SINGAPORE - At least eight galleries slated to participate in Art Stage Singapore say the art fair has been cancelled by organisers. This would have been the ninth edition of the contemporary art fair, which was to run from Jan 25 to 27 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
Representatives of galleries such as Marc Straus Gallery in New York and Instinc Art Space, Intersections Gallery and Coda Culture in Singapore said they received an e-mail on the morning of Jan 16 from Art Stage's founder and president Lorenzo Rudolf, asking them to "cease all preparations for Art Stage Singapore 2019" or to reverse them.
"The given circumstances, about which we shortly will inform you, unfortunately leave no other choice," he said in the message.
It added: "We will soon inform you about the next steps. We apologize for any inconvenience you may experience."
Calls to Art Stage Singapore went unanswered. The Straits Times has also contacted Marina Bay Sands, where the event is scheduled to take place, for comments.
Marc Straus Gallery's director, Singaporean Ken Tan, spoke to The Straits Times from New York. He says his gallery has invested a "five-figure" sum in the fair this year, including paying for the booth at Marina Bay Sands; shipping out 10 pieces by storied Viennese artist Hermann Nitsch; flying in Korean artist Jong Oh, as well as curator Lorand Hegyi, who would have spoken on Nitsch's work at the fair.
The standard rate for a 35 sq m booth at Art Stage was $26,250 this year, according to the application form. Larger booths are more expensive.
Mr Tan says communication with Art Stage Singapore has been sparse since the beginning of this month. He will try and recover some of the gallery's costs through insurance and will be flying down as planned, since he has meetings with collectors. "I'll try with local contacts and art people to see if they can do a pop-up show," he says.
Art Stage Singapore started here in 2011 as a flagship art fair for South-east Asia, helmed by Swiss national Rudolf, who used to be director of Art Basel in the mid-1990s. It had the backing of the Economic Development Board (EDB), Singapore Tourism Board (STB), National Heritage Board and National Arts Council (NAC).
The first fair featured works by master artists such as China's Ai Weiwei and notched big numbers such as the US$2.2-million sale of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami's acrylic triptych titled Snow, Moon, Flower (2001).
Art Stage Singapore's success spurred the development of annual public arts festival, Singapore Art Week, in 2013, organised by NAC, STB and EDB.
However, footfall and sales have declined in recent years. According to Mr Rudolf last year, four-fifths of all galleries that had shown at his fair had refused to return. At Art Stage 2018, there were only 84 exhibitors, compared with 131 in 2017 and 170 in 2016, though some galleries reported decent sales. The Art Stage Singapore website listed only 45 exhibitors for this year's edition.
Art Stage Singapore has faced more competitors in recent years, including new Taiwan-based art fair Taipei Dangdai from Jan 18 to 20, and a new showcase of galleries in Singapore, S.E.A. Focus, curated by local player STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery and running at Gillman Barracks from Jan 24 to 27.
Singapore-based Intersections Gallery had taken a booth at Art Stage Singapore as well as at S.E.A. Focus, to showcase various artists from Myanmar as well as installations from local artists. Gallery owner Marie-Pierre Mol hopes now to include some of the artwork meant for Art Stage Singapore in the display at S.E.A. Focus. "I'm very glad that I'm participating in S.E.A. Focus," she says.
Art Porters Gallery co-founder, Guillaume Levy-Lambert, says that they had planned a solo showcase of seven paintings by Indonesian artist Naufal Abshar, which were specially created forArt Stage Singapore and arrived in Singapore on Tuesday (Jan 15).
These works might be presented at a separate event in Art Porters Gallery, which is located in Spottiswoode Park Road.
"For us, it's not catastrophic. In some way, it's better than the fair happening with little visitorship and little sales," says Levy-Lambert, whose gallery is also taking part in S.E.A. Focus.
"We are more concerned that it's embarrassing for Singapore. I have friends in overseas galleries who have already shipped over their works, and booked flights and hotels," he adds. "It's also the reputation of Singapore as an arts hub (that is at stake). We want to do everything we can to help stranded galleries - we'll see if we can fit in (artworks from) foreign galleries at our arts space."