Southeast Asia is considered an exotic place by people from the Western Hemisphere – a place to relax, but not necessarily a place to find creative contemporary art culture. Yet it comprises countries that have deep cultural roots that are yet to be explored fully by the rest of the world. So SEA Focus is a new initiative by STPI – Creative Workshop and Gallery, which has been conceived to push this to the top.
An art fair is a commercially driven thing where galleries conduct transactions. It’s also an important anchor point for visitors. At Art Basel Miami Beach, for instance, I was told that there are as many as 40 other small fairs happening at the same time at the height of it, and the entire city is geared towards servicing all the people who fly in. When Art Stage Singapore (25–27 January) first happened here eight years ago, people flew in and there was a positive effect on the city’s cultural tourism.
But the habits of buyers have changed over the years. Traditional collectors would spend a lot of time with the gallerists and artists, really getting to know the artists’ practice. Now, those collectors are very rare. People are much savvier and go to see a lot of shows, but they also rely heavily on email and social media. Many people also buy just from looking at electronic images.
Yet, art is something physical. You can’t transmit the same feelings as when you see the real thing. Hence, we really want SEA Focus to be able to reach out to the next generation of buyers and the public – and show them what art and the art market are about. The art market is not just about the $1.3 million cut-up Banksy at an auction – it’s about what gallerists are doing every day: promoting and working with their artists on projects.
SEA Focus is happening concurrently with Art Stage, and we expect some galleries to do both fairs. In Shanghai, there’s West Bund Art & Design Fair as well as Art021, so clearly galleries also have to make choices.
“The art market is not just about the $1.3 million cut-up Banksy at an auction”
Among SEA Focus participants, one that stands out to me is an Australian gallery bringing works by Laos-born Australian artists. I’ve been to Laos and seen a lot of traditional craft, but I haven’t met any Laotian contemporary artists. There are also galleries from Korea, Japan and America who work with Southeast Asian creatives. That is the truly exciting thing. It gives me hope that Southeast Asian artists are not only appreciated here, but that there are possibilities for them outside the region too.
Of course, there is a degree of fair fatigue. A decade ago, there used to be 25 or 30 global art fairs, but that number has now ballooned to several hundred in one calendar year. So, is SEA Focus is really the answer? We will see what the response is and determine how it can transform into something even more interesting. We can’t offer just another art fair – nor do I want to.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine