Lorenzo Rudolf’s first encounter with Singapore goes back to the mid-nineties. At the time, he was asked to visit the country to see whether it would be possible to organize an international art fair there. “The economic climate was good, but it was not ready yet for an art fair. The art market, especially, was not ready”, he explains. So the fair remained on hold for another decade, until 2011 with the first edition of Art Stage Singapore. Now the president and director of Art Stage Singapore, Rudolf told us what has been happening over the last few years.
Our first interview was three years ago, when Art Stage Singapore was a new fair. Now it’s a mature, well-established event. At the time you said to me that organizing a “good” fair isn’t enough; that you need to create an International brand. Do you think Art Stage Singapore has managed to achieve this, or is it still a challenge?
When we got here, six years ago, there was little interest in contemporary art. We realized that it wouldn’t be enough to create a fair, and that we would need to adopt a wider vision that involved institutions and collectors as well as the public. This was what prompted the creation of the Art Stage Art Week, with events planned to boost the fair and develop a synergy with the city.
Art Stage has had an important role in gaining the attention of international institutions: it has drawn the attention not only of International collectors, but also of international institutions. Nowadays, the big museums are expressing curiosity and interest in Asian art production. The Tate, the Guggenheim, but also the Australian museums, have started acquiring the works of Asian artists for their permanent collections.
Over the last few years, Singapore’s museums – the Singapore Art Museum and the National Gallery – which received little attention before, have held more exhibitions and have become important supporters of contemporary Asian art and of Art Stage. Then in 2012, Gillman Barracks, which houses a cluster of Asian and International galleries, was opened.
Nowadays there are a lot of fairs in Asia, both national and local, like there were in Europe and America in the 1980s and 1990s. So it’s a split landscape, where some fairs have become global and others have remained national. The only two international fairs are Art Stage and Art Basel Hong Kong.
A short while ago the Financial Times published a map of the top ten places in the world and one of them was Singapore, because of Art Stage. The fair has generated a number of activities involving art, contemporary Asian culture, and luxury. Does this make Art Stage a brand? I think it does. Remember, Singapore is also one of the most important financial markets in Asia.
So the fair is a project that has mirrored the region-wide development process?
That’s right. It’s been an exciting experience.
In our last interview, you told me that Asia is made up of many “islands”, and that mutual knowlege of each other’s culture (in this case art) can’t be taken for granted. The countries don’t know each other well and there’s little exchange. Has the fair created a bridge between the countries in terms of artistic production?
That will take time. It’s a work in progress, but we have taken great strides forward. Bear in mind that, apart from Japan, Taiwan and Korea, whose cultural development paralleled that of the Western countries during the cold war, and who were therefore already participants in the international art market, all the other Southeast Asian countries are emerging as far as contemporary art is concerned.
That’s not to say there were no modern or contemporary artists, but there wasn’t a system like those that existed in other countries, to support and promote single instances of artistic and cultural work, and give artists a cultural and economic outlet.
Has the fair bought about a sort of osmosis?
Yes, in a certain sense, it has. In terms of the market, in the first editions we saw that collectors from the various countries bought what they knew best, works by artists from their own countries. Over time, we’ve seen a change in this. For example, the Indonesian collectors buy works by Thailandese and Chinese artists, or in any case works they feel an affinity for, whatever the nationality of the artist. This is also true of collectors from the other countries.
At the fair we’ve set up the Collector’s Club, a place where collectors can meet, get to know each other and exchange ideas. You need to know that Asians are more reserved than European or Americans. They needed someone to get them together, who could establish connections. Step by step we’re changing the approach, not only of the collectors, but also of the institutions. Art Basel Hong Kong also operates on the basis of this model of education and establishment of contacts. It’s not as open as the Western art scene, but we’re working on it.
Let’ s move on to the galleries. These were mainly Asian for the early editions of Art Stage. Are there more International galleries, now?
The answer’s similar. Art Stage is growing, but the real question is, where do we want to go?
Ok. Where do you want to go?
To put it in marketing terms, the fair has to be an Asian brand. To achieve this, it needs to have a strong identity. Art Stage Singapore has to be an Asian fair, that represents Asia, that supports Asia, that gives the Asian galleries a chance to establish an international reputation. Right from the outset we decided that 75% of the galleries that participated in the fair would have to be Asian. That’s how it still is, and we have no intention of changing this model.
This choice is what distinguishes us from Art Basel Hong Kong, which is an International fair with a high proportion of Western galleries. People often ask me how I manage the competition with Art Basel Hong Kong. But Art Stage and Art Basel Hong Kong aren’t in competition. They complement each other in the Asian market. So you could say that what we do serves the interests of Art Basel Hong Kong and vice-versa.
In our last interview you also said that the art of Southeast Asia would become a brand on the International market. Who is the “brand” artist, the one the collectors should have bought six years ago?
There are many! With reference to two countries that have been at the forefront of the development of contemporary art, Indonesia and the Philippines, the names of Entang Wiharso and Handiwirman come to mind. Wiharso now has his own studio in New York and one in Indonesia and he travels between the two worlds.
The top artist on the market in the Philippines is Ronald Ventura, but art-watchers should also keep their eye on the young Jigger Cruz.
Research, attractive stands, a museal (art history) take on exhibition. Is this the vision you’re pursuing in Art Stage?
Nowadays it’s beyond doubt that, in Asia especially, it’s the market that forges the artists. The market makes art available to a much wider public, it’s a sort of democratization of art. But it’s very important to find a balance between the market and the content of the work. The fair must be a place where high quality work is presented, where visions and way of thinking can develop and meet.
We’ve done a lot of work on the content at Art Stage, with site-specific projects. For the 2016 edition, we’ve also introduced the Southeast Asia Forum, entitled Seismograph: Sensing the City – Art In the Urban Age. The idea for the forum comes from the ancient historical model: a public meeting place where ideas as well as goods could be exchanged. The central theme is the city of today and tomorrow.
(Seismograph: Sensing the City – Art In the Urban Age is divided into two parts: the talks and an exhibition).
21-24 January 2016