The past few months have seen an influx of newcomers to the Singapore art scene, ranging from established international galleries, brand-new local galleries, and notable practitioners from abroad.
With the world opening up after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Singapore government’s dedication to expanding the local arts scene, and the movement of affluent Chinese to the city-state, these arrivals have piqued our interest. Why have they settled here, what are they looking to achieve, and what might this mean for the future of Singapore’s art scene? Read on to find out.
New Galleries, New Audiences
It’s been a hot minute since a new local gallery popped up and claiming this fame is Not gallery, founded by Lim Hong Wei. He spent a few years working at a local art gallery which helped him to understand the local art market and traditional galleries.
Founded fairly recently in November 2022, the gallery’s website announced that it embodies “the simple conviction that the visual arts scene in Singapore is no longer the ‘cultural wasteland’”—echoing infamous laments that Singapore was a “cultural desert” post-World War Two.
While Lim acknowledges the development of Singapore’s arts scene since then, he still believes that there are pertinent discussions to be had about the role of the arts in Singapore.
“With evolving artistic practices, it is also important to showcase how Singapore’s art scene is current, progressive, and changing with the times. Not gallery believes that there is room for innovation and growth in the local art market to continue nurturing and showcasing our evolving cultural landscape,” he explained, before adding that “there is always room for improvement and evolution.”
Not gallery is fiercely dedicated to showcasing works by Singapore artists—be it established or emerging practitioners. Online, you’ll find a list of works at various price points available for purchase, followed by a transparent price list. The majority of the works start at a few hundred dollars, while works by more established artists, such as Lim Tze Peng and Ong Kim Seng, are priced in the tens of thousands.
Showcasing exclusively Singapore artists allows the gallery “to shine a spotlight on the diverse and dynamic art scene in the country as well as give emerging artists an opportunity to showcase their art.”
Lim also hopes that the gallery’s inclusion of different price points will make art accessible to a wider audience.
He believes that the gallery’s position as the new kid on the block allows it to “embrace new technologies and ideas, and connect with a younger, more tech-savvy audience.”
Lim only began thinking of opening a gallery last year when he was learning about NFTs on his own to acquaint himself with digital means of showcasing artworks. He’s particularly inspired by larger concepts of transparency from the NFT world, such as artist resale royalties, the ease of tracking provenance, and the primacy accorded to the artists’ individual branding.
This is reflected in how Not gallery openly shares its commission rates: fifteen per cent for young artists and twenty per cent for collectors. At the moment, Lim has found this pricing to be sustainable, compared to market standard commission rates that we understand are usually closer to fifty per cent. He says that operating with this rate is possible due to the gallery’s streamlined operations and careful inventory management.
Noting how people have grown to embrace digital purchasing platforms during the pandemic, Lim has also included an art-purchasing platform on the gallery’s website. With the entire gallery’s inventory being put online, customers will be able to access all the works available on their own instead of approaching the gallery for personalised recommendations; a more traditional sales method that Lim mentions “takes up a lot of time and resources.”
The gallery is also mindful of managing its inventory to “save both cost and time,” ensuring that artworks aren’t brought into the gallery unless required for a sale or an exhibition, thus allowing for the gallery’s lower commission rates.
On the flip side, an international gallery has also touched down in Singapore. Founded by Kevin Poon, WOAW Gallery boasts two galleries in Hong Kong and one in Beijing. Most recently, the brand has landed in Singapore, with a slick shophouse location in Ang Siang Hill—which is also home to Maxwell Hawker Centre, Poon’s favourite place to eat in Singapore.
The gallery kicked off its programming during Singapore Art Week, with a booth at the inaugural edition of ART SG and a snazzy exhibition opening boasting international contemporary art, trendy cocktails, and a pot full of caviar.
Over email, Poon told us more about his decision to branch out to Singapore, noting how the city’s “vibrant arts and cultural scene, combined with its strategic location and growing art market” make it “the perfect location.. to showcase artists and engage with new audiences.”
In light of Hong Kong’s reopening for tourism, I asked Poon for his thoughts on comparisons between Singapore and Hong Kong and their longstanding perceived competition to be the region’s art capital.
“It’s not a matter of competition, but rather a collaboration between the two cities that can benefit the entire region,” he explained, noting each city’s unique strengths and contributions to the art world.
Keen to emphasise the sense of collaboration, rather than rivalry, between the cities, Poon drew parallels between his outlook and the title of WOAW Gallery’s inaugural Singapore show Friends and Partners.
“We are from Hong Kong, and we come to Singapore as friends and partners. Ultimately, the art world is a global community, and we are excited to play a part in connecting artists and collectors from all over the world.”
