Affordable Art Fair sets record in sales, visitors

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 26, 2013 

The popular Affordable Art Fair has wrapped up its fourth edition with record sales and visitorship. The number of visitors reached 17,800 and sales hit a new high of $4.9 million.

With a much larger fair this year, the organisers were targeting 17,000 visitors and over $4 million in sales.

Indeed, gallerists barely had time to take a break from their booths on most days of the fair which opened with a packed VIP preview last Wednesday night. Several galleries, particularly local ones, reported excellent sales.

Utterly Art, for instance, sold more than 58 artworks and had a little more than $100,000 in sales. Its hot sellers were works by home-grown artists including contemporary pop artist Andre Tan, watercolourists Foo Kwee Horng and Aaron Gan, as well as street artist TR853-1.

Among the earliest artworks to sell at the fair were local contemporary Chinese ink painter Tay Bak Chiang's six paintings priced at about $8,000 each. His works were shown by Hong Kong-based gallery Art Projects, which had a superb outing in their first showing at the fair. By closing time, it was a sea of red dots next to most artworks.

Gallerist Ray Vees Goh, 38, felt buyers were immediately drawn to Tay's minimalist style. Another big draw, he said, was that the work was priced well and paintings are easier to display in homes or keep in storage.

Another local gallery, The Gallery of Gnani Arts, sold 28 artworks. These included four bronze sculptures as well as paintings by artist P.Gnana.

Gallerist Vidhya Gnana Gouresan said she had as "much fun at the fair as the visitors. I feel it has something for everyone and is not an intimidating fair".

Local gallery Jada Art, which sold 10 artworks on the opening night alone, wrapped up the fair with sales of $90,000 and more than 60 per cent of the artworks sold.

Two of Malaysian artist Chong Ai Lei's paintings sold for $6,000 each at gallerist Valerie Cheah's booth. A few hours later, at a Christie's auction held in Hong Kong, the artist's painting, which had an estimate of US$4,900 (S$6,139), sold for US$9,723.

Said Ms Cheah, 46: "The buyers who bought her art pieces at the Affordable Art Fair must be overjoyed at the amazing value since they picked it up hours before the auction. There is a lot of art on show and one can find hidden gems at this art fair."

It was a sentiment shared by other gallerists. Some who were taking part for the first time said they would return. Among them was Hong Kong's Flame Art Gallery.

"We see this as a new opportunity to reach out to more collectors in the region. We find the visitors here are really mixed and are interested in different types of art," said gallerist Franco Savadari, 52.

Hong Kong gallerist Goh, 38, who was taking part in the Singapore fair for the first time, said it was "a lot more crowded and energetic" than the Hong Kong edition in March.

Fair director Camilla Hewitson, 34, told Life!: "Once again we are thrilled to see the return of many existing collectors and also so many new collectors.

"The feedback and buzz that the fair continues to create year after year are truly inspiring not only to ourselves, but also to our partners, visitors and the participating galleries."

Affordable Art Fair, which originated in London in 1999, is now in 12 cities worldwide, including New York, Milan and Hong Kong.

In Singapore, it continues to draw local and regional galleries as well as important international players such as London's Bicha Gallery.

Gallerist Antonio Capelao, 43, director of Bicha and a regular at the fair since it started, called it a "homecoming".

"Several collectors have become friends. I get invited to their homes for dinner. This is a fair I would never miss," he said.

As in the past editions, the fair's atmosphere was unpretentious. This was not just because of more modest prices of the artworks on show. The dress code was more dressed-down and families with babies in prams were also seen strolling around. Gallerists were more chatty and approachable, with the prices of artworks clearly indicated on stickers.

The vibe is less intimidating than at a regular high-end fair, where prices are given only on request.

Friends Sheryln Neo and Sara Shi, both 26, who are working in the civil service, visited the fair for the first time and applauded it for its relaxed vibe.

However, they felt there was not nearly enough for them to choose from as first-time buyers with a limited budget for art.

Said Ms Shi: "I guess the idea of affordable for young people like us is a bit different. We are paying attention to the under-$1,000 wall. Perhaps this could be expanded for people like us who are just starting off and have a limited budget for art."

Mr Brendon Shaban, an art collector who has moved to Singapore from South Africa, called the fair "very vibrant".

He said it offered freshness and range. "I do not get the feeling that I have seen a lot of this elsewhere."

Those who could not make it this time will no longer have to wait a year to catch the next instalment.

The popular annual fair, which has grown in size, attendance and sales every year since its launch here in 2010, will add another fair next year from May 22 to 25, making it a bi-annual event in Singapore.

In just four years, it has established itself firmly as an event on the Singapore calendar.

Last year, it drew 16,000 visitors and chalked up more than $4 million in sales. This marked an 18 per cent increase in visitorship and 25 per cent increase in sales from 2011. In 2011, the fair drew 13,500 visitors and had $3.05 million in sales.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 26, 2013

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