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Portable but never a commodity
REJOICE art lovers, for art just got more affordable. With anything from S$1,000 to S$8,000 in your pocket, a piece from Singaporean artists such as April Ng, Boo Sze Yang, Delia Prvacki and Jeremy Sharma could soon be hanging on your walls.
Portable Art Week, a group exhibition at iPreciation Gallery, provides an art-buying opportunity for the entry-level collector. With a diverse array of works on display, including watercolour and ink on paper, paintings, ceramics, photography, sculptural objects and new media, Portable Art Week touts itself as a friendly platform for young and new collectors to get up close with Singapore contemporary art. While you won't get a Lichtenstein or Ai Weiwei at that price, you might just get hooked on the art-buying habit.
"In general, people think of the gallery with a bit of fear - most do not know what they will encounter, what questions to ask, and what about the price?" says Helina Chan, managing director of iPreciation Gallery in Singapore. "We hope people will think of fine art as an alternative to year-end presents, with this (event) being a great opportunity for younger people to visit our gallery, look at art and not feel intimidated to buy works of fine art."
This concept is not new, with the Affordable Art Fair paving the way several years ago.
"There were a few new art fairs on the scene last year, some of which did not return this year, as well as commercial art businesses have been forced to evolve with the times and business models have changed," observes Alan Koh, marketing manager (Autumn edition) and Fair director (Spring edition) of the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore, which launched six years ago in this market.
"But despite market trends changing and causing some volatility recently, we are also seeing evidence of resilience. In the face of these adjustments, Singapore shows that there is still a real demand from first-time art buyers and budding collectors."
While volatility is typically tied to changes in the economic environment, Mr Koh remains optimistic, noting that 50 per cent of visitors to the May edition were visiting for the first time. "It demonstrates that Singapore has a thirst for contemporary art and there is continued interest from new potential collectors," he says.
Ms Chan echoes the optimism. "A lot of us buy watches and expensive shoes, but if we as gallerists can provide something that is entry point, maybe this would change their minds."
She also invests in the careers of up-and-coming artists through such exhibitions, offering them a consistent platform to showcase and sell their work.
"Most artists overseas have a following," she explains, emphasising the importance for the younger generation to be able to access and engage with art, and through this, cultivate a love for this genre.
Artists welcome these developments in the artist-gallery collector ecosystem. Tay Bak Chiang, a painter and artist in this exhibition, says: "Portable Art Week is such an interesting concept. Before this, I had never done such small pieces of work." He re-imagines nature motifs, with six to eight works done especially for this exhibition.
But is art becoming too much of a commodity? With this, battle lines are drawn: speculators and investors that trade for the promise of appreciated value, to the chagrin of artists, who believe that art is not a product to be traded like a commodity, but an investment of human capital and an expression of our cultural heritage.
There are certainly artists that make art as a commodity - Andy Warhol, the Father of Pop Art, for instance, who saw the brilliance in exploiting art and commercialism for profit.
And then there are others who see art serving a greater purpose beyond the bottom line. "Art will never be a commodity. I like the idea of presenting parts of history of artists through the years, and not because I want to capitalise on it to make money. For me, art-making is my life," says artist and sculptor Delia Prvacki.
Wang Ruobing, another artist in this exhibition, says thoughtfully: "Art can be a commodity in economic terms." After all, people purchase art through the exchange of money. "But for me, art is for sharing. It is a good opportunity to share art with others."
No matter which camp you belong to, the advice remains the same: Invest in pieces that you love. Buying lesser known and new artists is not going to bankrupt you, but neither will it make you a billionaire overnight. "Ten years down the road, the handbag might not be there, but that piece of culture in the original work remains," Ms Chan muses.
Portable Art Week runs at iPreciation Gallery from Oct 2 to 10