SINGAPORE. As a DJ played “Xanadu” at the exclusive Ku de ta Club on the 57th floor of Skypark, art collectors from Indonesia, China, Singapore, America, Switzerland and France met to toast Asia’s newest art fair, Art Stage Singapore, being held in the continent’s smallest country (12-16 January). “We as a collectors are doing the job that are governments should be doing—supporting artists, building museums and supporting art fairs,” said Indonesian collector Oei Hong Djien.
Art Stage Singapore is spearheaded by veteran fair director Lorenzo Rudolf. Following his departure from ShContemporary in 2009 (after a problematic year), expectations for his new venture—which carries the unfortunate acronym ASS—were not high. But with 120 exhibitors located in the bowels of the city state’s latest wonder, the Marina Sands complex—which houses three hotel towers, a casino and huge high-end shopping arcades—the fair seems to have opened in the right place at the right time. Singapore is visibly blooming: the casino alone takes in $10m each day, according to a city official.
“With a new art fair you never know what to expect but it had a surprisingly good start. The organization was perfect, shipment fantastic, and the location is really good. We have people coming from all over South East Asia, and collectors are very informed,” said Marlborough gallery director Armin Bienger, who had just sold a Chen Yi Fei painting from the “Tibet” series for $200,000, and a Stephen Conroy for $50,000. He added: “Collectors come here, then go to the casino afterwards.” Laura Zhou of Shanghart Gallery said: “The collectors here follow the auction prices closely—they know what they want.”
The tax situation is also appealing: purchases made by international buyers are tax free, if they use the shipping company Helutrans, while local collectors pay 7% tax.
The quality of work at the art fair was high, which Rudolf ascribed in part to his having spent a year traveling in the region to drum up support. There were 30 special projects on show in the art fair itself, as well as off-site displays of key works from major collections at the Singapore Art Museum (including Agus Suwage’s Luxury Crime, 2007-09, inset, which belongs to Indonesian collector Deddy Kusuma) and at the Helutrans Artspace.
Rudolf—who has invested heavily into the Singapore based company that runs the fair—hopes that it will become Asia’s winter fair, a complement to the contemporary art fair ArtHK, held in May. Dealer Michael Goedhuis believes however that the “real collector base is in Hong Kong”. Nevertheless, by the third day of the fair, many galleries were reporting sales around $10,000 mark. One of the larger deals included a Zhou Chunya painting, which sold for $330,000 at the Fang gallery, while Hong Kong’s de Sarthe Fine Art sold out of the 18 David LaChapelle it brought to the fair for between $50,000 and $100,000, including Cathedral, 2007, for $100,000.
Most of the Japanese galleries exhibiting, however, were only mildly enthusiastic. Tomio Koyama Gallery sold a Yoshitomo Nara piece for $150,000 and seven works by Atsushi Fukui for $32,000. “It's just so-so,” said gallery director Kosaku --. There were some complaints, most commonly about the dim lighting. Several dealers thought the fair would have been better timed to coincide with the Singapore Grand Prix. Others said that, while Art Stage Singapore was seemingly cheaper than ArtHK, there wasn’t the same level of perks such as the free accommodation offered to selected collectors.
Photography was not selling well—a perennial problem in Asia. Flo Peters from Hamburg said people were interested but cautious about purchasing her photographic work. She did, however, sell one piece—hastily swapping the edition number from a four to a five: “ I realized that four is an unlucky number in Asia, so I changed it to five,” she said.
Despite the mixed responses, Rudolf is optimistic, saying that Singapore is on the cusp of becoming a booming art market. “A few years ago, work would sell immediately at the opening. That wasn’t normal—it was all mixed up in investment and lifestyle. But after the economic crisis the buyers are still here.”
Four government agencies also support the fair: the Economic Development Board, the Singapore Tourism Board, the National Arts Council and the National Heritage Board.