Art Stage Jakarta - boon or bane?

Art Stage Jakarta will maintain the high standards that Art Stage Singapore (above) has been lauded for, including its open layout, professional presentation and strong works by Asian galleries.
Art Stage Jakarta will maintain the high standards that Art Stage Singapore (above) has been lauded for, including its open layout, professional presentation and strong works by Asian galleries. PHOTO: ST FILE

While some art experts feel the Indonesian version of Singapore's art fair will hurt the local edition, others say it is a good way to build the brand

The announcement that Art Stage Singapore, one of the biggest art fairs in Singapore in the last six years, is starting a Jakarta edition in August has come as a surprise to the art world here.

While expansion seems like a natural progression for Singapore's top-end contemporary art fair, which has built strong ties with Indonesian collectors, gallerists and artists, it has also raised questions about whether it will cannibalise the show here.

After all, the premier art fair, which launched here in 2010 and is run by art industry veteran Lorenzo Rudolf, has successfully raised the profile of South-east Asian art, drawing more than 30,000 visitors to each edition.

The fair, which has the backing of key government agencies such as the National Arts Council, the Economic Development Board and the Singapore Tourism Board, has received the thumbs up for its open layout, professional presentation and strong works by Asian galleries.

Strong curation has also ensured platforms for emerging artists, alongside established names who routinely do well at art fairs globally.

Art Stage Jakarta, featuring up to 50 art galleries, mostly from Indonesia, will take place at the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel from Aug 5 to 7, while the seventh edition of Art Stage Singapore will run from Jan 12 to 15.

The Jakarta edition will be managed by Mr Leo Silitonga, who has promised the same "high standards and quality" that the Singapore event is known for.

In 2014 and last year, the 50- year-old led Bazaar Art Jakarta, billed as Indonesia's biggest contemporary art fair, as its director. The former gallerist hopes to build Art Stage Jakarta into a platform for art lovers.

Singapore artist, curator and writer Jason Wee, 37, says Art Stage's hiring of "an experienced hand to head the Jakarta expansion bodes well for its success".

On this new development and the success of Art Fair Philippines in Manila, he says: "Perhaps there are fewer reasons for audiences in those territories to come to Singapore."

Singapore art collector Colin Lim, 50, feels more strongly. He says: "Even to the casual observer, the expansion of Art Stage Singapore, a brand so closely associated with the Singapore art scene, to Jakarta seems to go against its presumed role of raising the profile of Singapore as a commercial visual arts hub.

"Patriotic indignation aside, ultimately, how we view this move should really depend on how the local benefactors - particularly the Economic Development Board, Singapore Tourism Board and National Arts Council - react to this."

While details of what sort of support these agencies have provided have not been made known, Art Stage Singapore, a private company, has had government support since its inception.

Dr Lim says: "If the agencies are fine with the Art Stage brand, which they had, in no small measure, helped to bring up, being shared with Indonesia, perhaps they can help us see how this move is beneficial to Singapore as well."

When contacted, the Singapore agencies said they will continue to support the fair.

Ms Kow Ree Na, 39, director of the Lifestyle Programme Office at the Economic Development Board, says "having additional operations in different countries will help bring economies of scale and additional exposure to new markets for Art Stage".

She adds: "This is a proven business model that has worked for major art fairs globally."

She points out that the fair in Jakarta "is positioned to complement" the main fair in Singapore.

She adds: "The Singapore fair will benefit from the wider variety of South-east Asian content being offered to international collectors from its closer connection to Jakarta.

"We hope for Art Stage to continue its growth as an international art fair in South-east Asia that will support the development of the arts industry, not just in Singapore, but also the region."

In a telephone interview from Hong Kong, Mr Rudolf, 55, founder and president of both fairs, says: "The fair in Jakarta is needed for an internationally successful art place like Singapore. The fact is, Singapore's art market is stagnating - many galleries have closed down - while the scenes and markets around Singapore are constantly growing and increasingly becoming attractive for the international art world."

He adds that "by far the biggest and strongest scene and market in South-east Asia is Indonesia".

He says: "We have to do everything to connect Indonesia even closer to Singapore. And let us be clear, if it is not us, then somebody else will sooner or later launch an international art fair there."

Mr Rudolf, a Swiss national who directed the once-obscure Art Basel from 1991 to 2000 and turned it into what some now call "the Olympics of the art world", likened the current situation here to the 1990s, when he launched Art Basel in Miami, mainly to protect the fair in Switzerland by controlling and acquiring the increasingly dominant American market to make the Art Basel brand stronger.

Allaying fears and rumours of Art Stage's exit from Singapore, he says: "We are fully committed to Singapore, have invested heavily in this place, support it and will fight for its success. Therefore, the new fair in Jakarta will feature Singapore, with a special Singapore Pavilion that will highlight Singapore artists and galleries."

Details of this are expected soon.

Several Indonesian art collectors tell The Straits Times that expansion is natural in the arts sector.

Indeed, no questions were raised when the popular Affordable Art Fair, which was launched here in 2010, started a Hong Kong edition in 2013. Both are spin-offs of the successful original event launched in London in 1999.

Prominent Indonesian art collector Melani Setiawan, who has visited all editions of Art Stage Singapore, does not see any competition between the two editions and feels they would benefit each other.

She says: "Art Stage's expansion to Jakarta will benefit the Singapore fair by tapping even more strongly into the Indonesian collector base.

"At the same time, the Jakarta fair will definitely add to the already vibrant Indonesian art scene, re-defining the art fair standard for Indonesia."

Indonesian gallerist Vera Wijaya, 39, who runs Galerie Sogan & Art in Singapore, calls this "a mostly positive development to the art scene in Jakarta".

"Given the tepid atmosphere of last year's Bazaar Art Jakarta, the addition of an international standard fair such as Art Stage has the potential to energise the local art scene," she says. "In addition, galleries like mine, which have ties with Art Stage Singapore, can now reach two major markets in the region instead of one."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Art Stage Jakarta - boon or bane?'. Print Edition | Subscribe