Interview with Lorenzo Rudolf
Art Stage Singapore’s Founder and Director Lorenzo Rudolf opened the 5th edition of Singapore’s premier art event on 21 January at the Marina Bay Sands. Speaking to the media, Rudolf outlined the 5-year progression of the Fair, revealing the strategy to creating a regionally successful art fair: A cooperation with Singapore’s educational and cultural institutions to cultivate a culturally aware fair going public. He also emphasized a persistent challenge with regards to advocating for Southeast Asian art which is that the region remains to be fragmented to this day.
In this edition of The Artling interviews, we caught up with Lorenzo Rudolf to get his insight into the regional art market, its status and challenges and his plans to position Art Stage Singapore into making the region a more established arena for supporting contemporary art.
For the fifth edition of Art Stage Singapore, what aspects of Asian Contemporary Art is given focus? Is there a specific trend/movement that the Fair will highlight?
In the international art world, there is a momentum for Southeast Asian contemporary art. Museums worldwide, also leading ones in the States and Europe, are beginning to be interested in Southeast Asian contemporary art, to hold exhibitions and to collect them. The same goes for private and corporate collectors. Undeniably, this phenomenon has also got to do with Art Stage Singapore and its engagement with the world for Southeast Asia. The first art scene in Southeast Asia which received big international attention was Indonesia, now followed by the Philippines; but also artists from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar have got on the radar. Also in Southeast Asia itself there is a constantly growing awareness, with Art Stage as the area’s matchmaking flagship event and Singapore as its hub.
We had also realise this positive development at the fair. At Art Stage Singapore 2015, the Southeast Asian presence will no longer be dominated by just Indonesia and Singapore. Today, the Philippines and Malaysia have also been push into the limelight; both countries have a more than doubled presence as compared to the past years. We have also received interests and support from collectors from all over the region like never before. Southeast Asia understands Art Stage Singapore as its International platform. We are fully aware of it and face this task.
Works by Renato and Guerrero Habulan, Father and son artists from the Philippines.
Therefore one of the highlights this year at the Fair is definitely the Southeast Asia Platform. This year, we took a greater step ahead and will be presenting a 100% curated exhibition of over 1000sqm, executed with a fully academic approach. However, each work is backed by galleries and all presented artworks are for sale. This is probably the first time an art fair has ever done so. Titled “Eagles Fly, Sheep Flock – Biographical Imprints: Artistic Practices in Southeast Asia”, the exhibition will showcase in a spectacular way over 30 of Southeast Asia’s most interesting and promising emerging artists who are also the stars of tomorrow. The Southeast Asia Platform is curated by Khim Ong, one of the best emerging curators of the region.
Another original component debuting at the Fair is Video Stage. Video Stage will showcase over 50 works from all over Asia Pacific, and the selection includes significant historical works. Video is a difficult medium for galleries to present at art fairs. However in a time where multimedia and technology are ubiquitous, video is a medium that is increasingly used and increasingly important in young art scenes. Hence, we have decided to create Video Stage, which will be a permanent component of the Fair in the following years.
The Fair will have other various museum-like exhibitions, of which one will be dedicated to renowned French cubist and surrealist painter Andre Masson, where over 50 works will be showcased and will be the first of this scale to be shown in Asia. There will also be a special video installation by celebrated Russian artist collective AES+F, who will demonstrate, through their works, how amazing and fascinating video art can be. We will also have a special exhibition of large scale paintings by 16 Malaysian artists, which includes prominent names, titled ‘Being Human’.
Last but not least, there will be a spectacular entrance installation to the VIP Lounge specially created for the Fair by international superstars and Turner Prize winners Gilbert & George, who will also be physically present at the Fair, guaranteeing funny and interesting encounters not to be missed.
British Artists Gilbert & George at Art Stage Singapore 2015
But Art Stage is not only a marketplace for collectors and VIPs, it is at the same time, a temporary museum for everybody interested in art; in nowhere else will you be able to get such a comprehensive overview of Southeast Asia’s artistic creativity than at the Fair. Consequently, there is an interesting juxtaposition of works from Asia alongside selected works from the West.
Surrounding Art Stage Singapore, there will also be over 100 side events, all coordinated under the umbrella of the Singapore Art Week.
For this year, Art Stage will be the first of many art fairs in Singapore and in the region, what sets this fair apart from the likes of Art Basel HK, Singapore Art Fair, Shanghai Art Fair, Artfair Jogja, etc?
