Concern over surge in art fairs in Singapore

But Affordable Art Fair and Art Apart to continue holding two editions each next year

The Singapore Art Fair, which ended on Sunday, is the latest addition to the fair calendar.
The Singapore Art Fair, which ended on Sunday, is the latest addition to the fair calendar.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Despite concerns about the oversaturation of art fairs in Singapore, two of them - the Affordable Art Fair and Art Apart - will continue to hold two editions each next year.

The latest addition to the fair calendar, the Singapore Art Fair, had more than 10,000 visitors and won praise for its manageable scale, the mid-range pricing of its works as well as for including curated platforms in a commercial fair setting. Organisers could not release sales figures or comment by press time.

Some 60 galleries from Europe, Asia and the Middle East participated in the four-day fair, which ended on Sunday and also featured non-commercial displays put together by curators, such as pavilions on Lebanese art and the works of the late Malaysian artist Ibrahim Hussein.

Several prominent collectors from the region, including Indonesia's Dr Oei Hong Djien and leading South Asian collector from Bangladesh Nadia Samdani, were spotted walking the 6,100 sq m fair grounds at the Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre. Prices of works started from $8,000.

The week before, the four-day Affordable Art Fair closed its November edition with $4.96 million in sales and 18,200 visitors, among the best results since the popular, family-friendly global fair was launched here in 2010.

Despite concerns by more serious collectors that the fair showed works similar to those in the May edition, fair director Camilla Hewitson says it has the sales figures and visitor numbers to continue with two editions: "These good strong numbers give us the confidence that we are on the right track. More than 30 per cent of sales were to new collectors."

Hotel art fair Art Apart will also continue next year with two editions in January and June at Parkroyal on Pickering.

On the proliferation of art fairs - at least six have been held here this year - Art Apart organiser Rosalind Lim says: "Competition is good for any industry. It will make art fair organisers work harder to make their art fair stand out in terms of the quality and content of artworks, and the ones that are good will withstand time."

However, at least two Singapore galleries which participated in both the Affordable Art Fair and Singapore Art Fair say that art fairs should be better coordinated and spread out.

While Mizuma Gallery was satisfied with its takings - it sold 12 artworks at the Affordable Art Fair for $18,000 and nine at the Singapore Art Fair for $100,000 - gallerist Sueo Mizuma says many of these fairs should "perhaps coordinate their roles and targets to create a sustainable" environment for the arts.

Utterly Art's Pwee Keng Hock calls participating back-to-back in the two fairs "backbreaking work". He did so because the Affordable Art Fair offered a chance to "engage first-timers", while the Singapore Art Fair offered a chance for galleries to show "mostly large artworks, spaced out for optimum display in a museum-like setting".

He thinks this has been a tough year for the art world because of "the oversaturation of the Singapore market with many new players entering because of the fairs and other activities". He says such an expansion of supply can be satisfied only "if a foreign collecting crowd is also drawn here at the same time".

Mr Lorenzo Rudolf, director of premier contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore, is not surprised by the surge in number of art fairs, noting that when one fair is successful in building up the art market, others will follow. Art Stage Singapore, held in January every year, started against the backdrop of a fledgling art market in 2011.

However, he says: "We need to bear in mind that the art market here is still young and relatively fragile. The profusion of art fairs today can be confusing. This will not help towards building a stable, more robust and discerning art market for Singapore."

The National Arts Council, together with other government agencies such as the Economic Development Board and Singapore Tourism Board, has backed initiatives such as Art Stage Singapore. Asked to comment on the numerous art fairs, the council's deputy chief executive Paul Tan says: "Art fairs have an important role to play in building the visual art marketplace and we welcome vibrancy in this area... Ultimately, each art fair is commercially driven and will have to consider the viability of its business model in the Singapore market."

Art lovers say that to survive, art fairs will need to continue to innovate. They are critical of some fairs passing decorative art off as real art, especially those with price points as low as $250.

Artist Alpana Vij, who has visited several art fairs, says while openings are more packed than usual, it is now "starting to look more of a social scene. A place to be seen, with people catching up with friends, rather than looking at art. On days other than opening nights, fairs look deserted".

She adds: "So much of the art we are getting to see now is uninspiring. I get the feeling that people are looking to buy souvenirs rather than art."