VIDEO : LORENZO ON THE SINGAPORE ART SCENE “Why is Switzerland not world champion in soccer?”

August 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sharing this filmed conversation with Lorenzo Rudolf.

In short, content before cash.

This filmed clip was first presented at Singapore Art Museum in March 2013.

Copyright © 2013 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved. No part of this film footage may be 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 copyright owner.

VIDEO : T K SABAPATHY ON SINGAPORE : The circumstances in which [art] production takes place have not been sufficiently cultivated.

May 19, 2013 § 11 Comments

Sharing a short excerpt of a 3-hour filmed interview with respected Art Doyen, T K Sabapathy on his views on Singapore’s developments in the arts arena, specifically in arts education, cultural leadership and arts production. The chat was set up for a story I was writing on cultural leadership in Singapore in light of a series of key appointments in the arts sector filled by non-art professionals. This filmed interview was first shown, with a number of others, at the public lecture held at the Singapore Art Museum on March 22, 2013.

About T K Sabapathy (b. 1938)*

T.K.Sabapathy is an art historian who has published extensively on art and artists in Southeast Asia. His writing has inaugurated important art historical trajectories for appreciating the modern in the region and especially in Malaysia and Singapore. His monographic studies of artists such as Latiff Mohidin, Ng Eng Teng, Piyadasa and Nyoman Masriadi have established benchmarks in developing critical literature on Southeast Asian artists. He is currently an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Architecture in the National University of Singapore and a part-time lecturer in the School of Art, Design and Media in the Nanyang Technological University where he teaches the history of art.

* Source : T K Sabapathy (2010). Road To Nowhere: The Quick Rise And The Long Fall Of Art History In Singapore. Singapore : National Institute of Education.

Copyright © 2013 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved. No part of this film 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.


November 10, 2012 § 5 Comments

Art Stage Singapore

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.


May 7, 2012 § 2 Comments

School of the Arts students’ unrehearsed response to BIBI’s Bibigloo (2011) at i Light Marina Bay, Singapore. Courtesy Loh Hsiao Shan.

The development of Hong Kong and Singapore in recent years has set the Asian art world debating as to which might be the city to place their bets. The new galleries that have opened in the last few months have moved Hong Kong up a few notches. Now White Cube, Galerie Perrotin, Pearl Lam, Ben Brown and Gagosian have Hong Kong branches. In recent years, auction turnover has elevated Hong Kong to the capital of the Asian art auction market, and Art Basel’s acquisition of Art Hong Kong confirmed this standing.

Singapore, on the other hand, has been developing in a separate trajectory, leaving a trail of investments in arts infrastructure and education: educational partnerships between Goldsmiths College, Royal Academy of Music, Tish School of the Arts, Peabody Institute and local arts institutions; the new School of the Arts, the $115 million interdisciplinary learning-through-the-arts institution for 13-18 year olds that offers an International Baccalaureate diploma in visual art, dance, theater, music and film at advanced levels; and the Gillman Barracks, Singapore’s new $8 million showcase and precinct for contemporary art slated for this September with a planned artist-in-residence program. Recently the government announced the allocation of $200 million to promote arts appreciation to locals. For a long time, these initiatives appeared rhetorical, with their real impact as yet unfelt.

A chance encounter at I Light Marina Bay, an outdoor light festival, gave me fresh insight. In one particular instance, three students from the audience gingerly stepped out, placed themselves before the brilliantly lit works and broke into a sequence of precise, well-sculpted bodily movements that dialogued with their animated silhouettes. I was momentarily caught off guard — not by the act, but by the location and spontaneity of the students’ unrehearsed engagement. I wasn’t in New York or Berlin; I was in Singapore.

If this new wind of change is a result of investments in arts education, many cultural observers have found it welcoming. Championed by no less than five government agencies working in concert — museology, arts scene development, education, economic planning and even tourist promotion — Singapore seems to be undergoing a cultural reconstruction. But to what extent would these efforts translate into the birth of a bubbling arts community that is home to international artists, curators, collectors and the art trade?

Interestingly, Singapore’s challenge lies not in its resolve or resources, but in its mentality — the ability to take risks and advance critical new content. The censorship saga of Simon Fujiwara’s work at the Singapore Art Museum last year and accounts of young graffiti artists’ brushes with law showed that the city can be infrastructure-rich, but its understanding of the moral code of engagement in the arts may still lag behind. Singapore needs to recognize that the arts need to dance to a different rhythm than what it has been used to, and that its penchant for censorship and aversion for risks and outliers may nullify returns.

Paradigm shifts are also needed even in arts education for sustainable results. Leading arts practitioners question the “punishing” 50-to-60-hour school week of its sought-after integrated arts curriculum, when their European counterparts take an additional year to finish similar programs. Experts argue that an overloaded curriculum without allowing time for critical reflection will only create a generation of hurried, burned-out technicians, not artists. At this rate, Singapore may kill its geese even before the golden eggs are laid.

By merit of its proximity to the Chinese market and high-net-worth population, Hong Kong will continue to be an entrepôt, even without additional effort. Challenges notwithstanding, if Singapore is able to cull some of its sacred cows and play its cards strategically, Asia will soon welcome another strong cultural nexus, a magnet for content-rich multicultural discourse and cutting-edge new content. Recently, cultural observers are already beginning to sense this; as one collector put it, “Hong Kong is good for buying art, Singapore is good for experiencing art. We need both.”

In her column Asian Insider, Patricia Chen comments on the Asian art market and provides insight into the scene at large.  First published in the Print and Digital editions of Flash Art International, May/June 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.


July 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

Lorenzo Rudolf

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

First Published in print edition of FT Weekend and online edition of, 20-22 May 2011.

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.

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