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The artist: Jane Lee
IN April last year, two works by Jane Lee came up for auction at Sotheby's Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Art sale in Hong Kong. The first painting comprised vivid red-painted strips of canvas wrapped around stretcher bars like a bandage. The price was hammered at HK$437,500 (S$81,022) - much higher than its pre-sale upper estimate of HK$280,000.
The second work was even more intriguing - a mesh of red dried paint drooping down from the stretcher bars. It was a painting without the backing of a canvas - the paint itself becoming its own canvas, so to speak. It sold at HK$687,500 - more than four times its pre-sale upper estimate of HK$150,000.
At 52, Lee has become one of the most collectible contemporary artists in Singapore. She started painting only in the early 2000s, holding her first solo exhibition in 2006. Before that, she had been a fashion designer, a job and passion that partly explain why she handles paint like fabric. She drapes, weaves and wraps paint on stretcher bars as if they were mannequins. Her eye for colour and detail is exceptional. This year, for Singapore Art Week, Lee has collaborated with print and paper specialist STPI for a solo show that opens at its Robertson Quay gallery on Sunday.
The exhibition titled Freely, Freely sees Lee experimenting with a wide variety of media, such as paper pulp, plastic and metal.
The soft-spoken artist says: "I've never worked with paper and print before. But I've been meaning to get out of painting for a while and try something new... Working with paper pulp is so different from paint. It's rough and dry and harder to negotiate. With paint, you add water to tame it. With paper, you struggle with dry material." But these challenges have made Lee's residency at STPI an invigorating one. It's questioned her perspectives and forced her to transfer her virtuosity from paintings to other media. The STPI gallery space has been configured to accommodate a much broader than expected vision - one that ranges from abstract sculptures and figurative prints to even video animation.
In one series of works, hundreds of paper strips are coiled around pins and arranged in a circle. It's a beautifully tactile work that recalls the abstract brilliance of her paintings. Another series has countless tiny birds raining over or under the artworks - the bird being a leitmotif of the exhibition themed on the concept of freedom. The two video animation works, the first she's ever made, show birds in motion.
Lee says: "I've been thinking of making works that are more accessible. In the past, I've dealt with abstraction - but that sometimes scares people off. So I decided to try figuration this time, because I don't want to restrict myself to certain genres and ideas... I felt drawn to the image of a bird and idea of flight. In Singapore, everyone's always rushing about to get things done. Being free is a dream for many, so I chose the bird as a metaphor for freedom and dreams."
Freely, Freely by Jane Lee is on from Jan 17 to March 5 at STPI, 41 Robertson Quay. On Jan 17, Lee will discuss her art from 2.30 to 3.30pm at the gallery. Her works will also be featured at Art Stage, Booth C14, from Jan 21 to 24
The fair director: Lorenzo Rudolf
ART Stage fair director Lorenzo Rudolf would be lying if he said he wasn't concerned about the art market. With financial market slumps across the world, the art market is bound to take a beating too.
"The art market is always a reflection of economic realities," he says. "But we must push on. It's times like these when we need to position ourselves to swim against the tide. Organisations that don't have a clearly defined niche role will suffer the most."
Mr Rudolf says he will be closely watching what people buy, "whether they go for high quality or relatively inexpensive works, or if they buy at all," he says with a grin. "In Asia, collecting art has an even stronger investment factor than it does elsewhere. Asian collectors and gallerists typically drive a hard bargain."
Jokes aside, this will be the first time that Art Stage has had to weather a poor market environment since its inception in 2011. Back then, although the world was still recovering from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, art prices were skyrocketing on the strength of Chinese and Indian prices. South-east Asian art prices followed suit.
Art Stage's attendant successs generated sufficient buzz to encourage government agencies and arts companies to come together and create the Singapore Art Week in 2013. This year, the nine-day arts bonanza features more than 100 events from Jan 16 to Jan 24.
But for most art lovers, the top draw continues to be Art Stage with its high-quality artists and programmes.
This year, Art Stage is introducing the Southeast Asia Forum which features discussions on the role of art, design and architecture in contemporary society. Architect Rem Koolhaas, sociologist Saskia Sassen, auctioneer Simon de Pury and museum director Hou Hanru are just four on the glittering list of invited speakers.
