By Laura Shen
Every new year, we are excited to reach fresh art and new ideas as auspicious inception of a new time with new style of life. 2015 is no exception. Deep winter and early spring though, January is full of summer vigor in forever tropical island Singapore. The 5th edition of Art Stage Singapore is to be back again. “Art Stage Singapore is complement to Art Basel Hong Kong,” says Founder and Fair Director, Rudolf Lorenzo. “To be successful, it needs an identity-‘We Are Asia’.” Southeast Asia is focused on continually. “I pull together practices to draw out conversation,” says Khim Ong, Southeast Asia Platform Curator.
On the eve of Art Stage Singapore, we hold a conversation with Rudolf Lorenzo and Khim Ong to share their opinions on Asian art scenario and Southeast Asian art.
Laura Shen: You consider that among all emerging markets in Asia, Chinese and Southeast Asian markets may have the biggest potential.
Rudolf Lorenzo: On one side, we have the established markets which are already fully developed like Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. On the other side, there is India, which has incredibly small upper and middle classes, or wealthy people, but not a huge number of buyers. It is also very orientated towards the West. That is the reason why I think Greater China and Southeast Asia are the two markets which will have the biggest growth in the near future.
Laura Shen: What Southeast Asian art under spotlight recently? Who are the targeted audience and consumers?
Rudolf Lorenzo: First of all, Southeast Asia is not a homogenous region and is highly segmented. I think we have to be clear that there is no such thing as one singular Southeast Asia. Indonesia is a country with a dominant artists’ and collectors’ scene, where artists have close direct relationships with collectors and gallery scene is not strong. However, Philippines has a young, strong artist scene and a serious, strong gallery scene, with stronger infrastructure. Art Stage Singapore is the only platform for all these Southeast Asian art scenes to come together and be presented on one single stage with a very strong marketing, promotion and especially matchmaking among markets. We have more and more collectors and museums outside Southeast Asia in Asia and in the West that are interested in exhibiting Southeast Asian artists. This is something very new and only possible because for the first time, there is a focus not only on one single Southeast Asian country but an entire region. Singapore is the destination in Asia and has a very strong infrastructure which is the reason why most happen here. Collectors are now beginning to buy internationally. The interest and willingness to understand the international and regional scenes is why Art Stage Singapore is so important.
Laura Shen: Art Stage Singapore is labeled as “We Are Asia”. May you share with us why you decide to give such a name? What makes this title attractive?
Rudolf Lorenzo: ‘We Are Asia’ means that the fair has an Asian identity. It was clear that I did not want to copy a Western fair here in Asia. I don’t want to build up a fair with a pure Western view on art. We have to give the Asian scenes the opportunity to express themselves in their own way, giving them a chance to grow into international market. Asia needs its own platform in which Asia comes together, where people can discover and experience what Asia is. We are the entrance and bridge to international art market for these Asian scenes. To organize an art fair in Asia is different from the West. Here, we have very young, emerging markets which we have to build up, educate and inform. We need to go beyond the mere offer of exhibition space, but to take much more responsibility by explaining, offering opportunities, supporting, maybe even protecting younger Asian galleries to grow, to get strong enough to be recognized and accepted, and to reach a certain international standard. All this is encapsulated in ‘We Are Asia’.
Laura Shen: You believe that identity is important for the success of art fair. However, identity is not unitary, art have diverse identities simultaneously. Under the big title of “Asia”, do you think other characteristics of Art Stage Singapore will be faded away? Is it possible that “Asia” may be a hegemony identity that imposes burden on the artists so that they are always limited within this “Asia” wallflower?
Rudolf Lorenzo: In today’s time, marketing is very important, even in the art world. To be successful in the art world today means to be successful in the market and to be a brand, like in other sectors. I fully agree with you that it is important to position art not only as merchandise. We have to try to counter this trend but we cannot be naïve enough to think that we can turn back the wheel to a time when art is defined by the academic world only. We have to find a balance, we’re not only defining ourselves as a pure market platform, but still in a situation where we have to inform and educate extensively. Art is wonderful as an investment and market, but at the end of the day, we should not forget that art is culture and in the long run, culture brings much more to growing societies than market alone. “We Are Asia” is not a burden. A good contemporary artist has to find his/her own individual way, his own expression. Surely he has his own roots and background in Asia. Like everywhere in the world, a contemporary artist is artistically so strong that it’s understood all over the world.
Laura Shen: In the meantime of “We Are Asia”, there are also other participants such as the highlight of Russia.
Rudolf Lorenzo: Last year we created Asian Platforms to open a door, an understanding, even a subjective understanding but at least an approach to relate to all art scenes. We were confronted with a lot of Russian galleries, curators and collectors, asking us why Russia was not part of the Fair. A big part of Russia lies geographically in Asia. We do not disagree that most of what occurs in Russia today happens in the European part but we gave our word a year ago that we will integrate Russia in the Fair the following year.
