World Premiere @Singapore Art Museum cancelled

The 24 Hour Art Practice

For more information :

The cancellation and postponement of public screenings in Singapore (Jan 23) and Indonesia (Feb 3) have been interesting episodes in the journey of this documentary film, The 24-Hour Art Practice. The circumstances that led to their cancellation/postponement very much reflect the state of interdependency of relationships and reveal the various dynamics that are at work within the Asian art scene — both visible and invisible.  This incidental “side show” says as much about Asia and its relationship with art than any film can illustrate.


Chen, P. (2012), Behind the Art Stage Controversy [Print & Online], Asian Insider, Flash Art, July/August/ September 2012 issue [https://flash—]

For its 2013 edition, Art Stage Singapore will launch a 1,000-square-meter Indonesian Pavilion in direct collaboration with 30 Indonesian artists[1], mostly sans gallerists. Financed by a controversial commission structure, with Art Stage receiving a dealer’s cut from the sale of works[2], the Pavilion has set off intense debates in various Asian art circles. This is especially so because of its conception by Lorenzo Rudolf, an experienced art fair director who has said he wants to see “top Asian artists presented by Asian galleries and not only by Western ones. Otherwise, we will not develop Asia as a market.”[3]

As much as I find the Pavilion and its commission scheme indefensible based on existing art-world conventions, I feel the hullabaloo over the controversy has omitted a deeper current, perhaps one of greater consequence: the Pavilion came about because Indonesian artists requested it. Why ? Christine Ay Tjoe[4], a contemporary artist based in Yogjakarta, says “Why not? I think we have to see it positively. It is good for showcasing Indonesian art. Most Indonesian gallerists have so far been interested in short-term benefits. Many times they bring international curators to Indonesia to show how well connected they are and ask artists for exclusive arrangements just to have works, but it stops there. Beyond that, very few have solid long-term plans to build artists’ career. I wish they had a more long-term vision.” This view is widely shared by many of the participating artists in the Pavilion.

Ay Tjoe’s candid response echoes what Rudolf has been reiterating about the art market since edition one [3]: “Artists here have been in constant contact with big foundations and collectors who have traveled through Southeast Asia, mainly to Indonesia. They want to go international. But galleries are still doing their national thing. Soon, the artists will begin to think, sorry, how can my gallery here support me?” Well, the “soon” is here and now: Indonesian artists have chosen to do something collectively. The Pavilion is their strident call for galleries to “shape up or ship out.”

In private conversations with Indonesian gallerists, a number readily admit to their lackluster commitments — but not without good reasons. Partly due to the uncertain economic climate and partly due to cost-benefit calculations, the principal factor seems to revolve around trust: the perceived “lack of loyalty from artists” makes long-term representations untenable. “It is difficult to invest long term when young artists themselves are only looking for a shop front for their exhibitions. Then when they become known, they gallery hop. Look, I’m on a four-year waiting list for a work of an artist I spotted and developed. After a while, I ask myself, Why bother? As for the top twenty artists, they think they can do it on their own, they do not need a dealer,” said a veteran gallerist who requested anonymity. “I admit, this is an internal conflict between Indonesian artists and gallerists. If we had gotten our act together, this would not happen. We only have ourselves to blame.” Some of these gallerists stated their intention to withdraw from the fair, as “it almost feels wrong to participate.” Being a part of it would send a message that they condone such an act.

Therein lies the muddy deadlock that Art Stage has allowed itself to step into. However understandable the contributing circumstances, I wonder if the reasons fully justify the means. I told Lorenzo I found it inconceivable that a veteran like him would not foresee such repercussions. To that, he offered his strong conviction about the readiness of Indonesian art for the international art market. He argued that having the vibrant Indonesian scene unrepresented at the fair would be a greater damage, adding, “My experience tells me that there is resistance with everything that is new.” Wherever this triangular quandary heads, one thing is clear: Artists are the ones in the driver’s seat. It is imperative that they navigate with some kind of an overarching map.

I remember a conversation I had with Uli Sigg, a leading collector who has witnessed the development of the Chinese contemporary art scene.[5] “[In the past], Chinese artists have sold their works to whoever appeared. They didn’t care if that work would go somewhere where it would produce a multiplying effect, or be seen by the right people; they were just desperate for material reasons. Later, they decided to trade their own art, because galleries couldn’t add much value. They couldn’t produce a book for them; they might not be able to do an exhibition for them; so, why give them a commission because they sell something? Very understandable. The fact that artists dealt directly and chose not to go through the gallery system also meant that they might not be supported in exhibitions because they have no lobbyists to do the work. Artists must produce the art, they must lobby for it, they must sell it. Yes, the selling became easy, but many of them gave up a more successful career because of not wanting to be part of this art operating system, which emerged slowly, but is here now. In fact, every Chinese artist, at some point, confronts this decision: Do I want to be a very financially successful artist in China? Or do I have the ambition to launch a worldwide career? This is a much harder path, because artistic and financial success will be much further away. Sometimes artists do not make this decision consciously.”

