Exhibition: 16 January ­‐ 27 March 2016, ArtScience Musuem
Awards: 19 January 2016, Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands

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3 Feb 2015

Singapore dreams of becoming the art hub of Southeast Asia

Singapore dreams of becoming the art hub of Southeast Asia

by Roxana Azimi

“If you want to see work by exciting artists, you must come to Asia”, says David Ciclitira. The experienced businessman, founder of Sky Television (since sold to Rupert Murdoch), is crazy about this continent. Together with a British insurance company, he created a festival: the Prudential Eye Awards. The six prizes, each consisting of 20,000 dollars (14,644 euros), were awarded to young Asian artists on January 18 in Singapore. It’s a strategically chosen location. This small city-state that aims to become the intersection between art and economy in Southeast Asia, simultaneously hosted the Art Stage fair and a contemporary art biennial.

FEW COLLECTORS

Compared to Hong Kong, which almost has a ‘New York’ kind of energy, the pace of the Singapore market is almost as slow as that of Switzerland. Incidentally the country shares many traits with Switzerland, with its hotel infrastructure, financial position and its agreeable tax rates. Not to mention its free port, poised to dethrone the one in Geneva.

"Many collectors have moved their collections and their assets from Geneva to Singapore," notes Jean-Marc Decrop, a dealer based in Hong Kong. According to Forbes magazine, in 2013, the 50 richest people in Singapore were worth $ 80 billion (over 58 billion euros). But the city still lacks collectors.

ARTISTS THAT ARE LITTLE KNOWN INTERNATIONALLY

It does however profit from the proximity of Indonesian and Malaysian buyers. These great neighbours do not yet have a complete artistic ecosystem. Nevertheless, the prices of their artists are rising. At the Art Stage fair, works by Indonesian artists Entang Wiharso and Agus Suwage went for prices ranging from 45 000 to 180 000 dollars. At auction, they are even more popular. The price of syncretic and bedecked work by the Malaysian artist Anurendra Jegadewa ranges from 2 800 to 180 000 dollars. “Work by Malaysian artists is affordable in terms of quality-value balance” says his gallery. Everything is relative of course.

But it is clear that these artists, who enjoy a strong internal market, need international visibility. This is the challenge of Prudential Eye Awards, as well as of other exhibitions and publications launched by David Ciclitira. "This award is important to me, says Indonesian Jompet Kuswidananto, one of the winners. In Indonesia, we have no assistance from the government, museums nor the art education system. »

NATIONALIST BUYERS

The problem is the nature of the Southeast Asian market, still dominated by public sales and focused on decorative works. "It changes slowly, objects the Malaysian dealer Richard Koh. Because of rising prices, young collectors cultivate a different mentality and do not seek out the most expensive artists that everyone else wants." Rather nationalist in their approach, the infatuation with Western artists is not great amongst them.

Certainly, at Art Stage in 2012, the German art dealer Michael Schultz sold a painting by Gerhard Richter for € 1.2 million to a Malaysian collector. But one swallow does not make a summer. "Buyers of Southeast Asia realise that galleries reserve their best works for other fairs, says Richard Koh. It makes more sense for them to buy the best in Asian art rather than second or third choice Western works.»