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Another fair attempt
A NEW art fair is set to hit Singapore next year. Before anyone can say "not another one?", get this: it will open at the same time as Singapore Art Week 2016, and will compete with Art Stage, currently the largest art fair in Singapore. Art Stage will be held at the Marina Bay Sands, while the newcomer - called the Singapore Contemporary Art Show - will showcase some 70 to 90 galleries nearby in a 6,000 sq m space in Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre.
Given the dismal performances of two large-scale art fairs that debuted last year - Singapore Art Fair and Milan Image Art & Design Fair - as well as a decline in sales figures for Affordable Art Fair's spring edition this year, can this newbie do well enough to return in subsequent years?
Its Hong Kong-based founders Mark Saunderson and Douwe Cramer think so. They are ready to "lose money in its first year, break even in the second, and make a profit in the third", says Mr Cramer who's in town to meet gallerists and government officials.
He thinks the failures of recent ventures have to do with poor marketing and branding: "Their lack of success has nothing to do with the actual market. Singapore Art Fair, for instance, was nice and well-done but the organisers (who are from the Middle East) transplanted certain assumptions into the Singapore context which didn't work. We, on the other hand, intend to invest heavily in branding and marketing."
It's worth noting that Mr Cramer and Mr Saunderson have backgrounds primarily in marketing and media respectively - a boon for their own fair but a possible bane in the eyes of serious galleries and art collectors who look for curatorial integrity as much as marketing savvy.
Mr Saunderson will pick the exhibitors with the help of three experts he declines to identify. But the fair is setting up an advisory board comprising about seven individuals, five of whom will likely be from the Singapore arts scene. This list will be revealed in late August.
The founders hope to differentiate the fair from Art Stage and Affordable Art Fair - the two linchpins of the art fair scene here - by targeting what they call the "middle market". Mr Cramer says: "The bulk of our artworks will be priced between S$10,000 and S$30,000 - though prices can go to S$100,000 or beyond in some cases."
Affordable Art Fair sells entry-level art below S$10,000 while Art Stage pegs itself as a premier fair with a wide price range that can go into the millions.
Singapore Contemporary projects its visitor numbers to be between 18,000 and 24,000 - less than half of Art Stage's 51,000 visitors in January 2015 and somewhat higher than the 18,200 that Affordable Art Fair drew for its November 2014 edition.
Mr Cramer says: "The local market here is the same as Hong Kong's - it's not that big. But there is a huge developing middle and upper-middle class. Many of these people are interested in owning original pieces of art in their apartment. But not everyone of them has the time or interest to visit galleries."
"Such people would rather go to an art fair where there are thousands of artworks - instead of an art gallery where there's a small number of them," Mr Cramer says, possibly slighting the very organisations that an art fair needs in order to run - galleries.
Oddly, Mr Cramer describes the focus of the fair as "neither conceptual nor affordable" - which he explains to mean it will be neither too "cutting-edge" nor too similar to what Affordable Art Fair offers. He says unabashedly: "Edgy art attracts less people than what we aim for."
In Hong Kong, Mr Cramer, Mr Saunderson and a third business partner Sarah Benecke run the Asia Contemporary Art Show which takes place every May and October. The hotel art fair, which was started in 2012, occupies four floors of the Conrad Hong Kong and draws 10,000 visitors for each edition. Mr Cramer says the numbers have had to stay at 10,000 because of the hotel safety restrictions and lift capacities. "We needed to expand geographically and Singapore was the logical choice. Space isn't as tight here as it is in Hong Kong."
The Asia Contemporary Art Show has also expanded its presence virtually with asiacontemporaryart.com which lists 900 artists and 5,000 works for sale. The website is now inviting Singapore galleries to feature their works without any fee or commission.
Owing to the founders' closer relationship to Hong Kong and Chinese galleries, about a quarter of the Singapore Contemporary Art Show might be devoted to Chinese art. Mr Cramer says it is targeting the Chinese diaspora in South-east Asia. Works by artists such as Pang Yongjie, Liu Hong and Yu Nan Cheng are among its highlights.
- The Singapore Contemporary Art Show will be held from Jan 21 to 24, 2016, at the Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre.