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BEHIND THE ART STAGE CONTROVERSY

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. http://www.asianartcollectors.wordpress.com

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.

THE NEXT STAGE

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 ft.com, 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.

FILIPINO ARTIST VENTURA BREAKS CONTEMPORARY RECORD

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

SINGAPORE. Grayground, 2011, by Filipino artist Ronald Ventura,made HK$8.4m ($1.1m) at Sotheby’s 4 April auction in Hong Kong, becoming the most expensive contemporary work of art ever sold in a Southeast Asian sale (this category is distinct from Chinese auctions). This is a marked departure from the norm as previous significant auction records were mostly broken by artists of Indonesian origin—not a surprise for a market that is 70% dominated by Indonesian art. The first and last time $1m was paid for a contemporary work by a Southeast Asian artist was in October 2008 in Hong Kong, for The Man from Bantul (The Final Round), 2000, by Indonesian artist Nyoman Masriadi. Works by Ventura, and 15 other contemporary Filipino artists (including Nona Garcia, Rodel Tapaya and newer auction additions Andres Barrioquinto and Jon Jaylo) went on to contribute to nearly 10% of the auction total (HK$108m/$13.8m) during the sale, the strongest showing by Filipino contemporary artists thus far in any Southeast Asian auction. The decision to increase contributions from the Filipino segment from 7% three years ago to the 17% today was a bold move on the part of Sotheby’s, in a market traditionally saturated with Indonesian collectors. But Filipino contemporary art has been increasingly presented in international and regional exhibitions and art fairs including Scope Basel, Scope Miami, Art Stage Singapore, Hong Kong Art Fair and India Art Summit, and championed by galleries such as The Drawing Room, attracting many new buyers from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. ■ Patricia Chen

First published in the Print and Digital editions of The Art Newspaper, May 2011 issue.

Copyright © 2011 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.

IF I HAD TO START OVER

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Panel discussion on art collecting

(left to right) Deddy Kusuma, Patricia Chen, Marjorie Chu and Dr. Oei Hong Djien

Dear collectors

Why transcribe a panel discussion, you may ask.

When the column was first conceived, I wanted it for a singular reason: to cut through the thick clouds of opaqueness in the art market; and through independent and critical analyses, empower collectors to make informed decisions on the trading of art. It was not borne out of a stubborn preoccupation with charts or indices, sidelining the art or the artists. Rather, the preoccupation, if any, is a deep conviction to improve the flow of information and intelligence to elevate market practices to new levels.

Last November, I was asked to moderate a discussion on art collecting, to be held in conjunction with Borobudur’s 5th Anniversary sale, primarily for new collectors who are either casually acquainted with collecting and/or the Southeast Asian art market. The panellists were some of the most revered individuals in the collecting and dealing circuit in the Southeast Asian art scene – Dr. Oei Hong Djien, Deddy Kusuma and Marjorie Chu. Dr. Oei’s and Deddy’s collections are second to none; Marjorie has been a member of the art trade since 1975. Amongst the three, they pool together more than a hundred years of experience in art collecting/dealing.

I chose this panel discussion to end the column series because it deeply resonates with the ‘spirit’ of my work. It cuts across the ‘noise’ of fashionable trends, of scientific representations (mine inclusive), of clever marketing tactics and verbose art theories that barrage collectors. And in simple layman language and with ‘common-man’ sensibility, the session allowed aching questions that are seldom discussed to be talked about openly, up close and personal.

I trust that this will be part of a continuing dialogue to advance the workings of this emerging but highly promising landscape that we all are stakeholders of. Let’s do it in earnest as the wisdom-bearers reside in our time. Enjoy.

Patricia Chen

An excerpt of a 4-page article published in C-Arts’ “Collectors’ Guide to the Southeast Asian art market” March 2011 issue.

Copyright, Patricia Chen, 2011. 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.

ART STAGE 2011

March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lorenzo Rudolf, Director, Art Stage, Singapore

This is an edited transcription of a personal interview with Lorenzo Rudolf (LR), CEO/ Director of Art Stage Singapore.

PC :          Lorenzo, I read that you were approached to start Art Stage in the 90’s before and thought Singapore was not ready. Can you share with me what is the difference between the 90’s and now that made you change your mind ?

