News Update
10. Juni 2011
The Business Times
Cheah Ui-Hoon
Galleries think BIG
Two art galleries opening within weeks of each other, by dealers formerly based in Europe and New York City respectively, signals that Singapore galleries are gearing up for the big league, reports CHEAH UI-HOON
Collectors Contemporary stages up to nine exhibitions and fair participations a year featuring the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Daniel Buren, Gottfried Helnwein and artists like Chris Levine and Russell Young whom it represents exclusively in the region.
WITH four floors of gallery space for art - or 12,000 sq ft - as well as a handful of designer furniture, Art Plural Gallery's proposition to Singapore art collectors is an ambitious one.
Owners Frederic and Carole de Senarclens moved from Geneva in 2008, worked for a private and exclusive art gallery here for a while before they eventually opened their own gallery last week.
Just less than a month prior, New York City-based art dealer Ikkan Sanada also opened his business here, Ikkan Art Gallery, with a big bang - with an art show of 50 museum-quality works, worth S$60 million. The highest-priced works are those by the American drip-meister Jackson Pollock at US$8 million (S$9.8 million), and Andy Warhol's can of Black Bean Soup at US$9 million.
The Art Plural Gallery opening last Thursday saw a good crowd of more than 400 guests, and while Mr Sanada may not have sold the Jackson Pollock work yet, he did have a few buyers and simply a lot of visitors who trooped in to see works by Matisse, Pollock, Warhol, Ai Wei Wei and Damien Hirst - the likes of which Singapore hadn't seen before.
Are art collectors in Singapore now ready for the big league - or at rather, the international league - where buying art is concerned? All this while, Asian, South-east Asian and Singapore artists have been the main feature in Singapore galleries, but with key events like Art Stage earlier this year, and with international art dealers setting up shop here, the market looks primed to enter a different phase.
These two art business owners certainly think it's about time Singapore saw some serious action where international art is concerned, while collectors are heralding more globally minded art selections and more professional services.
Mr de Senarclens, 40, had worked for prominent art dealers in Switzerland before running his own gallery in Geneva from 2005 to 2008.
He and his wife were drawn to Singapore because of its liveability and the ease of doing business, plus they could see all the government efforts being put into the arts, such as its bid to attract international galleries and dealers, building up the museums, promoting public art projects, encouraging the development of the Singapore FreePort and such.
'We also wanted to move to Asia and we felt Singapore was the right place,' he says, adding that they considered Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing but decided that Singapore presented the most interesting opportunities. 'We were attracted by Singapore's central position in South-East Asia.'
Art Plural Gallery will focus on high-end Modern, Contemporary Art and Design, and for its opening show, Avant Premiere, it has brought in multidisciplinary works by artists like Marc Quinn and Damien Hirst (both of them YBAs, or Young British Artists who graduated in the late 1980s), Doug and Mike Starn (whose Big Bambu series was first featured on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last year) and Indian contemporary artists Thukral and Tagra, Rina Banerjee (currently featured at the Musee Guimet in Paris).
Broader base for visual art
They have a Singapore-based artist in mind, but at the end of the day, it's not the nationality of the artist that should matter, Mrs Audergon says.
Khor Kim Huat, 43, who has been collecting art for about seven years, is excited at the prospects that Ikkan Art Gallery is bringing to art collectors. 'We're talking about works that the usual art enthusiast may not have access to,' he notes.
'I was lucky to have been able to buy a work from the gallery before it had its official opening - which I thought was affordably priced - so sometimes it's a matter of luck as I happened to be there at the right time,' says Mr Khor.
Of course, the calibre of works brought in by art galleries here have improved over the years, in tandem with growing demand. Collectors Contemporary, for one, was established in 2007 specifically to accommodate the lack of availability of Western contemporary art in the Singapore market, says Gary Sng, its director.
'As long-time collectors of the genre, we realised early that it was impossible to gain access to these works, especially art by masters and established artists of the Contemporary and Pop genre in this region,' he notes.
In the span of four years, its collector and viewer base has increased tremendously. 'I find that there is a more rounded sense of appreciation of artists because now we have works from beyond just the China/Southeast Asian region; offering much more than what Singapore had been so accustomed to. This broader representation of the visual arts and its resultant availability has moved Singapore closer in line with more mature art markets around the world,' says Mr Sng.
Collectors Contemporary stages up to nine exhibitions and fair participations a year featuring the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Daniel Buren, Gottfried Helnwein and artists like Chris Levine and Russell Young whom it represents exclusively in the region.
'We also present compelling and provocative works by mid-career and emerging artists, and this is what we plan to continue to do,' says Mr Sng, a collector himself.
Singapore's corporate collectors also have been ahead of their time when it comes to collecting international artists - companies like Pontiac Land which were early collectors of Lichtenstein and Stella for its hotel and office projects - so it's not like Singapore art buyers are only playing catch up now.
But recent projects like The Singapore FreePort have really made a difference, thinks Veronica Howe, chief arts consultant (business development) at arts consultancy One East Asia International Art Group.
The Singapore FreePort's presence is ramping up Singapore's feasibility as an arts hub, she thinks. 'Since Singapore's FreePort made its presence here, it has created ripples of 'positive' effect - causing the West to look here.
'Many international auction houses are turning to China for buyers - this is proven with many record breaking prices fetched at auctions and acquired by the Chinese. But this also means Chinese buyers are also interested in Western art - leading galleries like Ben Brown Fine Arts and Gagosian to set up luxurious gallery spaces in Hong Kong's Central district.' MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) Ltd, a MCH group company and organiser of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, has also inked a deal to co-present Art HK 2012.
'It shows where wealth is today - in Asia - for the next five years at least. Almost by default, Singapore is getting the spillover from Hong Kong. But this will eventually help in maturing Singapore's art market,' notes the Singapore-based consultant.
Taking note of the demand for art, global interior design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates , which has an office in Singapore, recently launched its arts consultancy arm as a standalone business unit - clearly with the view that the arts consultancy business can find a niche here.
Canvas Art - with offices in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Hong Kong - is HBA's newly integrated global art affiliate which looks at the whole process of procuring art for hospitality. 'Our art consultancy was previously just part and parcel of the HBA business, but we're now launching an individual identity to cater to other aspects of the market other than just hospitality,' says Sandra de Souza, director of Canvas Singapore.
'We wanted to expand and it's a good time to do it - especially now in Asia. The art side of things have now become pretty established,' she adds, citing its projects at Carlton Hotel at Bras Basah and The Ascott as recent clients.
'For the Carlton Hotel, we gave them our recommendations for artists and the galleries so they could negotiate directly with them, and we also guided where the works will be placed,' she explains. HBA has done more showrooms however, than hotel projects in Singapore.
Good news, but not all corporates are clued in to actual art prices, as one local artist has found out, to his dismay. A Singapore-based artist shared how a Singapore hotel group had asked to see his photographic prints for their hotel project, but they were prepared to pay only 1 per cent of his asking price and seemed quite surprised at the price of original art.
So, the galleries and dealers may come, but it looks like the Singapore market still has room to grow into becoming patrons of the international and local art market.

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