Affordable Art Fair

Affordable Art Fair meets targets but responses are mixed

Art lovers and gallerists feel event should have more overseas booths and extend opening hours

Netherlands artist Casper Faassen (above) signs on the back of an artwork for a customer (left) who has bought it; while Mrs Christina Thorsen and her daughter Kayla show a painting they bought for $3,000. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Netherlands artist Casper Faassen (above) signs on the back of an artwork for a customer (left) who has bought it; while Mrs Christina Thorsen and her daughter Kayla show a painting they bought for $3,000. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Netherlands artist Casper Faassen signs on the back of an artwork for a customer who has bought it; while Mrs Christina Thorsen (above) and her daughter Kayla show a painting they bought for $3,000. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The Affordable Art Fair wrapped up its fifth edition at the F1 Pit Building on Sunday, exceeding its visitorship and sales targets.

With 13,300 visitors and $3.7 million in sales over four days, starting Thursday, the fair organisers crossed their target of 13,000 visitors and $3 million in sales.

While the numbers are encouraging, art lovers and gallerists had mixed feelings about it.

In the closing hours of the fair on Sunday evening, there were no signs of frenzied buying, nor did the fair look as packed as it did in its previous editions. Unlike in the past, Friday night turned out to be one of the quietest nights at the fair.

Gallerists said that in previous editions, they barely had time to take a break from their booths on most days. It was quite different this time. Many of them had time to talk and several of them made the same observation - lots of people, not a lot of buyers.

Singaporean Aruna Shahani, a budding artist who has attended all previous editions of the fair, said she had expected to see more participation by overseas art galleries, this being the global 100th edition of the fair. She said that while it was good to see several arts activities that engaged children, which may inspire them to pursue a future in the arts, she expected to see much more.

Dr Shahani felt that while there was a bit of "sameness" among the art on show, with some artists' works seen in more than one booth, "overall it felt great that our country was chosen to be the venue for the 100th edition of a global event where people can buy art at affordable prices".

Collector turned gallerist Hua Tye Swee, 51, who was selling artworks at the Goldmann SAGG booth, said: "The energy of the fair was not consistent across all days. Particularly on Friday, there was a significant dip. We hardly had a crowd and felt the closing time should have been 10pm and not 8pm, as the office crowd just did not have a chance to show up."

He added: "Two editions of this fair seem right, as new collectors are building up but I think the challenge will be in November, when we will have two major art fairs in the same month."

In an earlier Life! story, several collectors had complained of art fair fatigue, which is likely to be most pronounced during the October-November period.

In October, the photography and video fair, Milan Image Art Fair, is to be held at Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre. In November, the second edition of Affordable Art Fair returns to the F1 Pit Building and in the same month, the Singapore Art Fair will be launched at Suntec City, focusing on art from the Middle East, North Africa, and South and South-east Asia.

Gallerist Howard Yu, 42, of DaTang Fine Arts, who was participating in the Affordable Art Fair for the first time and had a booth on the third floor, said Friday was "rather quiet" and echoed Mr Hua's sentiments that the fair closed too early on Friday night. Even though DaTang Fine Arts sold 10 artworks priced between $800 and $9,000, he had expected "to do a lot better, given that this was a landmark edition of the fair".

With sales of $21,460, he said he had only "a marginal profit".

The fair's director Camilla Hewitson said: "We constantly work on improving and strive to meet the needs of our galleries, partners and visitors. The response from visitors to the fair was positive and we will, as always, take into consideration any feedback from our valued partners and endeavour to continue delivering a unique experience."

However, several of the galleries on the second floor reported brisk sales.

Singapore's Q Art Management, which made its debut at the fair, had a successful run. It sold 41 artworks by local artists such as Genevieve Chua, Eng Joo Heng and Terence Tan Chee Wah. In all, it chalked up sales of $115,000.

Its director Lily Phua, 54, told Life! that the newly formed company, an offshoot of Q Framing, which has been doing conservation framing and restoration works mostly for museums and private collectors, had focused on "a fresh range of artworks by artists both from Singapore and the region. Our Indonesian artists Nasirun and Wawan Geni were very popular".

She added that she was "very pleased with the response" and that the focus in the future will be on fresh artworks.

Works by Indonesian artists were also in demand at another new gallery - Blue Cell Contemporary. The gallery presented a mix of artworks by established and young artists and reported sales of more than 10 works in the $200 to $9,999 price range.

Blue Cell Contemporary's director James Page, 28, said: "We wanted to offer a mix of artworks and it has clearly appealed to buyers."

Apart from the newcomers, several familiar faces and names were back to participate in the fair.

Barcelona gallery Villa del Arte and London's Bicha Gallery, which have been part of the Singapore edition since its inception, were there. Both reported "positive sales".

Gallerist Antonio Capelao, 44, plans to take part in the November edition of the fair as well. He recovered his costs in this edition and sees this as a good platform to build on his Asian clientele.

He said: "The media reports say things are picking up in Europe. Fact is, as far as sales for art goes, Europe is still flat. Asia is doing much better."

Regular fairgoer Nor Jumaiyah, 33, a marketing and communications manager, said: "Two editions a year shows the confidence and appetite for arts patronage are growing. Yes, the fair was teeming with people on some days but I feel it can go further in pushing the envelope with its broad, accessible platform, where it has the potential to showcase more emerging, local talents and cultivate budding collectors."

The popular annual fair, which has grown in size, attendance and sales every year since its launch here in 2010, will have its next edition this November, making it a bi-annual event in Singapore. Last year, 17,800 visited the fair and sales hit a new high of $4.9 million.

The global Affordable Art Fair, which originated in London in 1999, is now in 14 cities worldwide, including New York, Milan and Hong Kong.

The vibe is less intimidating than at a regular high-end fair, where prices are given only on request.

That is one of things that made the fair appealing for Mrs Christina Thorsen, 36, who was there with her five-year-old daughter Kayla. The first-time visitor enjoyed the relaxed vibe and activities for children, and bought a colourful painting from a French gallery for $3,000.

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