LR :          I think in the 90’s, and if you compare Miami and Singapore, there were certain differences but also certain similarities. What we have today more or less, is a globalised art market.

We don’t have anymore and we will not have anymore one or two centres of the contemporary art in this world as we had ten years ago. I think we have a world with a lot of centres. And a lot of centres means we need also certain places where we can link these centres together, especially in a place like Asia. If you compare Asia to Europe or America, there is one big, big difference. Today, the art scene in Asia is totally fragmented. That means, you have a Chinese scene, an Indian scene, tell me how many Indians buy Chinese art and vice-versa and so on.

That was not the case in Europe; that was not the case in America. The big chance Singapore has, we have, if you want to open, and to support and to make and strengthen this market, is to first of all, not to think of Western buyers. The biggest potential is here. We have to interact with each other. We have to build these bridges to open these doors. And that means you also need a place where you can do it. If you go to India, it will be difficult; it will be dominated by the Indian contemporary scene. The same thing as in China. Singapore is ideal. Singapore is a small, neutral, multi-cultural place in the crossroad of China, India, Southeast Asia. There, you already have the 3 biggest art scenes, the 3 biggest art markets and the 3 fastest growing economies.

It is stable. It has high-life quality – that means, you come here, you can really have fun. You are pampered, and everything. So, this part is there. What you need to do is to build up a cultural environment. And the cultural environment, you cannot create everything yourself. But you have here a government that clearly realises what the role of contemporary art is for today and in the future; and what the role is on different levels.

First of all, surely, speaking of Singapore on an economic level; but I think also, on a social level, of vanity. And they have decided which direction they want to go. I think the idea is absolutely right — the need for an art fair, to become the centre of contemporary art. A centre means a place of matchmaking; a place of exchange.

Looking at that again, at the same situation when I started Basel; I said Basel had to become the place of matchmaking. I think what we did in Basel, even as Basel is much much smaller, it can be done here without copying Basel. Singapore is a place where you can bring together the art world. If you do something in Beijing, it is like the New York situation.

And having this vision with Singapore, we go together with the state, and try to build up something where the fair is the flagship. It is part of an entire policy and way to position Singapore. That means, it is done in a parallel way, hand-in-hand, with projects like Gilman Village, where matchmaking shall happen — with huge artists-in-residence programmes to bring emerging artists from all over Asia here to Singapore. They will begin to interact, to know each other, and create new stuff. It is flanked by Kunsthalle, with rolling programmes. This will attract galleries and collectors. I have already got 3 collectors who are more than interested to do something here. And you see, you create something.

The same thing happened in Miami, but on a private basis. There, collectors created everything.  Here, we have a totally political situation. But it is the same thing. We are somewhere at the beginning of a realisation of a great vision. Whether it happens, it depends not only on me, that is clear. But to share this vision, to be part of, to help to create this vision, to create something really great, that is what fascinates me.

I think, all in all, Miami had a great chance to be really a unique spot at the edge between 2 big cultures. Here, in Singapore, the potential is even bigger. So, play the game the right way and I think we can really play a great game.  It is not only the political situation. It is also a multicultural situation. We have the Chinese community; we have the Indian community; we have the Southeast Asian community. We have even the community from the Gulf state, from Australia, and everything is here. And coming back our example of Switzerland, it is the centre of private investment.

PC :             Hong Kong does not have a political situation or the different communities, but it has an emerging art scene, proximity to a big market. What does Singapore have that Hong Kong does not? I have a hypothetical question.  If there were to be no Art Hong Kong, would you have considered Hong Kong ?

LR :             I think it is a good question. I think the biggest advantage in Hong Kong is clear. The tax situation. That is absolutely logical.  And the second biggest advantage, but it can also be a big disadvantage, is China. China was the first Asian market in this globalised marketplace — the first time a global taste is forged involving a known western art scene. And with that, the entire boom began. In China we have probably the biggest art scene in Asia, without any doubt; and also the biggest potential of a market. The middle and the upper class growing there is unique. And Hong Kong is the gateway. Big advantage. Disadvantage ? It is China. It is dominated by China. What shall an Indian do in Hong Kong ?

