Tuesday, 2 September, 2014

Published January 17, 2014
Art Stage proves a draw
A more focused Art Stage 2014, with a host of visual arts and creative events mushrooming around it, is pulling in a stable crowd of high net worth individuals serious about the business of art. By CHEAH UI-HOON and HELMI YUSOF
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Jumbo attraction: Visitors stand next to 'Love Me', an inflatable pig with wings, by South Korean artist Choi Jeong-hwa, at the Art Stage Singapore at Marina Bay Sands Convention and Exhibition Centre. The fourth edition of the international art fair, with 130 galleries from 28 countries participating, will be open to the public from January 16 to 19. - PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

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'There are many guests from the region who do fly into Singapore for this event, and Art Stage is an arts fair that is now produced on a larger and more global scale.'
- Anastasia Ling, managing director at Quintessentially Lifestyle on Art Stage

ON Wednesday evening, gallerist Ikkan Sanada's face had a kind of glow, like the ultra-high definition TVs gracing the walls of his booth at Art Stage Singapore. The fair had just been open to Very Important Collectors and an invited list of guests and media.

You'd think it's the reflection from the digital art works by teamLab, but it was more than that.

The gallery had sold all its available editions of Japanese company teamLab's Cold Life earlier that afternoon, within 11/2 hours of the fair's VIP preview. "Just 11/2 hours," said Mr Sanada a couple of times, almost breathlessly. "People saw it, made enquiries, and then bought it."

There are 10 editions of the digital work shown on an 84-inch TV screen, and Ikkan Gallery had seven editions, listed at US$50,000 each with TVs. Some of the buyers bought only the US$35,000 software for the seven minute 15-sec digital work - which is a series of brush strokes modelled in virtual 3D space to form a 3D character derived from the word "sheng" - "life" in Japanese/Mandarin.

As for another teamLab digital work, Universe of Water Particles, mounted on six full high definition TVs, three out of six editions were sold that afternoon with one reserved, and Mr Sanada is confident the remaining two will sell by the end of the fair. "I'm extremely pleased with the response," he gushed.

Another Singapore gallery, Gajah Gallery, also had glowing reports of sales done that preview afternoon of the fourth edition of the art fair. It had already pre-sold Malaysian artist Ahmad Zakii Anwar's Tales from the Primordial Garden, acrylic on jute, 2013, for a middling five-digit figure. At the fair, within the first hour, Chinese artist Lijin's three works were sold to separate buyers. Jasdeep Sandhu, Gajah's owner, feels that this is the best fair so far.

Four years into Singapore's glitziest banner art event, Singapore's art scene seems to have spawned an arts economy that people are beginning to take note of. With rave sales, and critical approval for its eight regional platforms featuring emerging art from the Middle East to Australia, it sure looks like Art Stage Singapore has found its legs as a regional art fair.

A host of visual arts and creative events have certainly mushroomed around it. This year's Singapore Art Week has gotten bigger, and includes the Art Apart Fair, four art auctions (Larasati, Borobudur, Est Ouest and 33 Auction), a bus tour called Art In Motion going around 14 galleries, and more than 40 new exhibitions opening across the island.

"There are many guests from the region who do fly into Singapore for this event, and Art Stage is an arts fair that is now produced on a larger and more global scale," notes Anastasia Ling, managing director at Quintessentially Lifestyle. "It ranks right up there with F1, in terms of international events in Singapore." The arts fair does position Singapore in a good light, she adds, and the domino effect is that it's giving a boost to businesses related to the arts industry.

Last August, communications consultancy Brunswick Group set up shop in Singapore to capitalise on the growing arts scene. Brunswick advises top arts organisations such as The British Museum, the Venice Biennale, and most recently Qatar Museums Authority on their brand, profile and media campaigns.

Managing partner Ben Rawlingson Plant says: "We've been very impressed with the efforts made by the Singapore government, and the level of investment that is being made in culture here.

"Singapore is a natural point of entry for engaging with culture from South-east Asia, and we think that it will continue to grow as a hub for the arts in Asia. Encouraging creativity, on-going support for arts education and continuing investment in the arts are essential for this growth."

Mr Plant says the company is looking for opportunities here to create bridges between the corporate and arts sectors, and provide advice on designing and implementing media campaigns across these programmes and projects.

Now that the art fairs, exhibitions and auctions are drawing in a stable crowd of art buyers, who tend to be high net worth individuals, it has also spurred charities and fundraising efforts.

"Human interaction is a big part of cultural activities, and we're attaching ourselves to an art fair because the patrons of art are often contributors to charity. Besides they're more "flexible" compared to people in other businesses," says Noritoshi Hirakawa, the founder of Today is The Day, a non-profit arts foundation based in Hiroshima, New York, and Singapore.

The foundation was founded last October, and it will hold a silent auction on Saturday at Gillman Barracks, where the evening's proceeds will go to support the foundation's Yangdaora Art Therapy Project for the children of Fukushima, Japan and various innovative cultural projects in the world.

The Yangdaora Project is an art therapy retreat programme for Fukushima's children to travel to Singapore, working in partnership with The Red Pencil Foundation, a Singapore-based humanitarian charity that provides art therapy for children in overwhelming situations, worldwide.

Another non-profit project is the screening of two documentaries about art collectors Dorothy and Herb Vogel, by Platform Projects, an organisation supporting contemporary art, and local design studio A Craft Initiative. Money raised from ticket sales will go towards Platform Projects efforts to bring together the burgeoning pool of serious art collectors to acquaint them with promising artists in the region.

Arts as a viable platform for business

Meanwhile, arts branding as a business concept seems to be gaining ground - thanks to the buzz that the arts industry has gotten in the past few years.

Whether it was coincidence or purposefully timed, Far East Hospitality (FEH) announces today its plans to use art to rebrand Rendezvous Hotel Singapore. The hotel, located in Singapore's civic district and conveniently located within walking distance to the Singapore Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore, will adopt an art-inspired theme, says Arthur Kiong, FEH's CEO.

He adds, "Adopting an art-inspired theme for our latest hotel was an easy decision given the location of Rendezvous Hotel Singapore in Singapore's arts and cultural precinct. For our hotels to stand out, we must be different."

It is understood that a local artist's works may feature prominently in the hotel, not just in Singapore, but in FEH's global portfolio as well.

Art consultant Audrey Ph'ng notes that arts is a viable platform for businesses because it's a form of communication and expression. "It says who you are as a person or a corporation. If a business or corporate entity knows how to interact and engage with art, it says a lot about how they engage with their final audience," she says. "It's about rising above and distinguishing themselves from the competition."