou Ping, 50, says it was important to be at Art SG. “You have to go to fairs to meet new collectors. It’s a necessary investment.”

For Australian artist Gary Carsley, Art SG was also a good opportunity to meet his audience and he was encouraged by the “active inquiry” into the making of his and Australia-based Singaporean artist Renjie Teoh’s immersive installation called Flutterbye Mansion, a solo presentation at local gallery Art Porters. Of the visitors to the booth, the 65-year-old says: “There was an awareness that the processes of making the work were intrinsic to the meaning of the work.” Three of their works were sold.

Noting that art fairs take time to get established, Art SG co-founder Magnus Renfrew, 46, says that when he started Art Hong Kong in 2008, “the fair did not have scale and ambition then”.

“We had to encourage collectors from around the region to come. The same approach is very much necessary for Singapore.”

Singapore artist Melissa Tan and gallerist Richard Koh with Tan's stainless steel sculptural artwork, Philomela and Procne, that sold for $45,000. ST PHOTO: ARTHUR SIM

Currently, Art Basel Hong Kong is the biggest art fair in Asia with more than 170 exhibitors for its 2023 edition compared with over 160 at Art SG.

On competition and saturation of the Asia market, Mr Renfrew says: “The Asia art market has expanded enough that the region can sustain a number of significant art fairs.”

In 2019, Art Stage Singapore, previously the biggest art fair here, cancelled its ninth edition days before it was set to open. Gallerist Mario Cristiani, 58, remembers participating several times at Art Stage, but says: “It was not well organised.”

He decided to take part in Art SG, whose founding and lead partner is UBS bank, because it has “credibility”. At Art SG, he showed works by artists Anish Kapoor and Ai Weiwei.

An art-world star who made an appearance at the fair is the American artist known as Futura2000, one of the earliest proponents of graffitti and street art.

I started working on walls 50 years ago,” says the 67-year-old. He was meeting fans at the Eric Firestone Gallery.

Futura2000, who sold several works on the first day of sales, with the highest priced at US$175,000, says wryly: “For many years, we (street artists) were not given our due.”

American street art legend Futura2000 makes an appearance at the Eric Firestone Gallery booth at Art SG which is showing his work. ST PHOTO: ARTHUR SIM

The Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak showing at the STPI – Creative Workshop and Gallery booth, also did well. Her conceptual works revolve around the human body and form, and explore notions of womanhood.

United States-based architect Kulapat Yantrasast bought six of the artist’s works. Mr Yantraset, who is in his early 50s, says he was looking for art that has “a meaningful presence, art that strikes a balance between the visual and beautiful storytelling”. 

STPI showed only works by female artists from Asia, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $60,000. Gallery director Rita Targui, 52, said last Friday that about 75 per cent of the works at the booth were sold.

Visitors, mostly from Asia, take in the art at the inaugural art fair, Art SG with over 160 exhibitors at Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

One visitor to the fair, Mr Ciprian Costin, a multimedia artist based in France, says he is now considering exhibiting here next year. The 34-year old adds: “I like the aesthetics you can find in Asia. It’s very different, very balanced.”

Two artworks sold at the fair reportedly crossed the million-dollar mark. They were by German artist Anselm Kiefer ($1.7 million) at White Cube gallery and American artist James Turrell ($1.25 million) at Pace gallery. Both are regarded as blue-chip artists whose works are considered investment grade. The Kiefer work was reportedly sold to an Indonesian collector.

This article has been edited for accuracy.

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