Laura Shen: Art is still mainly limited to the elite circle, for which one of the basic qualification required to be collectors and buyers seems to be capital and financial support. Does Art Stage Singapore aim to attract more mass consumers?
Rudolf Lorenzo: If we speak about art, it’s not only a question of price ranking, it’s first of all a question of quality. The ultimate mere market platform is Art Basel in Basel, where only invited collectors can enter the fair for two whole days. The general public only has access after the VIPs and collectors have left. We, however, are here also to educate, inform, build up new interest in contemporary art. This means that Art Stage Singapore is a unique temporary museum. We cooperate with schools and students because we want to bring them closer to art. We also do workshops with young curators. We have to build interest and interaction, which is our responsibility if we also want to advance market. A fair in Southeast Asia must have a commercial approach and a non-commercial vision at the same time. That’s the reason why Art Stage Singapore is not just for elite but for everybody who is interested in art. It’s clear that not all visitors can buy everything at the Fair and we do not expect all to, but we offer quality art for everyone.
Laura Shen: Finally, may you share your views about art fair in Hong Kong and Singapore, as you also has rich experience in Art Basel HK? For example, art is more in a private sector in Hong Kong while it is mainly in public sector in Singapore with strong government support and regulation. To what extent have these different situation influenced art in the two cities respectively, and what advices you would like to provide?
Rudolf Lorenzo: There’s a never-ending discussion about the competition – Hong Kong and Singapore. This ongoing comparison is the best PR for both cities. It’s evident that the two fairs are not the same. Fair in Hong Kong is currently owned by Art Basel and is a branch of the biggest brand in art market. With four editions behind us, we are still a very young product but still we are the second most important art fair in Asia. We have achieved this in a very, very short time. It’s only logical that a big global brand (Art Basel) and a young brand (Art Stage Singapore) function differently. If you want to see and experience all the big names of the world, then the fair in Hong Kong is for you. If you really want to experience what is new, what is happening today, what is the future of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, then you can see and discover much more here in Singapore. At the end of the day, this is the best as both fairs complement each other. The success of each one is at the end also good for the other. Hong Kong is the door to China while Singapore is the centre of Southeast Asia. Now with the opening of National Gallery Singapore, it will also be supported academically. Singapore is hence a centre for both market and academia whilst Hong Kong is mainly a market place driven by trade. The content is much more geared towards Mainland China or Taiwan and less about Hong Kong. On a long-term basis, arts in general, artist scenes and creativity will be much stronger in Singapore than in Hong Kong. Hong Kong will of course remain the big market hub as the door to the huge market China.
Laura Shen: Please share with us what is your selection standard to examine and choose art works for Southeast Asia Platform
Khim Ong: As the exhibition focuses on artistic practices in the region, I look for artists whose practices have developed in interesting ways. It could be practices that centre on a chosen medium, constantly experimenting with and challenging their limits; or practices that revolve around core interests but explore in diverse ways. In selecting works, a conscious effort is made to include works that will provide a better understanding of their oeuvre. In pulling together a wide range of practices, considerations are made to draw out conversations among them
Laura Shen: May you recommend to us some of the highlight works and emerging artists that you think are outstanding and interesting, and why you think so?
Khim Ong: All the artists in the Platform are interesting in their own ways, and audiences can look forward to new works by Chong Weixin (Singapore) and Gary-Ross Pastrana (Philippines); an ongoing series of self-portraits by Hoang Duong Cam (Vietnam); a film installation by Chris Chong (Malaysia) showing for the first time in Southeast Asia. One of the highlights of the exhibition are works specially conceived for the Platform, among them, a performance installation by Zaki Razak (Singapore) and a performance intervention by Yason Banal (Philippines).
Laura Shen: After the research, selection and curating, what are the main features and themes of Southeast Asian contemporary art have you found? What are their highlights and limits, and what is your advice?
Khim Ong: Artists are often sensitive to their environment and to events that is happening around them, and make works that respond to these situations. If there are observable tendencies specific to any country, it can be seen as a reflection of developments in a particular period. Rather than seeing them as “main features” or “themes”, I tend to place attention on works that deal with prevailing issues. All these premises are interesting and have much to offer. Issues of race/ethnicity, identity, body, politics, economic, technology, to name a few, can be found in most if not all countries in the region (or for that matter, anywhere in the world). It is their different histories, influences and development that give rise to different approaches in art-making that is most fascinating and may provide a glimpse. The Platform is an attempt to provide a snapshot of these diverse practices, and by bringing them together, aims to create an open conversation that goes beyond any singular framing.
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