Wandering around Art Stage Singapore 2015

Wandering around Art Stage Singapore 2015

Art Stage Singapore is the largest art fair in Southeast Asia. Founded in 2011, Art Stage Singapore immediate stood out, “kicking” Singapore Art Fair out of the art dealer marketspace. This is the 4th time that Art Stage Singapore is held at Marina Bay Sands that has the most spacious Convention Hall basement, next to the special building designed in the shape of a ship flying into the sky.

Art Stage Singapore 2015 1

Moving beyond the level of other art fairs in the region, Art Stage Singapore is not a simple event where sellers rent booths to attract buyers. In the seemingly endless space of Art Stage, organizers also have platform to show selected works from student competition or curated exhibitions, which are not purely for sales. The Southeast-Asia Exhibition Platform covering an area of approximately 1000 sqm is a guarantee of the organizers not to let the quality of Art Stage Singapore slide towards a mere market-oriented event.

Tác phẩm của Rich Streitmatter-Tran trong khu vực SouthEast Asia Platform
Artwork by Richard Streitmatter-Tran exhibited in the SouthEast Asia Platform
Hoàng Dương Cầm và Quỳnh – chủ nhân của Quỳnh Galerie bên tác phẩm của Hoàng Dương Cầm
Hoang Duong Cam and Quynh, owner of Quynh Galerie, next to the artwork of Hoang Duong Cam

There are many Vietnamese artists invited to participate within the SoutEast Asia Platform such as Hoang Duong Cam, Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi, Do Hoang Tuong, Richard Streitmatter-Tran, etc. There are also a lot of art talks with diverse speakers including artists, art dealers, managers or art collectors. Therefore, the content of these talks covers the most significant issues of the development of contemporary art.

Tác phẩm sắp đặt Jedsada Tantrakulwong (Thái Lan). Anh này cắt các tấm thảm theo hình biên giới của các tỉnh, thành phố được lựa chọn ngẫu nhiên trong khu vực Đông Nam Á. Tác phẩm gợi nên nhiều suy nghĩ về lịch sử phát triển và giao thoa văn hóa của cả vùng, không phân biệt quốc gia lãnh thổ.
Installation by Jedsada Tantrakulwong (Thailand). He cut and combined different carpets following the shape of different provinces and cities in South East Asia. The artwork questions the development of history and cultural mix of the region, with no border between countries.

Of course, Art Stage is still a fair, thus, market forces influence galleries’ decision greatly on what to bring in. However, the general quality of the “market-oriented” works in Art Stage is also very good, as the galleries themselves have been carefully selected by the organizing committee.

Gian hàng của Opera Gallery. Cùng với Art Plural, Opera là một trong hai gallery sang trọng hàng đầu Singapore.
The booth of Opera Gallery, one of the two most luxurious galleries in Singapore

The audience of Art Stage Singapore is quite unique, with a mix of both local and global characteristics. There are many collectors living in Singapore and they are relatively open on deciding what to collect. However, perhaps the organizers of Art Stage Singapore is not only relying on the elite group of this small but prosperous host country. Singapore is also a frequent destination for the tycoons in Southeast Asia, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, where the gap between rich and poor is very large. These “thick-wallet” collectors add a larger demand to the regional art market. However, these group are famous for being “patriotic”, i.e they collect only from their famous home country artists. Of course, Art Stage Singapore also has international clients, who probably bring about expected stable aesthetic, but attracting customers taking long flights to come is never a simple matter. Accepting the “local and global” game, through the natural selection of the market, galleries and art works shown at Art Stage Singapore also change a lot over the years.

Một tác phẩm trông như trình diễn nhưng thực ra lại là điêu khắc cực thực
An artwork looking like an art performance but it is actually an extreme – realism sculpture

Art Stage this year attracts more galleries from Singapore, which is rumored to have been the host government’s suggestion, or naturally to offset the shortfall by European galleries struggling with the economic crisis and governments facing bankruptcy. The Chinese galleries with Mao-Pop artworks no longer dominate as in the first two Art Stages. Perhaps the most stable in quantity is the contribution from Japan and Korea. Japanese galleries bring famous artists like Yayoi Kusama or Kohei Nawa, but this fair we can’t at all find any Murakami.

Một tác phẩm điêu khắc của Hwan Kwon (Hàn Quốc)
Sculpture by Hwan Kwon (South Korea)
Gian hàng của Komada Gallery (Nhật Bản): Một con chuột được nhồi bông và tô vẽ theo hình tượng Pikachu trong loạt phim Pokemon nổi tiếng.
In the booth of Komada Gallery (Japan): a mouse painted as Pikachu in the famous Pokemon cartoon series

It is easy to see at this year’s fair that the size of works is very modest compared to the previous times. We no longer see Ai Wei Wei’s giant statues or the straw and soil mixed statues that no one can buy from Li Chen. Even the laser cut steel towers of Wim Delvoy have become smaller to biceps. Only Malaysia artists maintain the significance with big paintings hanging up in the outside walls.

