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Visitor turnout at art events and exhibitions have been lower than hoped for this year, despite several high-quality shows.

Market recovery still uncertain

Dec 30, 2016 5:50 AM

TRUST Lorenzo Rudolf to tell it like it is. Last month at a press conference for the upcoming Art Stage Singapore 2017, its founder and fair director gave his candid views of the Singapore visual arts market: "Everybody is asking: Where is Singapore going? We all know Gillman Barracks has problems, we all know galleries are trying to survive and some have left. We all know also that institutions are not in the best position."

Painting a different picture of when Art Stage was first launched in 2011, Mr Rudolf said: "At that time, there was enthusiasm. Today, it is quiet, it is sad, despite the initiatives that have happened all these years.

"The art scene, artists, galleries, all the institutions, are not internationally strong enough to compete with big markets like China, India and the West ... It is logical that we have to position Singapore as a central part of the entire South-east Asia. If you want a successful future, we have to sell South-east Asia as a whole and not national, small markets. And Singapore, as the smallest place, is even more obliged to play this game."

Though controversial, his concerns are founded. On the one hand, they are clearly a response to criticism he faced when he expanded the Art Stage brand to Jakarta this year. Detractors cried foul because they felt that Art Stage - despite being a private entity - owed its existence to Singapore whose government helped fund its initial years.

Market voices on:

On the other hand, nothing Mr Rudolf said about the problems faced by galleries, Gillman Barracks and art institutions is untrue. Art sales have been slow in 2016. Visitor turnout at art events and exhibitions are lower than hoped for, despite several high-quality shows.

The November Edition of the Affordable Art Fair saw sale figures drop to S$3 million from last year's S$3.9 million. But its 25 per cent slide is small compared to what some independent galleries are citing for 2016 - anywhere between 30 to 45 per cent.

Globally, the year has been a turbulent one. In auctions, many sales in London and New York saw a drop in results, even though works by Basquiat and Monet received record-high bids. More galleries have closed amid a challenging environment. Looking ahead, there are indications of 2017 being the year of recovery, such as the post-election global stocks rally, the crude oil rise, and China's strong autumn auction results.

Nonetheless, a few gallerists think that art-buying in Singapore will not pick up substantially in 2017. One gallerist noted: "There's still too few serious art collectors in Singapore, and not enough respect for the arts on the whole. I agree with Lorenzo (Rudolf) that Singapore needs to plug itself into the larger region, and that can perhaps be done through more cross-border collaborations and partnerships ... But for now I'm worried about keeping the gallery afloat for another year."