Art Stage forays into Indonesian market

Singapore's flagship art fair expands southwards to tap the region's biggest, most lucrative art scene.

IT'S official: Art Stage Singapore announced on Thursday in Jakarta that it is expanding Singapore's premier art fair into Indonesia. From Aug 5 to 7, Art Stage will mount a branch of the fair at the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City Hotel with approximately 50 art galleries.

The new boutique fair is called Art Stage Jakarta. And it will take place three weeks before Bazaar Art Jakarta, currently the city's most popular art fair which will run from Aug 25 to 28 this year.

Notably, Leo Silitonga, the well-liked former fair director of Bazaar Art Jakarta, has crossed over to Art Stage Jakarta to become its fair director. The impact of this shake-up is significant. According to Art Stage founder Lorenzo Rudolf, he and his team had been in talks with Bazaar Art Jakarta for months about a possible partnership or collaboration. But talks fell through, prompting Art Stage to go it alone. The reasons for the failure of these talks are unclear.

Mr Rudolf, a controversial figure in the art scene, says: "Part of the reason we're going into Indonesia is that the art market in Singapore has slowed in recent years. In contrast, the Indonesia art market continues to grow with new collectors and artists entering the scene. It is also a much bigger market than Singapore."

"Our presence in Singapore is important and we will continue to provide a comprehensive international art fair with a wide focus through Art Stage Singapore. But we feel that there is an opportunity to venture into Jakarta to capitalise on the vibrant scene there."

At Art Stage Singapore in January this year, rumours were rife that Mr Rudolf was planning to uproot the Singapore fair altogether and take it to Indonesia. The presence of Mr Silitonga at Art Stage's office fuelled those rumours.

Mr Rudolf, however, says that Art Stage intends to continue its operations in Singapore, while setting up a small base of five people in Jakarta. He dryly jokes that Mr Silitonga has completed his "internship" at Art Stage.

Mr Silitonga is an experienced art gallerist who joined Bazaar Art Jakarta in 2014. Though brief, his leadership was a welcome one as he was popular with artists, gallerists, curators and collectors. Mr Silitonga says: "Art Stage Jakarta will offer the same high standards and quality as Art Stage Singapore. It will bring galleries in direct contact with a domestic art market that is among the most active and vibrant in the region."

The first edition of Art Stage Jakarta is expected to be a domestic affair, with most of its 50 galleries being Indonesian. It is one-third the size of the six-year-old Art Stage Singapore, which has about 150 galleries. But Mr Rudolf hopes Art Stage Jakarta will grow as international galleries participating in Art Stage Singapore have already signalled their interest in venturing south.

Mr Rudolf says the first Art Stage Jakarta may include a Singapore Pavilion showcasing Singapore artworks - a segment that mirrors the controversial Indonesian Pavilion in Art Stage Singapore in 2013. Initially, the Indonesian Pavilion drew flak as local observers were uneasy about a massive non-Singaporean focus in a Singapore fair. When the fair opened, however, the Indonesian Pavilion was lauded for being a significant showcase.

Despite an uncertain global art market, the explosion of art fairs has continued with about 180 art fairs taking place worldwide this year. Earlier this month, Switzerland's MCH Group, the company that owns the world's biggest chain of art fairs - Art Basel - announced its intention to buy up regional art fairs. It has had great success acquiring regional fair ART HK in 2011 and turning it into Art Basel Hong Kong, and hoped to develop a larger portfolio of regional art fairs.

Mr Rudolf says that venturing into the Indonesian market is crucial for Art Stage's long-term viability: "The strongest art scene in South-east Asia is Indonesia. The art is good and its price range is very wide. Sooner or later, someone would enter the market."

Mr Rudolf expressed his concerns about the Singapore art scene, saying it is weighed down by censorship as local artists are compelled to toe the line in order to obtain state funding or get permission to exhibit their works publicly. Nonetheless, he hopes the Singapore Pavilion would help introduce the local art scene to the Indonesian market.

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