Five things to know about Art Stage Singapore's Lorenzo Rudolf

Lorenzo Rudolf, founder and fair director of Art Stage. Art Stage Singapore, considered the country's main contemporary art fair, was cancelled on Jan 16, just nine days before its public opening. PHOTO: ART STAGE

SINGAPORE - Art Stage Singapore, considered the country's main contemporary art fair, was cancelled on Jan 16, just nine days before its public opening. The news sent shock waves through the art community and many are still puzzled about what caused the last-minute cancellation. Here are five things to know about the event's Swiss founder Lorenzo Rudolf.

1. He is a lawyer by training

Mr Rudolf read law at the University of Bern before moving into public relations.

2. He had a hand in many international art fairs

Mr Rudolf transformed Swiss art fair Art Basel from a quiet trade fair into a glamorous art event. He helmed the fair from 1991 to 2000, and at the end of his term, the event had a waiting list of around 700 galleries. The brand is still esteemed by dealers, artists and collectors of contemporary art.

There are three signature Art Basel fairs - in Basel, Hong Kong and Miami Beach in the United States, with the last renowned for starting party season in Miami and attracting celebrities like singer-producer Pharrell Williams and rapper Cardi B.

Mr Rudolf also launched contemporary art fair SH Contemporary in Shanghai in 2007, which was soon known as one of the region's most important art events. Mr Rudolf left SH Contemporary in 2009, citing differences among the partners. The fair ended its run in 2013.

3. He is also a big name in the book world

Mr Rudolf left Art Basel to run the Frankfurt Book Fair from 2000 to 2003. This is one of the book world's most important trade events, attracting thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors.

4. He is married to an Ecuador-born sociologist

Ms Maria Elena, 61, who is vice-president at Art Stage Singapore, is usually in charge of VIP relations.They have been together for 28 years and have three children.

5. He has cancelled fairs before

In 2016, Mr Rudolf announced a sister art fair in Indonesia, Art Stage Jakarta, which held its first edition in August that year but was cancelled last May, after just two editions. Mr Rudolf cited concerns over unspecified security issues and added that the 2018 Asian Games "may affect the national customs system, causing possible additional constraints".

Hints of trouble at Art Stage Singapore began to emerge in December 2017, when, at a press conference for the eighth edition, Mr Rudolf said his team had brought in more than 500 galleries to the Singapore fair since 2011, but many refused to return, citing poor sales and sales only to those already established as collectors.

"We have a market that's very, very weak and in eight years it has not grown," he said then.

A month later, at the opening of Art Stage Singapore 2018, he said that Singapore was losing ground to art markets in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. He blamed the high cost of living and doing business in Singapore, compared to its neighbours, and the lack of "art production" in the city.

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