Art Stage Singapore has grown over the years to become the premiere showcase for art in Southeast Asia. JG (Photos/Richard Horstman and courtesy of Art Stage Singapore)

Art Cornucopia in Singapore

FEBRUARY 02, 2015

Singapore was a buzz with art lovers and collectors, artists and industry insiders during Art Stage Singapore, now in its fifth edition, that ran from Jan. 22 to 25 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center.

The highlight of the Art Stage this year was Singapore Art Week, an art smorgasbord of more than 100 events.

Enthusiastic school children and seasoned collectors were among the more than 61,000 visitors rubbing shoulders and indulging in enthusiastic buying during the four-day fair that including the VIP preview on Jan. 21.

Since its first began, Art Stage has grown in stature. The inaugural fair in 2011 featured events held in parallel to generate a dynamic ambience surrounding the fair.

The diversity and strength of Singapore Art Week’s 100-plus events this year helped consolidate Art Stage’s presence on the global art calendar, while at the same time guaranteeing art collectors of something new.

“Art Stage has an important role to play in helping to build the ecosystem to support Southeast Asian contemporary art, and each year the fair becomes larger with more regional and international galleries reflecting the growth of the market,” says Art Stage founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf.

“It is beautiful to see the cooperation between the fair, local museums, art spaces as well as Singaporean government agencies, all functioning seamlessly together to make the event a success.”

The fair featured 158 galleries as general booths, 18 galleries at the Southeast Asia Platform, and 33 galleries and institutions at the Special Exhibitions, while the participating galleries hailed from 29 countries.

Themed “We Are Asia,” Art Stage functions as a necessary unifying force bringing together the segmented national art scenes in Southeast Asia and acting as a bridge between the region and the rest of the world. With a comprehensive overview of some of the best contemporary art from the region, Art Stage Singapore has cemented its place as the flagship contemporary art event in Southeast Asia.

Art Stage’s program this year had something for everyone. The return of the Southeast Asia platform with an exhibition of works by 32 emerging artists from the region curated by Singaporean Khim Ong took an academic approach in the selection of pieces ranging from paintings and installation, print and photography, to video and performance.

Taking up an area of 1,000 square meters, the platform allowed for more thought-provoking works to be enjoyed in more open, comfortable spaces. Special exhibitions for Russia, Malaysia, South Korea and modern art were also very popular with fairgoers.

“It’s wonderful to see different parts of the world bursting out with visual culture. It’s completely new,” said celebrated Turner Prize-winning artists duo Gilbert & George, one of the highlights of the fair this year.

Also making its debut was the Video Stage, providing an overview of the history of video art to the present day, allowing for a greater understanding of a medium that is quickly gaining interest among collectors in Asia today.  This platform comprised three parts featuring 73 videos projected onto 15 screens.

Other features were the public artworks, among the highlights being Japanese Hiroshi Senju’s breathtaking waterfall compositions, “Day Falls/Night Falls,” painted in fluorescent pigments and displayed under ultraviolet light revealing electric blue colors.

The Education platform included art talks, presentations and tours, while the VIP program featured an array of gallery openings outside of the fair, and breakfast programs with discussion panels, highlighted by an event at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute  featuring an outstanding exhibition by Australian-based Singaporean artist Suzann Victor’s works on paper titled “Imprint.”

Another highlight was an interactive exhibition and the viewing of the “Earlier Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci at the Arts House.

“Improved organization, more galleries and the larger audience during the VIP preview were noticeable features this year,” said Indonesian Chris Dermawan, representing his Semarang Gallery at the fair.

“After the 2007-2008 art boom the local market fell dramatically, yet now there are opportunities for Indonesian arts in Singapore with its growing infrastructure aiding the regional art boom. I hope more Indonesian galleries, collectors and art industry professionals come see and be inspired to develop more art infrastructure in Indonesia.”

While the presentation of the Indonesian gallery’s booths lacked imagination, this did not hamper sales. Works by Yuli Praynito and Entang Wiharso, exhibiting a series forged from paper produced at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, were highlights.

With prices ranging from less than $1,000 to well in excess of $1 million, there were artworks available for all budgets. Top sales include “Amorous,” a work featuring butterflies stuck onto a surface of wet paint, by Damien Hirst. It was sold to a regional collector by White Cube for $1.6 million.

“This year Art Jog” — Indonesia’s premiere art fair — “has been gifted a complimentary booth to help promote our event,” said Seto Satriagama Rakantaseta, the Art Jog director.  “Over four years of communication between us and Art Stage enabled us to move forward together.”

The booth promoting Art Jog 2015 allowed the audience to view through peepholes the works to be exhibited.

“We are very happy with audience’s response,” Seto added.

Even though the exhibited works have been selected on quality, decorative art is more often the norm, and while the visual character of works was highly noticeable, especially by the South Korean and Chinese artists, at the end of the day  it was the galleries that presented themed or conceptualized booths that remained etched in the observer’s mind.

Fresh yet highly aesthetic art was in abundance, its energy seeming to flow from the booths and circulating throughout the enormous exhibition center. However, most of the galleries faded into insignificance because the works and booths appeared too similar and were lost in a blur of familiarity. It was the galleries that invested in a concept along with creative booth design that were memorable. After viewing more than 150 booths the audience justifiably experienced stimulus overload.

Some of the galleries to remember, such as Sundaram Tagore and Pearl Lam, were well aware of the spatial relationship between high-quality art and the observer and how this generates the feel of a good experience.

The Yauz Gallery, from Singapore, and its stunning installation display “The Prophecy of Time” by Thai artist Pannaphan Yodmanee was one such highlight of an all-round great fair.