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The Chan Hampe Galleries booth at the fair featuring the works of Dawn Ng.

SOUTH-EAST ASIAN PRIMER: Iola Lenzi being interviewed by Singapore media at the Art Paris Art Fair. She curated the fair with a view to showing the natural sense of diversity and hybridity of South-east Asia.

Guillaume Piens, fair director for Art Paris Art Fair, invited eight Singapore galleries to present artists.

Eye-opening Art Paris fair

Apr 3, 2015 5:50 AM

France: Guillaume Piens, fair director for Art Paris Art Fair

Singapore: Iola Lenzi, researcher, critic and curator

BEFORE he did a proper exploration into Singapore art, Guillaume Piens confessed, he had quite a cliched understanding of it. "We've heard that it's the Switzerland of Asia, so I thought it would be quite boring. But it was an eye-opening experience when I went there properly to start looking at the galleries and the art fairs," he says.

Art Paris Art Fair is a contemporary art fair in the iconic Grand Palais, in the centre of Paris. The 145 galleries represented draws just under 60,000 visitors yearly over a four-day period. This year, Mr Piens planned a Singapore and South-east Asian platform, by inviting eight Singapore galleries to present artists. The galleries were curated by Singapore-based Iola Lenzi, and the platform was organised and supported by the Art Galleries Association Singapore.

Singapore is important because it's the hub of Southeast Asia, and it's in a unique place, with the major multicultural and economic role it plays in the region. Mr Piens engaged a curator for the Singapore platform so that it would show the established and younger galleries, and the video art. "We wanted people to discover and know more of Singapore," he adds.

About half of the 145 galleries in the Fair are France-based, while the other are from another 20 countries. Eight Singapore galleries - namely Art Plural gallery, Chan Hampe Galleries, Element Art Space, iPreciation, STPI Gallery, Sundaram Tagore Gallery and Yeo Workshop - were invited to take up booths in the Fair, while there are also European-based galleries carrying Singapore and South-east Asian art.

As Mr Piens noted, when they put the call out for an installation to grace the front of the Grand Palais for the fair, Singaporean Chen Sai Hua Kuan stepped up to the occasion with his "Ling Ting 2" - that exaggerated the notion of listening.

Realistically, while Singapore has seen some recognition in Europe through cinematic and artistic awards in Cannes or the Venice Biennale, most French people still don't know anything much about Singapore or South-east Asian art.

"In Europe, very little is known about visual art in our region as only a few exhibitions, mostly nationally focused, have been organised," points out Ms Lenzi.

Prior to the fair, she spent much time giving long interviews to French media - to enlighten them about Singapore and South-east Asian art. "They were surprised by the type of performance art as practised by Lee Wen. The old-fashioned idea of Asia and South-east Asia is that it's an area that's dominated by China and India; and they also don't realise how Islam in South-east Asia is different from the Middle East," explains Ms Lenzi.

At Art Paris, Singapore and South-east Asian contemporary art features prominently, with over 50 artists. Ms Lenzi included a wide breadth of artists, including the first generation of contemporary artists such as Lee Wen.

"It's because their work represents the transitioning of South-east Asia into modern society, and this discourse underpins their work," she highlights, adding that she was most interested in the audience's reactions to the pieces, as they're left to complete the narrative with their own interpretations.

As for whether Singapore art needs always to be seen in the context of South-east Asian artists, Ms Lenzo pointed out how the artworks actually do point to its links with the region.

In her curation, the most important points that Ms Lenzi wanted to underscore were the natural sense of diversity and hybridity within South-east Asia. "South-east Asia was global before the term existed because of the trade. A lot of traffic wasn't stopped until colonial times," she points out.

Hence, Singapore and South-east Asian art are intertwined, and last week, the art of the region was presented more holistically, and with more impact. The Singapore and South-east Asian platform at the Art Paris art fair was a small but significant step made to create a better impression of how contemporary art takes its form here.

  • Art Paris Art Fair, a partner event of the Singapore Festival in France, was held from March 26-29 at the Grand Palais