Art Stage Singapore 2018 Review: An Emerging Market in Search of Scene


After years of living and working in the New York art world, Isa Lorenzo of Silver Lens Galleries in Manila said she went back home to the Philippines and “found nothing” resembling an art scene. “And I thought—that is where I want to start. It was a carte blanche.”



Like many other markets in Southeast Asia, the art market here is an emerging one. Yet on VIP preview night at Art Stage Singapore, where the white walls of over 80 stalls were filled with art from 38 cities across the world, a crowd of collectors and connoisseurs waited impatiently outside the doors. One got the sense that, like the hasty weather the region is known for, a gust was beginning to stir.



By the end of the evening, tables were strewn with empty champagne flutes and red stickers dotted the corners of pieces sold before opening day. The big question hovered over the room: Would the pulse of this year’s show be more robust than the last?



Final figures aren’t in yet, but Lorenzo Rudolf, the founder and director of Art Stage and former director of Art Basel, said that he is neither optimistic or pessimistic about the show’s impact, but realistic about what needs to happen for Art Stage to grow—“First, Singapore needs to become an art scene,” he said.



The largest obstacle to the development of the Southeast Asian art market is the lack of infrastructure. Since the first Art Stage Singapore opened its doors eight years ago, the numbers of participating galleries have fluctuated and even declined over the years for the precise reason that the fair is trying to operate in an ecosystem that isn’t fully developed yet.



Rudolf believes that what the region sorely needs is an integrated market, connecting artists, gallerists and collectors across national boundaries. Bridging the divides of the current “very fragmented market,” he said, is one of the central objectives of Art Stage.



He explained, “When collectors start out, they collect what they know.” And for that to happen, there needs to be local art for them to buy up. For example, in Singapore, despite a large concentration of high-net-worth individuals (152,000 millionaires in 2017, according to a Credit Suisse report, with a forecast of 34,000 new millionaires minted between 2015 to 2020), the high cost of living prohibits local art production. Thailand, on the other hand, has an abundance of young artists, but few local collectors to purchase their works and sustain their careers (Thailand’s GDP per capita was under $6,000 in 2016).



Across the region, there is also a dearth of serious art critics to drive a broad artistic discourse and push artists to innovate and improve upon their crafts. “Young artists need to hear those things, but there’s nobody to tell them,” said Carla Bianpoen, author of the book “Indonesian Women Artists: The Curtain Opens.



A considerable number of galleries at Art Stage this year represent emerging artists. Reflecting on the last 14 years of building up Silver Lens Galleries in the Philippines, Isa Lorenzo commented, “We are trying to build the bones.”



There are definitely growing pains associated with learning the logistics of the market. Serge Tiroche of Tiroche DeLeon, the first internationally recognized private collection and art fund to collaborate with Art Stage Singapore, said in a discussion at the Southeast Asia Forum there, “It’s fun buying art in emerging markets, but then you have to ship it. We would get wildly different quotes, and often gallerists didn’t understand the issue of taxation. It will take time, but improvements in logistics will really improve the industry.”



For the Singaporean collector Teng Jee Hum, whose collection includes more than 1,000 pieces from Singaporean and Asian artists, the crisis in Southeast Asian art runs deeper. It is not a lack of logistical know-how that holds the region’s art scene back, but a lack of coherent stories. “We are an old civilization with thousands of years of history,” he declared on a curated tour of pieces from his collection. “We can compete with Western art, but we need to create our own narratives.”



The last scene of Chikako Yamashiro’s art film “Mud Man,” which won the 2017 Warehouse Terrada Asian Art Award and was screened at Art Stage Singapore, takes place in a field. Hands suddenly sprout from the earth, with fingers trembling upward and palms beginning to clap ecstatically. The Southeast Asian art world, too, has risen from the soil, but is still in search of its own rhythm.








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