The past few months have also seen prominent individuals from abroad arrive in Singapore and look to make their mark on the local art scene, be it by throwing art appreciation parties or bringing their practices to new audiences.
One such individual is collector-curator-artist Dr. Jie Li-Elbraechter. While she moved to Singapore in 2016 after living in China, Switzerland, London, and Germany, we only managed to meet her late last year, after hearing about a masquerade party-themed art exhibition titled The Mysterious VIP Art Treasure “Stewards” Exhibit, located at a historic black and white bungalow in the Mount Pleasant Road area.
On display were artworks from numerous collectors, and the event was attended by two hundred mask-donning art world insiders as well as collectors from Singapore and China. Attendees were treated to explanations of the artworks on display from their collectors themselves.
“I wanted to host this for a long time, but couldn’t do that because of Covid. I wanted to bring collectors together…to influence the art field in Singapore,” Li-Elbraechter explained.
Her approach to making collectors’ collections accessible is nothing new but remains somewhat of a rarity in Singapore. In her experience, Singapore collectors are more private and don’t tend to share their collections with the public, unlike say, those in Jakarta.
While many collectors might turn to art as a means of long-term investment or a way to support creative communities, Li-Elbraechter has a slightly different philosophical take on the matter. She firmly believes that collectors, such as herself, have the responsibility to help ‘preserve’ and ‘conserve’ artworks in the time that they own them and that they are merely temporary stewards of the work.
“In my life philosophy, I don’t like to collect things. Collecting means that you occupy something for a long time, but preservation refers to a short time [where you take care of it],” she expounded. She believes that it is part of the collectors’ duties to do something with the works that they have–such as sharing it with the public or other collectors–instead of simply hoarding them.
With these unique sentiments in mind, there’s no denying that Li-Elbraechter’s future plans to open exhibitions to the public and collaborate with larger organisations have us intrigued.
Perhaps signalling the growing appeal of Singapore’s cultural and economic status to international practitioners, is the decision of contemporary Chinese artist and beauty pageant queen Wang Yihan to move to Singapore in early 2023. Wang holds various pageant titles, such as the first runner-up of Miss China World (2011); Miss China of the Supercar Queen (2012); Miss China of Miss Intercontinental (2013); and Miss International Hainan (2013)—just to name a few. She embarked on the move after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the postponement of numerous auctions in China where her work was slated to go on sale.
Since learning how to draw at age four, Wang has trained in traditional Chinese ink and expanded to creating acrylic paintings. She’s no stranger to international attention either, with her works being exhibited on behalf of China at the French Paris Art Exhibition in Beijing on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. These days, you’ll find her diverse, acrylic works studded with pop culture references and floral motifs, as an ode to her new home in Singapore.
Since moving to the Lion City, Wang has raised SGD$30,000 in a private auction for the China Red Cross, and La Cura Mobility, a senior care service provider in Singapore. Citing music as a big inspiration in her practice, she has also collaborated with Altenburg Arts to exhibit her art pieces at the Victoria Concert Hall, to accompany American violinist Kevin Zhu’s performance of Paganini’s Caprices.
While some might view her background in beauty pageants as superficial, they have opened up opportunities for Wang’s work to enter the art collections of significant families and individuals, such as the Trump family, the Dubai royal family, the Japanese royal family, as well as the families of French and Thai Prime Ministers.
When we ask what meeting the Trump family while representing China during her pageant days was like, Wang doesn’t hold back, saying that they’re “a bit crazy, but nice!” She recounts her manager introducing her as an artist to the Trump family at a ball organised by Trump and then being asked to create an artwork on the spot.
Right now, Wang is focused on expanding her collector base outside of China and working on new solo exhibitions in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Singapore. Her studio and gallery are open to the public, by appointment only.
What does it all mean?
We reckon that such arrivals herald optimism in the burgeoning local art market, one that’s filled with new perspectives towards art appreciation and collecting. The move of individuals like Li-Elbraechter and Wang to Singapore might also indicate the development of Singapore’s reputation as a viable place for creatives and an increase in new ways in which we interact with the arts, be it through a party or through an artist studio visit. With Not gallery keen on promoting the appreciation of local art through sales transparency and digital platforms, and WOAW Gallery representing a collaboration between Hong Kong and Singapore to benefit the region, we can’t wait to see how they shake our local scene up.
Click here to learn more about Not gallery.
Click here to learn more about WOAW Gallery.
Click here to learn more about Whitestone Gallery.
Click here to learn more about Dr. Jie here.
Click here to learn more about Wang. To visit Wang’s studio, the public can contact Wang’s assistant Cheery Liu at WeChat number 474559549.
Feature image courtesy of WOAW Gallery.