IN an increasingly competitive art fair market, Art Stage has overhauled itself to stay ahead of the game. For its fourth edition next January, it has reduced the number of galleries - from 130 this year to just 100 next year. But in their place, there will be eight country or region-based platforms created by top curators around the region.
The eight platforms are India, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Central Asia and South-east Asia. Possibly controversial is the decision to subsume Singapore - which for the past three Art Stage editions had its own platform - into the South-east Asia platform, comprising also Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.
Arguably, the creation of platforms - especially the Central Asia and Australia ones - will offer a window into these regions' art, which hitherto were either missing or lost in the cornucopia of art on display.
But it remains to be seen how well the local art community will take to the absence of an exclusive Singapore platform, which were previously supported by the National Arts Council.
A significant 20 per cent, or 2,000 square metres, of the fair's space will now be devoted to these platforms. And their curators include the Who's Who of the art world, such as Mori Museum chief curator Mami Kataoka for the Japan platform, esteemed Chinese curator Huang Du for the China platform, and India's first biennale's artistic director, Bose Krishnamachari, for the India platform.
The South-east Asia platform, the largest of the eight platforms, will be curated by a team of "country advisers" including the legendary art historian Jim Supangkat for the Indonesia segment and top academic Patrick Flores for the Philippines segment.
Oddly, for the Singapore segment, Art Stage organisers have decided to curate the works with the help of a few unnamed informal advisers instead of one curator.
But the final choice of the local artists to be showcased in the Singapore segment - namely Chun Kaifeng, Jane Lee, Sarah Choo and Jolene Lai - is not likely to broker argument. Chun and Lee are well-regarded for their practices, while Choo and Lai are among the most promising young artists on the local landscape.
At a press conference, fair director Lorenzo Rudolf says: "An art fair must take the responsibility to inform its collectors, to put art in context, to give a deeper perspective into certain artists, to create a better understanding of each other's art, to inspire curiosity.
"People usually buy what they know. The Indonesians buy Indonesian art, for example. They're not looking left and right."
Art Stage hopes to expand its collectors' horizons through the curated platforms.
Mr Rudolf also cites an observation that has been made by many art specialists, that is, the art world has become increasingly divided between commercial art that's fit to be sold in galleries, and non-commercial art that often finds favour in biennales because of its challenging nature.
The commercial versus non-commercial binary also exists in other art forms such as cinema and literature. But the staggering success of visual arts in the last decade - with high auction prices making headlines - has made the divide more pronounced.
Mr Rudolf says: "Instead of commercial versus non-commercial, we want to focus on what's good art."
The new creation of country platforms and the appointment of curators also avoids the problems that Art Stage faced in its last edition over its controversial Indonesian Pavilion.
Back then, Art Stage had chosen to devote a 1,000 sq m space focusing solely on Indonesian artists. Because many of the Indonesian artists have no gallery representation, Art Stage broke with normal art fair conventions by acting as the artists' agent and claiming a commission for their sales - thereby putting it in direct competition with the galleries that it rents booth spaces to.
Asked how the Indonesian Pavilion did in terms of sales, Mr Rudolf demurs: "We hardly covered costs . . . we didn't make any profit . . ."
Hopefully, the new platforms will bring about a different outcome. If anything, the presence of strong curators for the platforms almost guarantees a better show.
Art Stage will be held from Jan 16 to Jan 19 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre