Art Stage Singapore: Highlighting the best local artists

Art Stage Singapore: Highlighting the best local artists

Curator Eugene Tan explains how this week's Art Stage Singapore event may just be the breakthrough moment for the Singapore art scene

Eugene TanThis year marks a big year for the arts in Singapore. And this week (January 12-16), the world's eyes turn to the Little Red Dot as top art galleries, collectors and enthusiasts from around the world gather at Marina Bay Sands for prominent Asia-Pacific art fair, Art Stage Singapore, the first art fair of this magnitude in Singapore.

Art critic, art historian and curator of the Singapore platform Eugene Tan -- who is presently the  director of special projects at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) -- tells us why Singapore art needs this push.

CNNGo: What exactly are you doing for Art Stage Singapore?

Eugene Tan: I primarily curated the Singapore platform, an exhibition within Art Stage Singapore for Singapore artists. There are eight artists in the exhibition and the title is "Remaking Art in the Everyday."

I am looking at how artists in Singapore use the everyday as a source of inspiration for their art and am also examining the role of art in the everyday.

The eight artists are Jane Lee, Robert Zhao Renhui, Donna Ong, Ian Woo, Tan Guo Liang, Ming Wong, Heman Chong and Ho Tzu Nyen.

CNNGo: Why these eight Singapore artists?

Tan: They are some of the more interesting and successful artists in Singapore and, more importantly, a lot of them have very established markets. Collectors are already collecting their work -- but sadly not in Singapore.

Singapore galleries don’t know how to sell their works. Even Ming Wong, who won a special mention at the Venice Biennale last year, is represented by a Chinese gallery.

So with Art Stage Singapore we are taking up the challenge to educate galleries and collectors, rather than taking the easy way out.

CNNGo: Where is their artwork being collected then, if not in Singapore?

Tan: In Asia! At Osage in Hong Kong for instance, where I worked for a few years, we worked with prominent Singapore artists who were very well collected by Caucasian collectors, but who in Singapore were a tough sell.

CNNGo: And Art Stage Singapore will help these Singapore artists commercially?

Tan: The aim of the Singapore platform of Art Stage Singapore is to showcase Singapore artists in an international context and also in a commercial context.

I think contemporary art gets shown in Singapore primarily through museums and biennales, which are non-profit platforms. So people here get the impression that contemporary art is not collectible, a perception that Art Stage is helping to change.

CNNGo: Were the works of the Singapore artists shown at Art Stage specially commissioned for this event?

Tan: Yes. Most of the eight artists are making new works for the exhibition. Only two works are not new -– video works by Ming Wong and Tzu Nyen, but they fit very well in the whole theme of the exhibition.

I was given two to three months to pull the Singapore platform together and for video artists this is very little time to make new works. Jane Lee is making three new paintings, Donna Ong is making a new body of work comprising installation and sculpture, Ian Woo is making some new paintings, and Zhao Renhui -– he won the Young Artist Award in 2010 –- is creating a new body of work as well.

CNNGo: Tell us a bit about the works

Tan: Zhao Renhui’s work is very interesting. He is presenting photographs based on changing migratory patterns of birds. He found out that migratory birds have been getting all confused and are flying north instead of south for the winter.

One theory is that global warming has altered the magnetic fields of the world, which is disorienting birds. Zhao then worked with a few scientists to attach pinhole cameras to some birds and the photographic images in his artwork are the result of this.

And another artist who will be presenting something very interesting is Tan Guo Liang, who has never had a show in Singapore. He examines painting, by painting pictures of flowers.

If you present that in a normal exhibition it gets totally misunderstood -- he gets dismissed as a Sunday painter -- but [when] presented on the context of artists doing other interesting things with art then it makes sense.

CNNGo: What kind of prices do Singapore artworks fetch compared to those from the region?

Tan: Artists with more established markets fetch comparable prices. So a painting by Jane Lee, for example, who was shown at the Singapore Biennale and has been in big exhibitions, goes for US$20,000-30,000 (S$25,900-S$38,850). Most contemporary art sells between US$10,000-US$50,000 (S$12,950-S$64,760).

CNNGo: How does your work for Art Stage Singapore fit in with your role as director for special projects at EDB?

Tan: EDB wants me to help them develop Gillman Village into a center for international art. To do that we have to bring in international galleries and use that to draw in collectors, which will in turn draw in the more commercial platforms as well.

Art Stage Singapore does the same; it’s part of the same art ecosystem. All key components of the ecosystem have to be functioning in order for the whole thing to grow. If one of them isn’t quite functioning the whole system won’t grow.

CNNGo: Singapore relies on foreign art consumers but how often are they willing to come to here?

Tan: That’s the situation that Hong Kong is in. It is currently the art marketplace in Asia, primarily through Art Hong Kong and also the auctions.

But this means the activity there is very seasonal, galleries don’t see the point of having an ongoing space when all they need to be in Hong Kong are during these key times.

What we want to build in Singapore is a sustainable marketplace -- to have galleries here with activities and exhibitions all year round.

CNNGo: Can Singapore give the Hong Kong art scene a run for its money?

Tan: The art world is shifting gradually to Asia. Art Hong Kong is already doing so well, and is there definitely space for another art fair.

If you went to Art Hong Kong this year you would have seen very little art from parts of Asia outside China. Art Stage Singapore can become the Asian fair.

CNNGo: Art Stage Singapore itself sounds ambitious and also very promising.

Tan: I think it’ll be successful because strong galleries and collectors are coming. And these two elements are critical to the success of an art fair. And the fact that a general audience gets to see international art is a big plus for Singapore.

Art Stage Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre, Basement 2, Halls D, E & F
January 12 to 16
Tickets at S$10 to S$60 at the venue