For a very long time, the art world was defined by academia, museums, art critics, etc. But today, the art world is mainly driven by the market. An art fair, like successful artists and galleries, have to become a brand. This means that an art fair has to have a clear identity. What we see today here in Asia was what happened in Europe and then the States in the 90s: there are new art fairs emerging all over the region. This is a definite sign that the market is moving. However it is clear that neither collectors nor galleries can participate in every single art fair – they have to be selective on which to attend. From how I see it, in the next couple of years, only 2 fairs in Asia will remain to be of International importance: one is Art Basel Hong Kong and the other Art Stage Singapore. While the fair in Hong Kong is backed by the most established art fair brand in the world, Singapore has a young brand that is well positioned in the region. As a young brand, we not only have to be competitive but also creative. We have to always be a step ahead of the big established competitor, knowing exactly that whatever we create successfully starts to show also there the following year – it is the classic destiny of the young brand. At the same time, it is also what keeps us actively competitive and innovative. This is why we create new formats like the Platforms and curated sales exhibitions, and why we continuously invest in the discovery of new artists and galleries and be involved in helping them to enter the International art market. Art Stage Singapore is where you can discover Asia and more specifically, Southeast Asia.
However, every art fair has its own target audience in the same market. On a more local level, it is clear that there are many art fairs which are successful in their own domestic markets. Other than Art Stage Singapore, each country in the region has its own art fairs which is great because each of these art scenes need their own marketplaces. The important thing for all these fairs is that they do not try to copy or even to canibalize each other.
A very specific situation is mainland China, especially Shanghai. The situation has totally changed from the time when I had launched together with two partners, Asia’s first big international contemporary art fair in 2007. Shanghai has today a clear masterplan regarding its development in contemporary art, and besides big and spectacular private museums and new galleries, the city hosts around ten contemporary art fairs per year. Two of them, Art 021 beside the Rockbund museum and especially the Westbund Art Fair, organized by former top artist Zhou Tiehai, are really interesting.
Rudolf during the 2014 Art Stage
We’ve also seen some art fairs get a more difficult start than others. What do you think is the key in sustaining the momentum of support from artists, galleries and collectors here in the region?
Having more art fairs does not simply imply that the art market becomes bigger; some of these new art fairs already realised it. The market can only grow through education. Singapore is still an emerging and very fragile market, far away from being established. Instead of stabilising and developing the market, all these new art fairs create a big confusion; we all saw the counterproductive consequences. Besides that, we have to be clear that, in an International context, Singapore only functions as a destination; also Art Stage Singapore could never survive relying on the Singaporean market alone. The Fair is successful because it brings together collectors, buyers and art lovers from all over Southeast Asia, Asia and even Australia, Europe and America. This is only possible with huge marketing efforts. You have to be willing to invest in the promotion of the event as well as of Singapore. You need the support of the art world, you need the support of the galleries, of the collectors and of the artists. In other words, they have to believe in you and you have to cooperate with them. Here, we are a region that is not as developed as it is in the West but is nonetheless, part of the globalisation of the art world. That means, as an organiser of an art fair, you have to cooperate and support the local scene much more and help them get into the International game. That is how you build up mutual respect and confidence. At the end, it is the market which decides which art fairs will succeed. As mentioned earlier, not all galleries, collectors and artists can participate in every single fair. At the moment, they follow Art Stage Singapore and we will do everything that we can, which will also be the case in future.
What differences have you observed between large Art markets – between NY, Basel, Miami, Southeast Asia, China for example?
All these markets are very specific.
New York is very sophisticated and very educated. It has a unique artists, gallery and museum scene. A very strong pillar of the New York art market is the powerful Jewish community. But New York is also the art destination in the US. However, it is noticeable that New York is no longer as dominant as it was 10 years ago. Globalisation in the art world has created new centers worldwide and the art world is increasingly becoming decentralized. Nevertheless, New York will always be New York.
Basel, a small city in Switzerland, incredibly educated, has a very long art and museum tradition. The first public museum worldwide opened here in the 16th century. Up to date, the museum scene has always strongly been supported by the local aristocratic families, especially by the very wealthy owners of the worldwide famous local pharmaceutical industry. There is probably no other city which, in relation to the number of its citizens, has more museums than Basel. Nevertheless, it is a quite quiet place, except during the period of Art Basel, when the city becomes the get together of the global art scene. Since the 1990s, when Art Basel created a new art fair format which revolutionized the art market and made the fair the world event as it is - I had the chance to be Art Basel’s director at this time - the entire art world meets every year in June in Basel.