Indonesian artists are perhaps at this same crossroads. The Southeast Asian art market is certainly at the cusp of unprecedented change. The Indonesian Pavilion reveals that as the art market powers up and technology collapses borders and facilitates access, artists benefit from such empowerment and are in a position to exercise it. While opportunistic in constitution, the Pavilion may be an experiment that holds some important answers for its stakeholders.

[1] While the “crème de la crème” artists represented in the Pavilion included many some established and up-and-coming artists, it reportedly excludes many hot favourites like Eko Nugroho, Christine Ay Tjoe, Nyoman Masriadi, Handiwirman Sahputra and Agus Suwage. One unverified source claims that a number of participating artists are having second thoughts.

[2] Art Stage’s did not offer the same terms to artists and dealers whose artists are represented in the Pavilion. Artists are being offered 50%/50% split on sale of works; whereas dealers have to foot up to SGD 19,000 in upfront payment for the “rental of a space” for a single work. This makes dealer participation nonviable. Dealers see this as a policy of deliberate exclusion. To that, Rudolf says, “I am open to discussion.”

[3] Chen, P., (2011), The Next Stage, FT Weekend, Life & Arts, Collecting, Financial Times, May 20-22.

[4] Christine Ay Tjoe is approached despite her non-participation, due to prior commit- ments to other shows, as she has a strong following and a mature market, as opposed to younger artists who have chosen to keep silent though attempts to establish contact were made, probably weary about speaking publicly for fear of offending galleries and being excluded from projects.

[5] Chen, P. (2012), Leading Collectors of Asian Art – Uli Sigg (working title), interview transcript of research project on collecting and the Asian art scene, June 18, Unpublished.

First published in the Print and Digital editions of Flash Art, November 2012 issue.

Copyright © 2012 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved. No part of this writing may be reprinted, reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including printing, recording or information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission in writing from the author.


Jompet Kuswidananto, War of Java, Do you Remember ? #1, 2008, will be at the Saatchi Gallery

Chen, P. (2011), In Vogue: Indonesian Art [Print], The Art Newspaper, Septmber issue

This month, London’s Saatchi Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of contemporary art from the world’s largest archipelago and fourth most populous country. “Indonesian Eye: Fantasies and Realities” (1 September – 9 October) is the UK’s first major exhibition of Indonesian contemporary art.

The presence of Indonesian artists in international events is not new. The difference this time is the volume of shows coming to Europe. As well as the Saatchi exhibition, another opened at the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in Paris in June (“Trans-Figurations: Indonesian Mythologies” until 23 October). And over the next few months, several commercial and non-commercial exhibitions are in the pipeline, including “Asia:Looking South” at Arndt Gallery, Berlin (10 September – 27 October); “Beyond the East” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (14 November -15 December); and a solo show of the Bali born Gede Mahendra Yasa opens in October at Primo Marella gallery in Milan.

“What is happening in contemporary Indonesian art is a reflection of the pace of development in Indonesia. There is a lot of energy in the works, the quality of the art is good and prices are still reasonable,” said Marella, who has been representing Indonesian artists for four years.

Indonesian contemporary artists may be the new kids on the block in occidental countries, but in Southeast Asia (which covers countries including Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam), they are the big boys. Indonesian works in Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art auctions account for about 68% of Christie’s and Sotheby’s turnover. Half the lots sold at these auctions are from the country, and contemporary art transactions alone contribute up to 20% of takings. But in international terms, the market is young and sprawling.

The wide pool of contemporary Indonesian artists to choose from has led to diverse selections in recent exhibitions. For example, Nyoman Masriadi, one of Indonesia’s most sought after artists, has been left out of Saatchi gallery exhibition, which has raised some eyebrows. Masriadi’s The Man from Bantul (The Final Round), 2000, became the most expensive contemporary Indonesian work of art ever sold at auction when it went for HK$ 7.8m ($1m) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in 2008. Masriadi’s work has a distinctive character, but he comes with a controversial CV that is rich on auction appearances but relatively short on non-commercial credentials, even by Southeast Asian standards. Yet, just across the Atlantic, he was the artist that Paul Kasmin Gallery picked for a sell-out solo exhibition in April, with works priced between $200,000 and $350,000.

“Indonesian Eye” promises to showcase the young and emerging scene,”offering a wide view of what contemporary art is in Indonesia right now”, said Serella Ciclitira, its co-founder and co-curator. Straightforward as it may seem, this could be a rather ambitious undertaking. EVen as the show opens in London, Ciclitira revealed that work has already started on next year’s edition. And why not ? Someone once said that if the map of Indonesia were to be superimposed onto Europe, it would stretch from Ireland to Iran. If this were true, it may well take several shows to present a proper view of the contemporary Indonesian art scene. This year’s a great start nonetheless.

First published in print and digital editions of The Art Newspaper, September 2011 issue.

