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How to Navigate an Art Fair: Expert Advice

This week kicks off with a series of art events in Singapore, the largest of which is the opening of the Singapore Biennale. Art is literally going to be everywhere, and there’s honestly no better time to shop for a new piece for your home or personal collection.

While you can’t buy art at a Biennale, you certainly can at an art fair, and this coming weekend, the 10th edition of the Affordable Art Fair (AAF) will be taking place at the F1 Pit Building.

If you’re not sure about how to navigate an event like the AAF, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we speak to four art world experts to get an insider’s view on how best to enjoy an art fair.

1. The Established Artist

Andy Yang

Artist Andy Yang wears many hats as a fine artist, musician, illustrator, devoted family man, and all-round cool guy. He’s been a practicing artist for 18 years and you can find his work in both institutional and private collections.

To Andy, art fairs are “like a massive life-size search engine browser,” where one can find “almost every style of artwork from any genre.”

However, he suggests that visitors do some homework on which galleries and artists to visit before attending, as the “sheer volume of work available can be quite intimidating to cover in just (a few) days.”

Andy’s particularly well-known for his abstract works, but since such works are often the hardest to comprehend, we asked him for some advice on how an art newbie might begin to understand a work like this one:

Born of Fire

Andy urges the viewer to “try to look beyond the image.”

Random markings are often more than what they appear to be, and the composition of forms and colours can take years of crafting before the artist achieves a state of being “able to reach out and touch someone” with his or her work.

“It may sound clichéd,” Andy explains, “but the works have to speak to you.”

(If this work speaks to you, you can find Andy’s art at Booth 3C-17 at the AAF, where he will be showing his work with the inimitable Marjorie Chu of Art Forum)

2. The Academic

Jeffrey Say

Academic Jeffrey Say knows a thing or two about teaching art.

He’s the Programme Leader of the MA Asian Art Histories at LASALLE College of the Arts, which has the distinction of being the first such degree programme in any tertiary institution worldwide, to focus on Asian modern and contemporary art. He also regularly teaches popular short courses on Southeast Asian and Western art history, which are open to members of the public.

When we asked Jeffrey about the best way to learn about art in the context of an art fair, his frank response was that if art goers would like to have a more historical understanding of the arts, then a museum like the National Gallery Singapore would be a good learning platform.

However, he explains that “what art fairs offer that museums and art galleries don’t, is the opportunity to talk to artists about their works.”

“Some artists are present at art fairs and my advice is to take this opportunity to talk to them about their works. Unlike art galleries and museums that can seem rather inhospitable at times, art fairs have a convivial atmosphere in which artists and even art dealers are often willing to share information about the works on display.”

Jeffrey also shared that art fairs usually include talks and forums, in which curators, collectors, dealers, and artists are invited to speak.

In his view, “this is another excellent way to gain first-hand insight into the art scene and be educated about the arts.”

3. The Up-and-Coming Artist

You might have read about artist Zestro Leow in our recent feature here.

Zestro is also a finalist in the AAF’s prestigious Young Talent Programme and echoes Jeffrey’s thoughts that art fairs are a good place to speak to artists in person.

He goes so far as to say that “the worst thing (to do at a fair) would be to meet the artwork but not the artist!”

In Zestro’s opinion, visitors should always speak to artists whenever possible and should not feel shy to express their thoughts with the artist present, as this allows a viewer to understand what the artwork is about, more clearly.

He recommends that one should “always try to ‘read’ a painting or a 3-dimensional art piece.”

“Look for clues where you can understand or relate to the artwork.”

It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Seah Tzi-Yan, Director of THEO Arts, and Programme Curator of the AAF’s Young Talent Programme.

“Learn to ask useful questions that will enable you to understand the art more deeply,” she advises.

In her view, questions relating to why or when or how an artist started work on a particular art piece, or regarding other earlier works which may have been produced, can be of particular relevance.

And what about Zestro’s own work?

His sculptures revolve around the idea of using the Shinto shrine as a motif for investigating the nature of human belief, and he reimagines these shrines as a form of spacecraft, in order to reflect his personal fantasies of an escape from the mundane:

Time Paradox, 2018
Time Paradox, 2018

Zestro explains, “each of the chrome polished works in my current series is designed to look as though they are in the midst of taking off towards an unknown destination, with ignition smoke flaring at their base. I believe that this desire for escape and adventure is a very human one. Every one of us has things that hold us back, and things that we want to let go of but cannot. The shrine is a vessel that signifies our hopes for escape from these burdens.”

(If you’d like to join Zestro on his fantastical journeys, his work can be found at the AAF Young Talent Programme Booth,  Booth 1 of the fair. As he’s instructed, make sure you give him your honest opinion about his sculptures!)

4. The Fair Director

Alan Koh

Alright, alright, we know.

Asking the Fair Director of the AAF for his views on the actual fair—it smacks a bit of kelong doesn’t it? But you know what, Alan’s worked in art for over a decade, and is himself a savvy collector and respected player in the local arts scene.

(In any event, we saved our most difficult question for him!)

One common perception that people have about art is that good art is typically expensive. This line of thinking arguably harks back to historical notions of art, where for example, European Renaissance painters would be engaged to work on special commissions from wealthy patrons. The works which emerged were very much goods of ostentation designed to shock and awe and which were inaccessible to most.

In response to the query as to whether ‘affordable’ art is art which is cheap, and therefore of poor quality, Koh throws down the gauntlet and urges the public “to come down to the fair to see for themselves.”

“Our mission,” he explains, “is to break the myth that art is inaccessible and that you cannot get high-quality contemporary art at an affordable price point.”

Fighting words indeed!

But Koh (for want of a better metaphor) puts his money where his mouth is, citing the example of well-known artist MOJOKO, who’s collaborating with the fair this year to celebrate its 10th  year in Singapore. This collaboration will see five specially designed silkscreen prints costing S$100 each and will involve the artist working with the buyer to create the work onsite.

To those who remain unconvinced, Alan issues this challenge:

“How often do you get to tell your friends you created a stunning print with a well-known artist, at $100?”

Pivoting away from hyper-capitalistic notions of art appreciation, Alan’s key pieces of advice for fair-goers includes an exhortation to simply “trust your instincts.”

His parting words: “If you find yourself still thinking about a certain piece as you walk through the fair, you know you’ve found your fit. Trust your taste and buy art that makes you feel happy every time you see it!”

We can certainly agree with that!


The Affordable Art Fair opens to the public on Friday 22 November and runs till 24 November. Get your tickets here.

This article is produced in paid partnership with the Affordable Art Fair. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.
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