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Thailand's Anon Pairot got weavers from Chiang Rai to weave a life-sized sports car with rattan (Chiangrai Ferrari) to showcase the growing socio-economic divide between worlds.

Thousands of blades and sharp steel objects are assembled to create a bird's-eye view of one part of urbanised Singapore in British artist Damien Hirst's monumental Black Scalpel Cityscape of Singapore (Singapore, 2014).

Zheng Lu's Water Dripping-Splashing is a work in stainless steel. The gravity-defying works by the Mongolian artist appear to be modern but a closer look reveals thousands of Chinese characters inscribed on the metal.

Richard Koh Fine Art's booth space showcases emerging artists.

Five head-turners at Art Week: Gu Wenda's stunning installation of stones with Chinese characters carved into them, next to Asian Civilisations Museum - one of several outdoor artworks on display for Singapore Art Week.

Five head-turners at Art Week: M Fadhlil Abdi's hyper-realistic painting of Lee Kuan Yew at Art Xchange Gallery booth at Art Stage.

Five head-turners at Art Week: Yang Mushi's installation at Prudential Eye Awards exhibition at ArtScience Museum.

Five head-turners at Art Week: Santi Wangchuan's assemblage at Yeo Workshop booth at Art Stage.

Five head-turners at Art Week: Chong Kim Chiew's barb-wired badminton court at Art Stage.

Art stage expands its sights

The anchor event of Singapore Art Week returns with an extended focus on South-east Asian art - even as a new rival fair joins the fray. BT Lifestyle looks at the art fight in our coverage.
Jan 22, 2016 5:50 AM

IT MAY have been all red across the board for the region's financial bourses this week, but the doors of the sixth edition of Art Stage Singapore opened to the bright colours of contemporary visual art and cautious optimism that good art will always sell.

In fact, sales got off to a good start at Wednesday's VIP sales preview, thanks to Singaporean artists. Sundaram Tagore Gallery sold Jane Lee's Portrait #11 (an acrylic and heavy gel on fibreglass painting) for US$33,000, while Chan Hampe sold all four Ruben Pang paintings for S$46,000. Primo Marella Gallery also sold its two Donna Ong sculptures for about S$10,000 each.

Real art lovers still buy good art - this was the mantra bolstering the fair, which is seen as the indicator of whether the art market will hold where stock markets haven't. This year's fair sees 75 per cent or 133 of its exhibitors coming from Asia, with 37 of them Singapore-based. Out of the 170 galleries, 71 of them are making their debut at the fair.

"The fair feels a bit subdued and safe, with some works shown before in other fairs," points out participating gallerist Richard Koh. "But collectors will still buy. Maybe one piece instead of five."

Even so, gallerists are hedging their bets by carrying smaller, pret-a-porter pieces besides bigger works. You could find small-sized works priced from S$1,000, for instance. A check with some galleries showed that they did sell a few pieces already, within a couple of hours of its opening.

Mr Koh, for example, already made two sales - including a Haffendi Anuar for S$12,000 - to Swiss and Dutch collectors respectively. Qing Gallery from Taipei sold three works by Chinese artist Liu Jiu-Tong, priced above S$50,000, to its own collector from Taiwan. The two Donna Ong works which sold for S$10,000 each came from Milan-based Primo Marella, which specialises in Asian art.

STPI's Emi Eu found the mood very good on Vernissage night - and attributes it to the strong interest now in Singaporean artist Jane Lee, who just completed a residency at the institute. STPI is also carrying works by foreign artists and she's had a lot of interest in those works as well.

"It could also be that our works aren't so highly priced, in comparison to our neighbour's booth, or perhaps the stockmarket movements haven't yet impacted those who are more detached from it," she muses.

Benjamin Hampe of Chan Hampe gallery says that the interest level for the artists he's presenting - Belinda Fox and Jason Lim - is very high as some previous collectors from Korea and Australia saw the works and visited their show at his Raffles Hotel gallery. Some works by Korean artist Si Jae Byun were also sold.

Valerie Cheah of Jada Art Gallery, who is just visiting Art Stage, notes that although big "blue chip" international galleries are absent this year, she is happy to see an increase of Asian art galleries, which should be its niche.

