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Emphasizing a strong Asian identity among the global audiences
“Underneath Singapore’s largest casino at the Marina Bay Sands, the best in Asian contemporary art was on display. Welcome to Art Stage Singapore. The snobbiest of regulars on the art-fair circuit might be a little put-out that the new contemporary art fair was taking place in the basement of a giant mall. Critics conceded, however, that it could certainly hold its own…”

The above observation in The Wall street Journal report sums up the huge success that Art Stage Singapore has been in its debut year. The international art fair staged last month, was a huge success. It showcased the most exciting of Asian artistic and visual creativity. The scintillating show, focusing on the very best of the Asia Pacific and the region’s most promising emerging artists, brought together dealers, collectors and art professionals from East and the West.

It showcased art in a historical context by comprising the best of Asian modern art presented by specialists. The event brought together region’s top galleries along with some European contemporary pieces. It displayed works in an artistic context through a series of special projects and well-thought curated presentations. To most prominent international gallerists and collectors, Hong Kong has already emerged as Asia’s arts hub. Art HK, Hong Kong’s annual art fair, drew 46,000 visitors, up a whopping 60% from 2009. Singapore’s biggest fair until now, ARTSingapore, attracted 12,000. If international art collectors opt to attend only one art fair in Asia, Singapore may lose out, many experts think. They have been proved wrong, for now!

Off its fair grounds, the organizers assiduously worked with many art industry partners on off-beat educational programs, including a large-scale museum show of spectacular Asian contemporary masterpieces brought from top private collections. It was organized by the Singapore Art Museum. This superb collectors exhibition alongside the fair gave an opportunity to see a representative selection of significant works by some of Asia’s most critically acclaimed contemporary artists, such as Ai Wei Wei, Shen Shaomin, Zeng Fanzhi, Liu Wei (China), Agus Suwage (Indonesia), Nam June Paik (Korea), Yoshitomo Nara (Japan), apart from Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, TV Santhosh and LN Tallur from India.

The Marina Bay Sands hotel-casino hosted Art Stage Singapore, inviting more than 100 galleries from 18 countries, mostly from the Asia-Pacific region, including Seven Art Limited, New Delhi; Arushi Arts, Delhi; The Guild Art, Mumbai; LATITUDE 28, Delhi; Gallery Maskara, Mumbai; Nature Morte, Delhi/ Berlin; Nitanjali Art Gallery, Delhi; Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore/ Chennai; Shrine Empire Gallery, Delhi; and Volte, Mumbai – add a dash of Indian flavor to the showcase. Special lectures on Asian contemporary art were arranged for collectors and wealthy potential buyers. Project Stage, a comprehensive curated platform, was dedicated to cutting edge artists and innovative art spaces on the Asia Pacific art scene. It was aimed at discovering the next big emerging artists and galleries from the region, so that they could engage with the international art scene. Fariba Alam, Samanta Batra Mehta, Ranbir Kaleka, Sonia Mehra, Vijai Patchineelam, Rajesh Ram and T. Venkanna rounded off the Indian participation.

The art fair, in the works for nearly a year, is the brainchild of Lorenzo Rudolf, a former director of Art Basel and one of the masterminds behind the hugely successful Art Basel Miami Beach fair. The government first approached him with the idea in the 1990s, but he then refused, believing the market wasn’t fully ready. Now, he sees a tremendous scope for growth, especially from investors in China, Indonesia and India. Particularly, the Southeast Asian market is hot, he observes.

The explosion of contemporary art as a new form of investment, lifestyle and status symbol has had profound impact on Asia’s rise in prominence on the world stage. However, Asia still remains fragmented with several individual and insular art markets –Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China and India. On the other hand, the open art scenes in Europe and the US serve as an integrated community of artists, collectors and gallerists. According to Mr. Rudolf, these fragmented Asia Pacific markets need to be brought together. He mentions: “Singapore has a clear vision to become a leading Asian hub for the global contemporary art scene and the goal in the next five years is to be the leading art fair in the sub-continent and a key event on the world calendar. In five to six years, Art Stage Singapore will be one of the top shows in the world.”

At a broader level, he feels the Asian market and the Southeast Asian art scene are currently limited by industry and market infrastructure, with few opportunities to access an international audience. They need to be able to compete with the international art scene and art market. as that is the only way for them to become an international success. Clearly, he is striving to project Singapore as the ideal destination and the perfect meeting place for art enthusiasts. Well-positioned in terms of its strategic location, stability and infrastructure, the city-state is determined to become a leading arts destination. The government is investing heavily in key market infrastructure including new, upcoming museums. This year, the venue drew attention from the art world for a new state-of-the-art storage facility called FreePort where collectors can sell and store their art at attractive tax rates.

But to build Singapore’s reputation and credibility as a thriving regional arts hub, it’s still some way to go. For example, it still doesn’t have a prominent auction scene, considered an integral aspect of any arts city. Some smaller auction houses do hold sales here, but the big ones like Sotheby’s and Christie’s in recent years have consolidated their Southeast Asian art base in Hong Kong. But then Basel, the Swiss town of the world-famous Art Basel fair also lacks an auction market, the diehard Singapore supporters point out.

So New Delhi, Mumbai, Hong Kong and Shanghai better watch out! Singapore is coming and catching up, fast…