On the other hand, Singapore is much more multi-cultural than Hong Kong. It has taxes, maybe not the highest one, but it has taxes.  Coming back to your question. I think, on a long term basis, with the goal of building up a world event, to become a matchmaker of all Asian art markets, I would still have chosen Singapore if I were to have both.

I think in Hong Kong, you have the dominance of China to contend with. Besides, you don’t know how the political situation will change. If China decides to build up Shanghai as the financial centre of China, the loser will be Hong Kong. In another words, China will move. China is a giant and China is the biggest market. Here, it’s again a bit like Switzerland. The island of the lucky.  In the end, who are the investors here in Singapore ?  It’s also the Chinese. There’s Indian money here.

 PC :              And you have access, and you have neutrality.

LR :             Absolutely. And you have even something else. I was not even thinking about it, but it’s true. Yang Bin, you know, a Chinese collector, told me something, “Look, we love Singapore, we come often to Singapore”. I said, “Great. Why ?”. “It’s the place outside China where I can speak Chinese.” It is so simple and banal but it’s true. It’s true.

PC :             Thank you.

First published in the print edition of Art Market Report,  March 2011 issue.

© Copyright 2011 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.

A SNAPSHOT OF THE CURRENT CONTEMPORARY ART AUCTION MARKET

October 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Dear collectors

Thank you for your warm response to issue 2’s Selling Guide. A number of you asked about the significance of ‘Column C’. Many misinterpreted a high percentage to be a suggestion of how significant the artist ranks in the art market. In reality, the converse is true. Column C essentially tells us the contribution of an artist’s top 20 transactions to his/ her total market turnover. A high percentage, of say 85%, indicates how much of the remaining market (15%) is made up of lower-priced transactions. For contemporary artists, this high percentage can suggest how young (Mahendra Yasa) or thin (Rudi Mantofani) his market is — that after accounting for the artist’s top 20 lots, the remainder is low. I hope that clarifies.

The boom in the contemporary art market of 2007 has already become a history of 3.5 years. In the blink of an eye, the Southeast Asian art market has experienced a boom, weathered a bust and witnessed a recovery — all in the last 26 months. Hot on the heels of last issue’s selling guide, I would like to attempt to zoom in on the contemporary art market with that market cycle in view. How is the contemporary art market organised now ? What happen to the markets of contemporary artists who propelled the market forward in 2007? Where are they now? In as much as I would like to go further and explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind different trajectories that artists have taken, time and space do not permit. You might wish to bear these in mind as you pour through the charts.

To do that, I propose looking at the contemporary market through the lens of 16 artists in 5 market ‘modes’ – the maturing markets, the growth markets, the markets that are in consolidation, the markets that appear to be losing steam and lastly the markets in transition. These categorisations are purely my personal assessment at this point in time — a reading that is based not purely on tangible market symptoms, but also on more qualitative observations of their ascension to the auction stage, circulation and choices of distribution channels, ability to re-invent themselves and collector base. Why them ? Incidentally, these artists tend to have been closely watched at one point or another and they collectively contribute up to 72% of the total contemporary market. Through them, one can access three-quarters of the narrative, discern collectors’ changing tastes and understand the progression of artists’ markets over the course of time. One might even draw direct references to markets of artists who started some years before them – those of Arifien Neif, Djoko Pekik, Nasirun or even Heri Dono.

Just as no single chart tells the whole story, this issue provides a selected glimpse of the art market. To really understand an artist’s market, collectors need to also tune in to an artist’s personal development and achievements in the areas of circulation, collaborations, exposure in exhibitions, residencies, biennales and museum collections.

One important caveat : this is not crystal ball gazing. Even as these readings have been based on empirical data, I am highly reluctant to suggest that the historical trajectories demonstrated in the following pages can be extended to project some kind of a future. What happens after is mainly a result of artistic decisions made by the artist himself, on his artistic productions and the distribution of his works, in interaction with other members of the art world.

Even as I close this story, I received the results of Sotheby’s October 4th auction of Southeast Asian art in my inbox. Reading it brought a smile to my face.

My interpretation stays. Enjoy reading (and debating).

Patricia Chen

An excerpt from “Collectors’ Guide to the Southeast Asian art market”, C-Arts, October 2010. Full 6-page article with charts.

Copyright © 2010 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.

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