Copyright © 2011 Patricia Chen


Lorenzo Rudolf

Chen, P. (2011), The next stage, Financial Times, [Print & Online], 20-22 May issue

Personal Interview with Lorenzo Rudolf in Financial Times on his reflections on the first cut of Art Stage Singapore.

Lorenzo Rudolf, chief executive of Art Stage Singapore, is one art world figure who truly deserves to be described as “international”.

Born in Switzerland, Rudolf took charge of Art Basel in 1991, transforming the modest event into a template for today’s art fairs. During his nine years as director there, he created Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002. He went on to launch SH Contemporary in Shanghai in 2007. Art Stage Singapore, which was launched in January, is his latest stop.

Despite such a career, Rudolf feels like something of a maverick in the art world. The former lawyer says being someone who “came from outside the business” seem to be his strongest advantage as he questions accepted art-world conventions.

“Many times people thought I was crazy when I chose Miami Beach over New York as Art Basel’s American base,” he says. “People asked, ‘How could you go to a place without any culture?’ But Miami Beach is the place where New Yorkers party and is close enough to the Latin American market – it has a great ambience.

“When New York galleries boycotted the fair, at first, I thought, ‘Forget the Americans, bring the Europeans.’ If you have them, you can be sure that not one American will leave the place to the Europeans.”

His decision to launch an international art fair in Singapore, a proposal he himself initially rejected in 1992, took nine years to realise. “Singapore is a small, neutral, multicultural place at the crossroads of China, India and south-east Asia. So there you have the three biggest art scenes, the three biggest art markets and the three fastest-growing economies. Singapore is a wealth management hub and destination for many affluent people from south-east Asia, the Gulf states, Australia and China.”

But can these non-art factors sustain an art scene? “Forget it, Singapore is too small,” he says. “What is interesting for Singapore in my eyes is not building up its own art scene and becoming competitive with China. What is interesting there is to build a centre of exchange and dialogue, where the fragmented art scenes of Asia can coalesce.” It seems that Singapore’s government is singing the same tune, working on both the hardware and the software. In addition to a pipeline of major art infrastructure coming on stream, an additional $245m has been set aside over the next five years for programming and the integration of arts into mainstream education. Not bad for a city of just 5m people.

“Besides Basel, I have not experienced a place that has supported me in a way that is comparable to Singapore,” Rudolf says. “In the future, we want to see top Asian artists presented by Asian galleries and not only by western ones. Otherwise, we will not develop Asia as a market.” The launch of Art Stage Singapore in January has gone some way towards realising this ambition.

Sylvain Levy, an avid collector of contemporary Chinese art who was in Singapore for the show, says, “Rudolf has created an event focused mainly on Asian galleries and artists. It was a success – already, an identity is created.” Rudolf is quick to admit that the south-east Asian art market – by which he means Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam – is no bed of roses. Professionalism in the arts industry is still in its infancy there. “There were a number of south-east Asian galleries who brought works of their artists to the fair rolled up like a map.”

In his view, south-east Asian artists have the potential to excite the international art world with the right backing from dealers. “In the past year or two, artists here have been in constant contact with big foundations and collectors who have travelled through south-east Asia, mainly to Indonesia. They want to go international. But galleries are still doing their national thing. Soon, the artists will begin to think, ‘Sorry, how can my gallery here support me?’” In the past year, contemporary Indonesian art has been shown in Milan, Berlin, Tuscany and New York. Over the next few months, exhibitions at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and the Saatchi Gallery in London will expose it to an even wider audience. Rudolph’s aim is to support artists and galleries from the region, to bring them to a level where they are compatible with other international art scenes.

The region is like the “Wild West, in a good way”, he says. “Singapore has proved quite interesting. There are collectors who are not only interested and professional but are incredibly involved in the international scene. But they are all somewhat hidden. It is quite strange, they don’t go in for openings. They are not involved in the local art scene. I think it is about the quality of certain institutions here – they expect much more. When we did Collectors’ Stage, a show of Asian contemporary art from private collections, they were all there, all those hidden collectors.”

Indonesia is quite another picture. “When I was still in Shanghai, I wanted to do some promotional event as I heard that Indonesia had quite an interesting scene with some passionate collectors. One day someone casually said that he had a friend who would be willing to help. I flew down with my wife, thinking, if we could meet 30, 40 people, that would be great. When we arrived at the house of this collector, Deddy Kusuma in Jakarta, he had his entire collection installed and there was a set-up for a TV debate and 700 people turned up. “Many westerners still think Asia is only China. Those who have had the opportunity of passing through this part of Asia have come back totally surprised. They tell me, ‘China is only the tip of the iceberg.’ The thrill is in the discovery of the new and, sometimes, at greatly affordable prices.”

The second edition of Art Stage Singapore runs from January 12-15 2012,

Copyright © 2011 Financial Times. All rights reserved. No part of this writing may be reprinted, reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including recording or information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission in writing from the publisher.