New Commercial Platform For 2019 Singapore Art Week
By Reena Devi
Earlier this year, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that Singapore’s contemporary art scene is losing ground to Hong Kong due to a downbeat art market, expensive rent and artworks. Mainstay art fair Art Stage Singapore shrank from 170 galleries in 2016 to 84 in its January 2018 edition, while postponing its annual Jakarta edition until next year. This follows the Affordable Art Fair returning to a single edition per year while the Singapore Contemporary Art Show quietly folded in early 2018 before its third edition, almost as if it had never been there to begin with.
According to Audrey Yeo, the founder of contemporary art gallery Yeo Workshop, located at Singapore’s government-sponsored arts enclave Gillman Barracks since 2013, these circumstances give rise to an urgent need for a new commercial art showcase in the Southeast Asian city-state. This as-yet-unnamed event will be held during Singapore Art Week, a conglomeration of cultural events from every arts organization in the city held over two weeks in mid-January, and will be jointly organized by the National Arts Council (NAC), the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). In previous years, Art Stage Singapore, established in 2010 and also supported by the alliance of NAC, STB and EDB, has been in the main spotlight of this annual arts line-up. Next year, however, this may not necessarily be the case.
Along with Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), which specializes in contemporary practices in printmaking, Yeo is helming the inaugural edition of the NAC-sponsored art show, which will be held over four to five days during Singapore Art Week 2019. The show will be located in an outdoor pavilion at the Gillman Barracks carpark and will present 30 commercial galleries from Southeast Asia. No official announcement of the event has been made yet.
Both Yeo Workshop and STPI participated in previous editions of Art Stage Singapore including the 2018 edition, and STPI is a regular participant in international art fairs. Emi Eu, STPI’s director, serves on the gallery selection committee for Art Basel Hong Kong.
Yeo said, “In general, a country needs an art fair. They are very important. This new art show arose as a stop-gap measure. We don’t know whether we will have an art fair next year so we just need a commercial platform in the meantime.” Art Stage Singapore has not yet made any official announcement about its plans for a 2019 edition at the Marina Bay Sands hotel.
“We are unsure if there will be Art Stage next year, we have not heard anything from them. There is a lack now for a categorical and regional art fair for acutely curated Southeast Asian art. This project intends to fill that gap,” Yeo added.
Meanwhile, there will be regional competition in January 2019, with the launch of Taipei Dangdai. The new fair in Taiwan will be held January 18–20 and will draw 80 galleries from around Asia and beyond, as well as a many regional collectors to its first edition.
Yeo observed that art-fair operators need to understand the changing needs of galleries and the climate in which they operate. She said fair organizers have to be close to galleries and visit them often in order to know how to develop the art scene, and how to best support the galleries who are their clients.
“We need people who are nurturing to the arts scene. We are Singaporeans, we really want to see Singapore grow in an organic and simple way, we don’t need all this big flashy way of coming in that’s been done so far without any understanding of our context,” she added.
According to Yeo, in order to sell art in Singapore, you have to know how to connect and build relationships with the general public, affluent lifestyle mavens and the art collectors. “We are, after all, a relationship-based country. For the new gallery showcase, we’re trying to support these [regional] galleries and open up the possibility for them to build longlasting relationships with art collectors and the Singaporean public,” she said.
The project director is so serious about the new commercial art show she has ceased the operations of Yeo Workshop and moved out to occupy a new space in Gillman Barracks that focuses solely on programming outreach events for the brand new Singapore Art Club. This new space will open in August this year and will hold artist talks moderated by personalities from beyond the art world, from finance to nightlife and entertainment. This is part of Yeo’s effort to bring lifestyle and the arts together, having observed that in Singapore, people do not see the arts as part of their lifestyle.
She insisted that Yeo Workshop was successful at Gillman Barracks in terms of sales and programming, and she hopes to return to running a gallery after this project. However, she admitted the contemporary art enclave managed by EDB, NAC and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) needs overarching vision and direction.
Tenants at Gillman recently told the Straits Times that there is a need for a centralized curatorial and management body, a strong institution at the core to unite the art cluster and encourage more collaboration between the different stakeholders.
Yeo remained cautious about this, preferring an individual curatorial leader to take care of the enclave’s direction, rather than an institution. She pointed out that there is already an institution in Gillman—the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore—and it is not the Centre’s objective to plan programs for the whole area.
When asked if she sees herself as such a leader, Yeo admits that for a long time, that was the informal role she and her gallery played. “We became the unofficial community center. That’s why it made sense for us to create Singapore Art Club. Art comes down to personalities and I’m always walking people around, and so gallerists were calling us up to tell us about this and that and we became the unofficial spokesperson for Gillman,” she said.
Regarding whether she could provide a unified vision and direction to Gillman Barracks as project director for the boutique art show next year, Yeo quickly demurred. “I hope there will be a unified vision and direction but it’s not my job. My job is to showcase galleries, engage collectors and ensure they can successfully sell their works. Whether or not Gillman has its direction is not my problem because we’re not engaged for that,” she said.
Yeo added that the future of Gillman Barracks is really not something she can speak for at the moment, nor does she have a vision for the art enclave. However, Singapore Art Club and the new commercial platform that Yeo is co-establishing for the 2019 Singapore Art Week will impact Gillman’s reputation among local and regional visitors alike, while perhaps complicating the future for Art Stage Singapore.
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