The ST Guide To...

Collecting art

Do research, have a budget, find an artistic style to focus on and buy what you love

In nearly nine years of writing about visual arts, I have had friends, and even strangers, ask me these questions.

"What do you recommend?"

"What should I buy?"

"It is so confusing. There are so many paintings, I don't even know where to look."

I hear them when they say it is confusing. Singapore's visual arts scene has undergone a transformation in the past decade and more people are not just looking at art, but also buying it as well. Look at the proliferation of art fairs.

The Affordable Art Fair - its next instalment is from April 22 to 24 - went from an annual event when it first started in 2010 to a biannual event in 2014, thanks to overwhelming demand.

Singapore’s visual arts scene has undergone a transformation in the past decade and more people are not just looking at art, but also buying it as well. PHOTO: AFFORDABLE ART FAIR

Another good indicator of the change is the attendance at art openings. When I started on the beat, most galleries rarely ran out of bites and wine. These days, if you show up after 8pm, you are better off bringing your own glass of wine.

It is not just art openings that are packed. Artist and curator talks are huge draws too.

Singapore's strategic location allows people to travel with ease and gives them access to museums, galleries, art fairs, artists and even world-class art storage.

If you are thinking of journeying into the colourful world of art, you could not have asked for a better location to get started.

But where exactly do you start?

Here is a quick guide.


Before you buy, go to as many museums, galleries, art shows and art fairs to do research and familiarise yourself with different styles of art. Remember, it is not the size of the painting or sculpture, but its year, medium and subject that matter.


Do not be afraid to ask questions. It does not matter if you think your questions do not sound smart enough, or intelligent enough.

Just ask the gallerist, curator, artist, or even all of them. Anything that helps you learn about the work, the artist and everything associated with art.


It is impossible to collect art from everywhere in the world. Once you have done your research and asked all the relevant questions to steer your art acquisition, focus on a region or an artistic style, or the type of art you like and would like to collect. Narrowing your focus helps you decide on what to buy. It is okay to make mistakes when you are starting.

Speak to any serious collectors and they will happily tell you about the mistakes they made in their collecting journey. The most often repeated one is trying to do too much. But it is the only way to learn.

Several collectors have told me this: "You have one life, you cannot collect all the art of the world. I was over-ambitious when I started and soon my collection started looking like a mixed fruit salad tossed all over." It is fine to make these mistakes. It eventually helps you find the focus any collection needs. You need to find a period, or the genre of art, or a particular region you wish to centre your collection on.


Always have a clear budget in mind. That makes it easier for you to decide where you want to buy from and what type of artists you are seeking.

Once you have sorted out your budget and decided on the work, ensure the artwork you buy is from an established gallerist, dealer or auction house, and that it comes with a valid certificate of authenticity.


New collectors priced out of the overheated art markets, such as China and India, should look to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

South-east Asia has a lot to offer and travelling to these countries from Singapore is easy.

Several art fairs, art weeks and biennales are organised, where you can find works by emerging artists, often selling for under $5,000.

A good starting point in the region is Indonesia's undisputed art capital Yogyakarta. It hosts the Jogja Biennale, as well as Art Jog - a fantastic platform to spot works by emerging artists, as well as more established ones.

In August, Art Stage Singapore will be presenting the debut edition of Art Stage Jakarta.

In Manila, you have Art Fair Philippines. Founded in 2013, Art Fair Philippines has won nods for its well-curated presentation.


Buy what you love and learn to trust your instinct.


E-mail us at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'Collecting art'. Print Edition | Subscribe