"I personally feel this year's curation of artworks is better than last year's. The highlight for me is the rare viewing of the live performance by young Harvard-trained, Shanghai- based artist Bea Camacho from the Philippines, who had a performance at the Tate Museum in 2010."

Ms Cheah is of the view as well that although it is a challenging year, it will not stop good artworks from being snapped up by art collectors. She's already heard that works by Jane Lee shown at Sundaram Tagore have a waitlist of more than 20 keen art buyers.

Mr Hampe notes: "With the economic situation, collectors are being cautious, looking for things they like, doing their research, and not making brash decisions. This is healthy."

Solo on Valdes

Meanwhile, well-established international galleries making their foray into Art Stage Singapore include Galeries Forsblom, a premier gallery in Finland. They have done so with a solo on leading Spanish artist Manolo Valdes, whose sculptures are priced from S$690,000.

Gallery founder Kaj Forsblom visited Art Stage three times before deciding to take part this year. He also attended the Tresors Fair in 1993, some 20 years ago. "The reason why we decided to have a solo on Valdes is because we think his aesthetics suit the market here," he shares.

Marc de Puechredon from Basel, Switzerland, also brought in Uwe Walther, as he deemed the German artist's landscapes painted on geographic maps to fall in quite nicely with the tradition of landscape art in Asia.

"We've heard about Art Stage being well organised, and we also have a collector who lives in Singapore, so we decided we should risk it by coming here," he says.

Meanwhile, buying and acquiring art aside, going to the fair will be a must for art aficionados who want to find out more about South-east Asian art in general.

A badminton court has been set up at the South-east Asian platform - a site-specific work by Malaysian artist Chong Kim Chiew to remark on the "fences" to be found in daily urban life. Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul's Postcards from Dubai highlights economic migration in the region, and he invites visitors to participate by wearing a T-shirt printed with "Gujranwala" and sharing their stories. Thailand's Anon Pairot, meanwhile, celebrates traditional weaving, as he got weavers from Chiang Rai to weave a life-sized Ferrari with rattan, to showcase the growing socio-economic divide between worlds.

The platform, like the Indonesian one before it a couple of years ago, is a continuation of Art Stage's efforts to present a better understanding of South-east Asian art to Asian collectors and the world. The South-east Asian Forum, with many talks, also "emphasises the balance between art, commerce and content". Art Stage Singapore founder and president Lorenzo Rudolf stresses that he needs to continue to create branding for the fair and also educate collectors about South-east Asian art as it's so little known outside Asia. Or even within different Asean countries.

That's one reason for Art Stage's creation of the Joseph Balestier award, co-presented with the US Embassy in Singapore. This year's winner is Singapore performance artist Lee Wen, who won the US$15,000 purse, out of over 20 artists nominated for the award.

Very frankly, Mr Rudolf points out how the contemporary art market in South-east Asia is still a second-tier market which can't be compared to the European and US markets. As such, the fair can't be a market platform alone - it still needs to develop content and create awareness.

Eye-catching cityscape

This year's South-east Asian Forum theme revolves around the City and Art in the Urban Age. That Singapore is being seen as the gateway and hub of South-east Asian art is evidenced by several 2D depictions of the city by participating artists in the fair. Tucked away in Japanese gallery Incurve, artist Katsuhiro Terao's ink and canvas drawings are of several Singapore buildings including Marina Bay Sands and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.

But most eye-catching is British artist Damien Hirst's monumental Black Scalpel Cityscape of Singapore (Singapore, 2014). Thousands of blades and sharp steel objects are assembled to create a bird's-eye view of one part of urbanised Singapore. Visitors were seen trying to locate the exact area by comparing it to the Google Maps app on their mobile phones.

The artist featured cities including Washington, DC, Sao Paolo, Moscow, the Vatican, Berlin, New York Ground Zero, and Leeds. But for Asia, only Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore are featured. Which is a nod to Singapore's growing position as an Asian arts hub. On its part, Art Stage Singapore is on a mission to make it even more so.

Art Stage Singapore is held from Jan 21-24 at the Marina Bay Sands Convention and Expo Centre.

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