With the onslaught of events that Singapore Art Week brings, January always proves to be a hectic month for us art enthusiasts. While 2023 is no different, the shiny new event that many of us remain curious about is the inaugural edition of ART SG.
ART SG was first announced in 2019 with the ambition to be Southeast Asia’s leading art fair, but it experienced numerous delays and postponements over the years, before finally launching in 2023. Some might argue that was for the better, as the first edition of ART SG comes in swinging with a tremendous lineup of over 150 galleries.
But how does the fair hope to set itself apart, what’s the appeal of Singapore as a host city, and perhaps most importantly, what can we expect from it?
Coming full circle
Answering our questions today is ART SG Fair Director Shuyin Yang. While art fair veterans might recognise Yang from her previous role as Fair Director of Art Central Hong Kong (which is now Art Basel Hong Kong), she began her career in the art world as an Associate Specialist at Christie’s Singapore, before joining the ranks of Sundaram Tagore Gallery as Associate Director.
Such a unique cocktail of experiences allowed her to not only understand everything from the provenance of artworks, and primary and secondary markets, to handling and framing, but also work directly with creators and artists — furthering her understanding of practitioners’ viewpoints and cultural production in the region. But perhaps the cherry on top was gaining firsthand experience in participating in art fairs as a gallery.
“You learn from the client’s perspective what is important for them to achieve when they participate in an art fair, what are their expectations, what they hope to get out of it, and how best to serve our exhibitors,” she explained.
She believed that these experiences provided valuable perspectives when she joined Art Central Hong Kong. “I think it helped me to refine the communications we had with exhibitors and galleries and try to understand and even anticipate what they need and best to support them,” she continued.
For Yang, the joy of establishing ART SG is “coming full circle.” Hailing from the Little Red Dot herself and having seen how interconnected the global art scenes are, Yang asserted that “it’s incredibly important to support the Singapore ecosystem, its galleries and artists who have been doing such good work.”
The appeal of Singapore and Southeast Asia
ART SG was initially conceptualised to be a hub fair for the entire region of Southeast Asia. But what made the fair dedicate itself to Singapore?
On top of being a gateway to Southeast Asia, Yang enthused that “Singapore has so many factors to recommend it, such as its infrastructure, financial hub, rich museum and gallery scene.” Singapore galleries also boast international principles and programming that draws on Southeast Asia, Asia Pacific, or Austro-Asia. Coupled with the rich museum scene, Singapore made for a solid foundation to establish an international art fair.
The ease of access in navigating Singapore, paired with its hospitality, made for an even stronger case. She laughed, “Many of the visitors coming in are also going, ‘where’s my next meal? How am I going to time heading to the fair and getting my food fix?’”
Another major factor in setting up the fair was the fact that Southeast Asia is home to one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Comprised of ten different countries, Yang noted that the region has a lot to offer, with each country playing different roles. She expounded,
“Many of them are strong in collecting and experiencing strong economic growth. Some might not be as strong in terms of personal wealth and collecting but they are very rich in art production.”
Yang also added that galleries had also begun to see the value proposition of Singapore, noting that they saw Singapore as “a base to reach out to the rest of Southeast Asia and other parts of Asia to do business, [which] made a lot of sense to them.”
Bridging the international and regional
But we’re curious: how might an art fair juggle representing both the international and regional art scenes?
Yang asserted that it was all about balance. “What we always hope to achieve is a well-balanced exhibitor list which puts forward something for everyone, ranging from established collectors who are very familiar with the art collecting landscape,” she commented.
And it’s this striking range of participating galleries that positions the fair as one to look out for. While the fair will boast leading blue-chip names Gagosian, Pace, and White Cube, it also features galleries from China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Southeast Asia.
Those familiar with the regional art scene will recognise names such as Bandung-based ArtSociates, The Drawing Room from Manila, and Vin Gallery from Ho Chi Minh City.
“Keeping in mind that we are grounded in the region, it was important to have substantial showcases of Southeast Asian art,” Yang posits. “We have solos to two artists to booth shows, young galleries, and also international galleries that represent Southeast Asian artists, so there’s a good diversity of Southeast Asia work represented across different practices, galleries, and models.”
This sense of camaraderie in representing the region is also reflected in its relationship with S.E.A. Focus, which also runs in January. Overlaps in audiences and galleries don’t seem to phase ART SG, with Yang explaining that a number of galleries participating in ART SG will also show in S.E.A. Focus and that each fair will offer reciprocal tours of the other.
“Singapore galleries have the advantage of having spaces here as well so they can have different curations at their own spaces, ART SG, and S.E.A. Focus,” Yang continued. “We encourage them to think about what gives them the best possible positioning and let the artists benefit from this.”
Commenting on the presence of both nearly concurrent fairs, she elucidated,
“We think that with both platforms stimulating the landscape, there is definitely space for both to co-exist. At the end of the day, Singapore Art Week is all about showcasing Singapore and Southeast Asian galleries to their best advantage.”
What to look out for
Fair visitors will notice that it’s split into numerous sections. There’s the typical ‘GALLERIES’ format will have galleries showcase multiple works and practices across the spectrum and ‘FOCUS’, which was created for galleries to bring audiences on a deeper journey with their artists, in the form of solo, two-artist, or even tightly curated group shows.
On top of these sections, there’s ‘FUTURES’, which will function as a “supportive space for young galleries” under six years old and showcase emerging artists while ‘REFRAME’ will showcase art in digital formats, including NFTs.
Yang also mentioned that there will be another section called ‘NEW/NOW’, created with new buyers in mind. The exhibition will be salon-style, featuring works submitted by the galleries and priced under USD $10,000.
“It’s great for galleries because they get to showcase a young artist or established artist working in small formats or alternative mediums, for new art lovers or art buyers to come and see a huge range of works that they could potentially buy for [that price range] or under,” she explained.
Speaking of reactions to the fair, Yang commented that she believes collectors from the region will respond to the fair in varied ways, thanks to different cultural backgrounds. Yang remarked,
“There is so much inclination to mention Southeast Asia as one homogenous entity when it’s not. We have collectors from Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia from all age ranges and different backgrounds so I think they are all going to respond very differently. This will create chemistry between the diversity of the galleries and also the diversity of the visitors.”
Yang also noted that audiences from Singapore tend to be less scared of the presence of technology in art, thanks to the country’s strong tech industry. “They’re very interested to engage with it and curious about screen-based art or art that doesn’t exist in a physical sense,” she continued, touching on collectors who, as a result of working in the sector, already have tech-related knowledge and are keen to see how art is produced and presented in relation to technology.
Summing up how the fair considers collectors, Yang said, “Collectors are deeply interested and curious about a lot of things, so that’s why we wanted to set up a fair that had different sectors and curations, because we know that there is an appetite to really investigate different spaces, mediums, and artists.”
ART SG will run from 12 – 15 January at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Plural Art Mag is proud to be a media partner of ART SG, click here to get your tickets.