I left Singapore after a busy art week feeling optimistic in the development of the city-state as the Art hub for South East Asia. Undoubtedly, it is not the new Art Eldorado that some expected a few years ago: collectors remain sparse and Western artists, except for the well-known “blue chip” ones, still have a long way to go before Asian collectors get truly taken by their practice. Nevertheless, slowly but steadily, the art awareness is growing.
Art Stage Singapore, the art fair established by Lorenzo Rudolf (formerly of Art Basel) 6 years ago, helps to sustain the development of Singapore as the South East Asia art hub : 173 galleries and 50,000 visitors this year, including Simon de Pury and Rem Koolhaas.
Art Stage is a reasonably attractive regional fair, meaningful for collectors and art lovers with an interest for South East Asian art. Since Art Hong Kong was bought over by Art Basel, there is no more meaningful comparison between Hong Kong and Singapore: Art Basel Hong Kong is an international fair while Art Stage has wisely positioned itself as a regional platform.
It is clear that in terms of the Art market, Hong Kong wins: Art Basel is a prestigious brand which attracts international collectors, galleries and artists, in particular from China, Korea and Taiwan. Major international dealers such as Gagosian, Perrotin and White Cube have already set up their galleries.
On the other hand, Singapore’s art cluster, “Gillman Barracks”, has not proven successful so far and its fair, Art Stage, remains a regional platform.
However Singapore has an edge in terms of art infrastructure, with its museums and art institutions.
The new National Art gallery which opened end of 2015, is definitely worth a visit: if not for its collections and curating, which is obviously a work-in-progress, at least for the building itself. The French architect Jean Francois Milou has created a superb contemporary art space, joining together two magnificent colonial-era buildings.
SAM is always my favourite. Housed in a restored 19th century mission school, a Catholic boys’ school (St Joseph’s Institution), the Singapore Art Museum focuses on Contemporary Art from South East Asia.
For me, the highlights when visiting the Museum’s exhibitions includes Suzan Victor’s monumental quilt “Bloodline of Peace”. The work comprises over 11,500 units created from more than 34,500 prismatic Fresnel lenses. Each segment holds a single drop of blood contributed by individuals representing Singapore’s key communities such as the armed forces, medicine, civil defence, the arts and the pioneer generation.
Suzan Victor – “Bloodline of Peace”
I was also taken by the young Singaporean artists presented in the President’s Young Talents exhibition. Ang Song Ming, based in Berlin, utilises music as a subject matter in his installation “Days” featuring video, photographs, drawings and sounds.
I was smitten by Ezzam Rahman’s ephemeral miniature flowers shaped from flakes of his dead skin: Delicate, slightly spooky, unsettling yet uncanny.
Ezzam Rahman – Here’s who I am, I am what you see
Unfortunately I could not visit STPI (Singapore Tyler Print Institute) this time, another must-see art space which I regularly go to. It is the largest print workshop in Asia, which collaborates with emerging and established artists who they invite for a residency and an exhibition. The Singaporean artist Jane Lee is currently presenting her work.
The Singaporean Art week is also the time for the Art Awards.
I was pleased that Lee Wen, a “Pioneering Singapore performance artist”, won the 2016 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art. I discovered his work, the “Yellow Man series”, at SAM a few years ago.
I had the chance to meet Cambodian artist Sareth Svay and was thrilled to attend the Prudential Award when he won. I can’t wait to see his show at London’s Saatchi gallery this coming summer.
Last but not least, Yinka Shonibare exhibited for the first time in Singapore at Pearl Lam Galleries (where I work). I felt privileged to be a part of this special moment. His intimate “Childhood Memories” exhibition and his playful Aliens installations were both well received. His use of batik as a medium had a true resonance in the local culture.
Yinka Shonibare Aliens – See top Photo
After a long week of visits and immersing myself in the local art scene, I believe that Singapore, despite its ups and downs, remains a promising regional Art Hub.
Words/Photos by Virginie Syn © artlyst 2016