Mr Rudolf says: "We're positioning contemporary art in a bigger way to show that art isn't a piece of decorative work you have in your home - but an integral part of contemporary life and society. South-east Asian art is no less significant than the art of New York, London or Sao Paulo - and people should know that."
For six years, Art Stage's presence has helped catalyse the growth of art organisations and events such as Gillman Barracks, Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris and NTU Centre of Contemporary Art. Ironically, it has unwittingly spurred several rival art fairs to join the fray, including the new Singapore Contemporary Art Show that runs at the same time as Art Stage. But it remains to be seen if the latter has staying power - most drop out after just one outing, citing poor sales.
Mr Rudolf notes wryly: "Economically, the market is not at its strongest. Yet, at the same time, we have more and more happening on the scene... For Art Stage, I can only say, we'll do our best and we'll do it better than the rest. These booms and busts are a normal part of the business."
Art Stage runs at Marina Bay Sands from Jan 20-21 (vernissage) and from Jan 22-24 (public). The Southeast Asian Forum featuring top speakers such as Rem Koolhaas and Saskia Sassen will take place from Jan 21 to 24 at different times. A ticket to the fair gets you access to the forum. Tickets from S$32 available at the door and online
The collectors: Livia and Marc Straus
LIVIA and Marc Straus stick to four rules of collecting art:
1. Buy what you love;
2. Look for artists who are likely to be durable;
3. Buy the best of an artist's body of work;
4. Pay the right price.
That formula has worked exceedingly well. Marc says: "I practised oncology for almost 40 years and it is not a pathway to wealth. We did not buy art with the idea that it is an investment but that proved to be somewhat naïve. As it turned out, much of our wealth is now in art. A high percentage of our art acquisitions became very valuable."
The celebrity New York collectors, who will be here for Singapore Art Week, started acquiring art when they were 20. They have since amassed a large collection that includes important pieces by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Dan Flavin, Gilbert & George and Robert Gober. Several of the works were purchased inexpensively at the start of the artists' careers.
But while their four rules of collecting appear simple enough, the reality is much more complicated. The Strauses take time to visit thousands of artist studios to talk to them and see their works. Livia combines instinct and experience to pick out the best artists, while Marc studies dozens of art journals between his medical ones.
Marc thinks that only one artist out of "several hundred" has a fresh and important voice. He explains: "We look for artists who have consistency - a high-level of ingenuity among almost all his or her work. We look for an original voice - there's nothing like it. And we look for commitment - artists who will be committed to making art their entire life regardless of commercial success."
You might say they've set an incredibly high bar for artists. But their exacting standards have paid off. Marc says: "Nearly 50 per cent of the work we purchased near the beginning of the artist's career is valuable. If ever we purchased a work of an artist whose reputation was already well established, almost all are much more valuable." But he notes: "The percentage annual increase for us is about the same for any sector."
Still, their long-time love of and commitment to art and artists - Livia befriends many young artists and offers support in different ways - have helped them create a collection envied by many. In recent years, the Strauses have given back to society in various ways, most notably by opening a public museum, the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, at the heart of what was once a desolate, low-income area in Hudson Valley in New York.
Marc says: "Now, 12 years after we opened the museum, the town is booming. The waterfront has the best Hudson River art park in New York State. The kids' education programmes are key. They learn and embrace the value of the imaginative process and learning. The percentage of kids going on to college has increased tremendously. We feel lucky to have all this art but it's not meant to be sequestered away. Without sharing and generosity, we are islands. The world is so culturally and ethnically divided. Charity creates bridges - especially art."
The couple plan to explore Asian art in greater depth during their visit to Singapore. Marc says: "We have not seen enough art from Asia but that is changing. We are looking closely at a few artists from several countries. After Art Stage Singapore we will travel to Indonesia to do studio visits.
There is a young painter from the Philippines on our radar and we expect to offer him a residency at the museum."
