Feb 06 2013

Art Fair Report: Art Stage Singapore

by The Editors with Marybeth Stock
The third edition of Art Stage Singapore (January 24–27) coincided with Singapore Art Week and the first “public showcase” of the Centre for Contemporary Art at Gillman Barracks prior to its long-awaited opening later in the year. January thus became a merry onslaught of openings, special exhibits, artist talks and performances across the island-city. Despite the full calendar, Art Stage Singapore (ASS) commanded the attention of its audience by continuing to assiduously promote art from Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, increasing its vistor numbers to 40,500, up from 32,000 in 2012. Singaporean art was at the core of the fair, with the 18 local galleries representing the largest number of participants from any country. Following up were China, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom. A total of 131 galleries exhibited, 75 percent of which were from the Asia-Pacific region; the remainder comprised prestigious Western galleries such as Haunch of Venison, Hilger Modern / Contemporary and White Cube. Participation from Australian galleries also increased, underscoring the country’s growing importance in the market.

However, it was the new Indonesian pavilion—claimed as the largest international showcase of Indonesian art at a single fair to date, and featuring some 40 artists and collectives, along with daily performance pieces—that pried collector’s wallets open, much to the chagrin of gallerists, as ASS both represented and sold the works. Little wonder that the fair’s director Lorenzo Rudolf called Indonesia “the strongest country with the strongest art scene.” Buyers listened, scooping up works by Indonesian artists such as Yunizar, Handiwirman Saputra and Yuli Prayitno for five- and six-digit price tags. Even before the fair opened to the public, a painting by Indonesian artist I. Nyoman Masriadi went for USD 350,000. 

Preopening sales also included paintings by Hiroshi Senju (USD 415,000) and two video animations by South Korean Lee Lee-Nam (at USD 38,000 each). Scattered throughout the venue were numerous works by Yayoi Kusama ranging from USD 50,000 to 350,000, considered a “safe investment” by Southeast Asian collectors. Buyers also huddled around a million-dollar Anish Kapoor sculpture, which eventually sold for USD 793,000, and perused two half-million-dollar Nam June Paik works. Other top-selling Asian artists included Ai Weiwei and Zeng Fanzhi. 

Gallerists attending their second or third ASS agreed that the new layout and design of the Marina Bay Sands venue greatly improved the order and logistics of the fair. It was also observed by one gallery director that, relative to buyers at other international art markets, ASS investors are more direct about talking prices and more willing to make straightforward purchasing decisions. This no-nonsense style contributed to a high demand for Asian contemporary art in the last quarter of 2012, according to ASS. As Southeast Asia’s emerging artists come of age in one of the world’s most lucrative—and burstable—art markets, we might wonder (and fear) how much sway the market will hold over their artistic sensibilities.

EDDI PRABANDONO, After Party #3, 2012, installed at the Indonesian Pavilion.
EDDI PRABANDONO, After Party #3, 2012, installed at the Indonesian Pavilion.

Marybeth Stock is a writer, researcher and editor based in Singapore and Japan.