With the launch of Art Basel Miami Beach, America’s top art fair, Miami decided to change its “MiamiVice image” to become a serious cultural city with a lot of new private and public museums - the most spectacular one is the Perez Art Museum, donated by top developer and collector Jorge Perez and built by Herzog & de Meuron -, theatres, performing art centers, concert halls, etc. The fair is without any doubt, the world’s most socialized art event, it is theplace to see and to be seen. There are more private jets flying in than for Super Bowl. However, other than the period of the art fair, Miami’s art market is limited, never comparable with New York or even Los Angeles.
China, on the other hand, is still a very emerging and fragile market. Despite its economically induced fluctuations, it is constantly growing. Its biggest problem is the extremely high taxes on art. That’s the reason why a big part of the market evaded to Hong Kong. Nevertheless, there are a lot of outstanding and breathtaking public and private art initiatives in China. Even when nobody knows if and when the tax situation will change, China will surely become one of the most important art markets worldwide.
Principally, Southeast Asia has a big potential. There is a strong economical growth and strong and constantly growing art scenes and art markets all over. There is an increasing interest in Souteast Asian contemporary art worldwide … but often, a big lack of competitive structures and infrastructure. Unfortunately, there are also nationalistic views obstructing an International growth. To have an International weight, Southeast Asia has to function and position itself much more as an open scene; as one market. Singapore is the only place which, as the regions’ financial and multicultural center, could bridge these problems and become Southeast Asia’s active, supportive and internationally important arts hub. This is a big opportunity, but also a big challenge for the lionstate. Art Stage Singapore plays an important integrative role in match-making the Southeast Asian scenes and between markets and is the building bridge for these scenes to the International art world. The entire region hopes that with the upcoming National Gallery, in coordination with Singapore Art Museum, the instituitional aspect of Singapore’s art scene will also strongly play a part.
A piece by Chinese Artist Yang Yongliang
Which aspects of this region’s art market still require development before it matures to an established environment for buying museum quality art?
I think there are 3 aspects which are crucial for becoming an Internationally relevant and mature art place:
First, education. The higher the tower you want to build, the stronger its basis must be. In other words, a strong art city needs a society with interest and knowledge as its basis. Contemporary art is increasingly an important component of every modern urban society. Imagine that art education starts at school.
Second, openness. Contemporary art is a global language that is understood all over the world. It goes beyond national boundaries, has nothing to do with national matters.
Third, Art has to be understood not only as a business but first of all ,as a cultural good. We have to focus much more on content. Let’s be clear: without content there is no market, without content there is no business.
There was a recent business times article which discussed the unfortunate effects to galleries of holding too many art fairs in Singapore, that some galleries are opting to close their spaces as much of the public now prefer to going to art fairs as opposed to visiting galleries. What are your views on that?
It is true that there is a trend worldwide that galleries are increasingly forced to participate at art fairs, some of them make up to 80% of their annual turnover at fairs. Collectors are no more traveling to visit single galleries, they focus much more on art fairs – and on auctions and biennales – where they have more comprehensive overviews and offerings. This happens all over the world, not just in Singapore or Southeast Asia. It is a fact that the recent inflation of art fairs in Singapore have created an unhealthy confusion in the fragile local market. But I do not think this is the real problem of these galleries mentioned in the article. We have a lot of new competition in the local gallery market; the offer has massively increased and follows more and more International trends. This is a typical consequence of the globalization of the art world. On the other hand, we have to realize that the local demand did not develop in a comparable way. Therefore, what are the reasons in a global city like Singapore? We have to ask why art exhibition openings at local museums mostly have such a small attendance? CCA opened a world class exhibition by Asian icon Yang Fudong and the artist himself was present … However, the museum was half empty. Everywhere else, people probably would have queued to get in. We have to ask why in Singapore, art galleries have very few visitors … While boutiques and malls, they are always packed? We have to ask why a number of local collectors do not buy any artworks in Singapore … yet are very active outside the country? The answers are probably not purely market-related …
And finally, what role does the Southeast Asian market play in the cultivation of art on a more global scale?
As mentioned before, we have a momentum for Southeast Asian art in the international market. However the window is limited; we know that this will not continue for eternity. The trend will be over and every artist will have to compete and to position themselves alone. Some will more likely succeed Internationally as they would have found their specific and unique way of expression, which is understood all over the world.
However, our main problem here in Southeast Asia is not creativity and artistic quality; the biggest problem is that most of the region does not have a competitive infrastructure as compared to other destinations in the world. Nevertheless, with a bit more open, constructive cooperation and exchange among the different art scenes, together with Singapore altruisticly offering its unique infrastructure and support possibilities to the best emerging artists of the region, Southeast Asia would absolutely have the potential to be of important standing in the global art world … with Singapore as its hub and as an art city of worldwide reputation.