Marc and Livia Straus will be giving a talk on art collecting on Jan 23, from 4-5pm at ARNDT, Gillman Barracks, 9 Lock Road. The talk is free but seats are limited. E-mail email@example.com for seats
Must see, must do: Art Week highlights
YOU can't possibly cover the more than 100 events taking place during Singapore Art Week from Jan 16 to 24 across the island. So we've made a shortlist for you:
Art Stage Singapore
Jan 20 - 21 (vernissage), Jan 22 - 24 (public). Marina Bay Sands
The biggest event of the week is Art Stage, with more than 140 galleries from 33 countries displaying artworks by top artists, including Raqib Shaw, Ronald Ventura, Eko Nugroho and Jimmy Ong.
A possibly even bigger draw for the art intellectual is the South-east Asia Forum featuring 31 leading figures such as Rem Koolhaas, Kwok Kian Chow and Mami Kataoka discussing issues of art and culture in contemporary societies. A ticket to the fair gets you access to the forum, but you must register for a seat at artstagesingapore.com.
As if that isn't enough, Art Stage is throwing a party that's open to the public on Jan 20 at Chijmes from 9pm till late. The party includes performance art, live video projections and DJ Chris Ho on the deck.
The party is free, but the fair and forum are ticketed. Tickets from S$32 available online and at the door
Envision: Sculptures @ The Garden City
Jan 16 - Apr 15, CBD area
Organised by art gallery iPreciation, this sprawling outdoor exhibition of large sculptures by famous artists is bound to turn heads. China's Gu Wenda, Zhang Huan and Zhan Wang, as well as Taiwan's Ju Ming, Singapore's Kumari Nahappan and Indonesia's Sri Astari Rasjid, are among the artists showing their works in various areas around Fullerton Hotel, Empress Place, Clifford Square and Marina Bay Boulevard.
For more information, go to www.ipreciation.com/envision/
Art After Dark at Gillman Barracks
Jan 22, 7pm to 11pm, Gillman Barracks
The biggest gallery cluster in Singapore will stay open till late for an after-dark party. Gillman Barracks comprises 11 galleries now showing terrific established artists, including Donna Ong, Christine Ay Tjoe and Christopher Le Brun.
There's also a cluster of shipping containers showcasing emerging Singapore artists such as Fyerool Darma and Alecia Neo. There'll be F&B pop-ups and live music. Admission is free.
Joan Jonas: They Come To Us Without A Word
Jan 22 to Apr 3, NTU Centre of Contemporary Art
Pioneering American video and performance artist Joan Jonas presents her first large-scale exhibition in Singapore and South-east Asia.
Jonas, whose exhibition at the Venice Biennale last year was roundly praised by the jury, explores the fragility of nature in a changing world.
Admission is free.
Prudential Eye Awards
Jan 16 to March 27, ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands
The Prudential Eye Awards returns for the third year to honour the best emerging artists in the Asia Pacific region. The accompanying exhibition showcases works of the 15 nominees as well as those of Thai contemporary artist Sakarin Krue-On who's receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award. The nominees include Singapore's Robert Zhao Renhui, India's Manish Nai and Indonesia's indieguerillas.
Tickets available at the door
There are a few terrific photography exhibitions now on. Steve McCurry's stunning images are showing at Sundaram Tagore Gallery - McCurry is best known for his Afghan girl image - and Mark Shaw's gorgeous black-and-white snapshots of celebs such as Audrey Hepburn, Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel are showing at Leica Gallery Singapore, Raffles Hotel Arcade. Admission is free.
Fancy looking at art while discovering the nooks and crannies of the island? There are a few terrific art tours. Open House, conceptualised by Alan Oei, takes visitors around Joo Chiat for an immersive theatre experience titled No Man's Land. Go to www.nomansland.sg for details.
Asian Film Archive is taking participants around the island to look at locations where classic Singapore films were shot. There are also artworks at each location by contemporary artists responding to the films. Details of the tour, titled State of Motion, can be found on stateofmotion.peatix.com
Artwalk Little India takes participants to see performances and installations in the vicinity of Serangoon, while a carpark in People's Park Complex in Chinatown has been turned into an exhibition space for 20 artists.
National Gallery Singapore
If you haven't been to Singapore's newest and swankiest art institution, soon would be the perfect time. The permanent galleries are showcasing the best in Singapore and South-east Asian art, while the concourse galleries open next week with fine works by Tang Da Wu, Johnny Manahan, Redza Piyadasa and Tan Teng-Kee.