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New art fair makes a grab for mid-priced market
IF you don't have a competitor in life, then everything is just too easy, says Douwe Cramer, the co-founder of a new art fair that opens in Singapore on Friday. Called the Singapore Contemporary Art Show, it goes head-to-head with Art Stage, which has been a commercial flagship of the Singapore art scene for six years.
Slyly making a dig at Art Stage founder Lorenzo Rudolf's suggestion that the Singapore art market is too young to accommodate too many art fairs, Mr Cramer says that Singapore Contemporary Art Show is aiming at the middle-class market which he thinks neither Art Stage nor Affordable Art Fair caters directly to.
"Affordable Art Fair sells art below S$10,000. Art Stage's artworks can go into the millions. We're going for the mid-priced market, with the majority of our pieces priced from S$10,000 to S$50,000. We're looking to expand the pie - not cut the existing pie into little pieces."
Running till Sunday, the fair has 65 galleries spread over a spacious 6,000 sq m hall at the Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre - not far from Marina Bay Sands where Art Stage is held. Most of the artworks are by emerging artists, though a few galleries are selling works by auction regulars such as Ronald Ventura, Kwon Kisoo, Randy Solon and Yayoi Kusama.
A number of the galleries are Singaporean, including Utterly Art, Artredot and Maya Gallery, selling works by popular artists such Andre Tan, Aaron Gan and Tung Yue Nang. Mr Cramer concedes that he had given deep discounts to several local and international galleries to entice them to take a chance on the new fair.
"We're prepared to lose money in the first year, break even in the second, and then make a profit in the third," he says, adding that he hopes to raise booth rents after the first year if the fair proves successful. Many art fairs, such as Singapore Art Fair and Milan Image Art & Design Fair, have dropped out after just one year due to poor sales.
Gallerists taking part in the Singapore Contemporary Art Show say that the current booth rents are attractive and the bar for entry is also lower. Utterly Art, for one thing, is a small but significant player on the scene. It has failed each time it applied to show at Art Stage.
"But we understand the need to show our works at art fairs because they generally attract new potential buyers and allow us to expand our client base," says Utterly Art's owner Pwee Keng Hock. "So we're glad to be able to take part in this one. Also, when we do the math, it doesn't seem likely that we can recoup our costs taking part in Art Stage. This, for now, is more affordable."
Utterly Art has taken part in Affordable Art Fair every year, but Dr Pwee says that the different positioning by Singapore Contemporary allows him to sell bigger artworks at higher prices. When Utterly Art took part in the short-lived Singapore Art Fair in 2014, it was able to sell bigger and pricier works by its artists, compared to what it normally sells at Affordable Art Fair, because of the former's branding.
Noticeably, too, Dr Pwee hangs his artworks more spaciously here compared to how he typically packs his wall space with artworks at Affordable Art Fair. Indeed, the general vibe of the Singapore Contemporary Art Show appears more upmarket than the Affordable Art Fair - but also less swanky than Art Stage.
Mr Cramer co-founded the fair with Mark Saunderson, and they have backgrounds primarily in marketing and media respectively. The duo have been running the Hong Kong hotel art fair Asia Contemporary Art Show since 2012 with a third business partner Sarah Benecke.
Recently, the Singapore Contemporary, as well as another art fair, the hotel-based Art Apart Fair, were snubbed by the organisers of the Singapore Art Week when both fairs failed to get a mention in the guidebook on Art Week given out to tourists and art lovers. It fuelled speculation that the two fairs were deliberately left out to protect the interests of the anchor event, Art Stage. Art Week is organised by the National Arts Council, Singapore Tourism Board and Economic Development Board.
Mr Cramer says: "I'm disappointed by the omission. But I have a fair to run and my own marketing to do. If I were to rely on the Singapore government to organise a fair, then I'm in the wrong business. Besides, I'm sure that if the fair is a success, they'll have to include it in the guidebook next year."
Mr Cramer has already set the dates for next fair - Jan 19 to 22, 2017. He has a contract with the Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre for three years, but wants to extend it to five if the first edition is a success.
The Singapore Contemporary Art Show is now on till Jan 24 at the Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre on the 4th floor. Tickets at the door and from Sistic.