Tranh của Bayu Utomo, một họa sĩ nổi tiếng hàng đầu Malaysia, người đứng ra thành lập House of Matahati, không gian nghệ thuật cho các họa sĩ trẻ tiên phong của Malaysia.
Painting of Bayu Utomo, a top artist in Malaysia, who founded House of Matahati, an art space for young evangelists in Malaysia

There is a good sign at Art Stage this year for Vietnamese art, which is the appearance of Vietnamese galleries and artists besides the faces in Southeast Asia platform. CUC gallery with its very young lady owner presented two art works by Nguyen Trung, two by Duong Thuy Lieu and especially in the middle of the booth is Ngoc Nau’s “very non-profit” installation, named F.F.I.C.C (abbreviation of some long terminology that I don’t remember). The work reflects a lens of a telescope that human being launched into the space to find extraterrestrial life. In the work, Ngoc Nau used imagination to reflect life. If this work is not yet sold in Art Stage, I hope Cuc will show it in Hanoi so that audience can come and talk with its author to find out more.

Ngọc Nâu chụp ảnh với người hâm mộ bên cạnh tác phẩm. Phía xa là hai bức tranh của Dương Thúy Liễu.
Ngoc Nau and the writer next to her art work. Far away on the wall are two paintings by Duong Thuy Lieu

Tagging along with Art Stage are numerous art events organized by museums, galleries, institutes who leverage on the huge audience coming into town.

Tác phẩm của sinh viên trường nghệ thuật Lasalle bày trong triển lãm kỷ niệm 3 năm thành lập trường.
Artwork by Lasalle’s art students shown in the 3rd anniversary of the school

The Signature Art Prize has been known to Vietnamese audience in the past few years. This is a very important award, so the ceremony took over almost the entire space of Singapore Art Museum (SAM). The ceremony was held in the evening of January 22, which is the first day of Art Stage. This year Vietnam has an artwork by Nguyen Trinh Thi making to the 15 finalists. Viewers in Hanoi already know the display at Goethe Institute. However, I feel the content of the video presentation of the work here has been brought to a new level.

Tác phẩm của Nguyễn Trinh Thi
Nguyen Trinh Thi’s artwork

The next day, on January 23 is a concert night at Gillman Barracks. This is a 6.4 hectare campus with wide variety of trees, a former military barrack, converted into a combination of art galleries after the soldiers of this camp shifted to Australia. A total of 16 galleries and studios for artists residing in the blocks scattered. At night, the galleries open through midnight so that audience can party and view the works. This is also my first time to see long queue waiting to see Hiroshi Senju’s solo exhibition with artworks of waterfall.

Tác phẩm của Hiroshi Senju dưới ánh đèn cực tím
Art work of Hiroshi Senju

In addition, there are over 100 different events, aligned with Art Stage such as gallery openings, round tables, auctions, etc. which put audience in tough decision where to go. Those events might consume more time than Art Stage official show time.

Một tác phẩm trình diễn trước cửa một thờ Hồi giáo đã tạo gia cơn nóng giận của một bô lão trong đền thờ. Trong tác phẩm có 2 người chui vào một ống dài như con rắn. Người phụ nữ đóng vai đầu rắn được choàng đầu như phụ nữ Hồi giáo. Con rắn này cứ lắc lư không nghỉ trước cổng ngôi đền.
A performance in front of a Muslim mosque which triggers the anger of a few leaders in the mosque. The art work has 2 people in the long tube like a snake. The lady acted as the snake head which is like a Muslim lady. This snake is shaking continuously in front of the mosque.

To me, like many other Vietnamese artists, Art Stage Singapore is a cost-effective opportunity to open our eyes, seeing the most “fashionable” works or top levels from all over the world. I have a fortune to visit most of the Art Stages and not only enjoy the values from art works but also reflect a lot on the “leave or stay” of galleries and artists throughout time. The final moment I remember is when two receptionists were chit chatting, the Hellutrans ArtsMove staff passed by quickly and the sound started, which meant some work has been sold and the gallery has packed, moved and replaced by other works. Booth rental is very expensive, and money is an issue to everyone.

Singapore, January 2015

Words and photos by Pham Huy Thong

Translated by Hue Tran (Hanoi Grapevine)

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