Singapore's art world was shaken recently by the abrupt cancellation of premier contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore. The cancellation cannot be entirely unexpected as the fair reported steadily declining participation over the last three years. An art fair with the international ambitions of Art Stage cannot be developed in a vacuum. Regional competition has intensified in recent years with the rise of other similar fairs such as Taiwan-based Taipei Dangdai and Art Basel Hong Kong.
Collectors with the means to splash out six-figure sums on a work of art are likelier to travel straight to Art Basel or Art Miami for their needs. So an art fair here needs a strong USP - unique selling proposition - to draw their attention. The demise of Art Stage is thus a wake-up call to rethink the approach of hiring international brands as big guns in Singapore's push to become an arts hub. There are alternative strategies. Singapore has long-established advantages as a free port with enviable infrastructure that is plugged into a global network. In the past decade, the ecosystem of the arts business has also grown substantially with more international galleries opening and the establishment of ancillary businesses such as art movers Helutrans and art storage facility Le Freeport. These are strengths Singapore can capitalise on. The art fair world can learn from the Singapore International Film Festival, which built such a strong South-east Asian line-up that international film festival directors came here to programme their events.