Community spirit on show at Singapore Art Week: NAC

Singapore Art Week (SAW) will return for its eighth edition from Jan 11 to 19 next year, the National Arts Council (NAC) announced on Wednesday, as it noted the strong show of community spirit this year after the sudden cancellation of Art Stage Singapore - previously one of the art week's main highlights.

SAW, an annual celebration of the visual arts, is a joint initiative by the NAC, Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Economic Development Board. It ran from Jan 19 to 27 this year with more than 100 programmes across the island.

Events ranged from the Light To Night Festival at the Civic District to Artwalk Little India. Art After Dark, held at Gillman Barracks on Jan 25, drew thousands of visitors to the arts enclave off Alexandra Road.

One conspicuous absence was Art Stage Singapore, the major contemporary art fair on the island. It was cancelled nine days before its public opening slated for Jan 25, in what would have been its ninth edition.

Founder and president Lorenzo Rudolf cited poor sales and "unequal competition".

He was referring to a new boutique art fair at Gillman Barracks called S.E.A. Focus, which featured a total of 26 Singapore and international galleries from Jan 23 to 27 - which includes the vernissage or preview date.

The fair, an initiative of STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery, attracted more than 10,500 visitors over the five days. In comparison, Art Stage Singapore drew more than 26,500 visitors over four days last year, including the VIP preview and vernissage, which is often when deals are made.

STPI's executive director Emi Eu described the response to S.E.A. Focus as "really overwhelmingly positive... (with) good, healthy sales".

Some galleries which participated told The Straits Times they were encouraged by the response.

Richard Koh Fine Art, one of the galleries exhibiting at S.E.A. Focus, sold all seven works by artist Faris Nakamura, which it presented at the fair.

Singapore-based Art Porters Gallery's booth was almost sold out, said its co-founder Guillaume Levy-Lambert. It presented art by young Singapore artists Jamie Teo, whose works cost between $880 and $4,950 each, and Priyageetha Dia, who had two works priced at about $10,000 each.

Mr Levy-Lambert told The Straits Times: "It was a quality crowd, not a 'quantity crowd'. In the past, we've often tended to show artworks from quite a large number of artists (around five). This time, having only two on the booth gave us the time to speak in-depth about the works."

Then, there was The ARTery, a pop-up fair organised by non-profit group Art Outreach in the wake of Art Stage's cancellation. Held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre, it featured 14 Singapore and international galleries which were "stranded" after the sudden news of the cancellation.

While galleries that The Straits Times spoke to acknowledged that the crowd was not huge, they were heartened by the groundswell of support leading up to the fair.

London-and Hong Kong-based gallery Tanya Baxter Contemporary sold works by painters Frank Auerbach and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, but declined to reveal sales figures.

Its owner and director, Ms Tanya Baxter, said: "We are happy. We could have done more... (but) considering five days before there was no art fair (Art Stage Singapore), there was enough business done."

NAC was unable to reveal visitorship figures for The ARTery by press time.

Ms Linda de Mello, NAC's director for sector development (visual arts), said: "We are delighted that there have been so many ground-up collaborations where art practitioners from different disciplines came together to push creative boundaries to engage art lovers and new audiences.

"Importantly, the community came together in friendship and goodwill and this augurs well for the visual-arts ecosystem."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2019, with the headline 'Community spirit on show at Singapore Art Week: NAC'. Print Edition | Subscribe