How different is the Singapore Contemporary Art Show from Art Stage Singapore?

How different is the Singapore Contemporary Art Show from Art Stage Singapore?

Get ready, 2016

Text: Adibah Isa

Happening at the same time as Art Stage Singapore 2016, the introduction of Singapore Contemporary Art Show is quite a gamble. Its show director Douwe Cramer tells us why it works

You've already heard the buzz. The guys from the Asia Contemporary Art Show in Hong Kong are well into their seventh year and are branching out — next stop, Singapore. Happening in January 2016, it's set in the same week as Art Stage. That's due to ruffle some feathers, but for us, it just makes another good excuse to load up on the champagne and put on the conversational thinking caps in the discovery of new art.

Recently, they've announced a five-member advisory board, comprising of Singapore-based influencers in art. From their picks are names such as T.K Quek, deputy chairman of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute; artist and curator Michael Lee; and Asia Pacific senior brand director of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Arnaud Champenois.

Show director Douwe Cramer was in town last month for a visit, and we had a chance to chat about how the Singapore Contemporary Art Show differs from its counterpart in Hong Kong and Art Stage.

Douwe Cramer

Are you an artist yourself?
No, my background is more music than visual arts. I play various instruments but I'm not a very good musician. In a very early part of my life I played cello. That was my parents saying you should play an instrument and they picked the violin — I said "no, I'm a boy". So I picked a cello and that lasted for about five years. Then I was sick and tired of it so I picked the guitar.

How did you get involved in the art world?
I've been working in various industries including management, and started an art business four years ago with some former colleagues. We had lots of plans but we decided that whatever plan we had, it had to start with an art fair. And since we all had been living in Hong Kong for 15 to 20 years, we felt that Hong Kong was the obvious place to start.

So why have you brought the fair from Hong Kong to Singapore?
It's a good market. You don't hear that very much but I think Singapore is an interesting market for art like Hong Kong. It has to be very quickly on your list in Asia simply because of the hub status. I think the Singapore market resembles the Hong Kong market in many ways so it's a pretty easy choice. The other thing is that we got a space in Singapore at a good time. So that was offered to us very quickly and I thought "okay, if everything is here and we are comfortable in the market and there's space, it's a bit like of why not?'. It felt like an obvious choice at that time and we really had to say yes.

What are you going to do differently from Hong Kong?
In Hong Kong, there aren't a lot of good venues and we've always had to work in a hotel. If you look at a normal art fair, you're walking along an aisle and you see six booths at the same time. For Hong Kong, you always have to turn in and look at the gallery one by one. For a big collector, it's a great environment for a private conversation to a gallery about buying an expensive work. The limitation is that you can only bring in 10,000 people and we had about 100 exhibitors in the hotel. And over time, you can't play with the format because you have so many space limitations. So you can't reinvent, add programming or something special. So in that sense it's very different in Singapore.

The target market will be similar and some of the exhibitors will be the same, but they will do a very different exhibition here because we can offer them a nice, wide space, white walls and a grey floor. For a gallery, they can do more interesting things here. In terms of engaging collectors, we may struggle here but we will fight very hard to create a friendly, intimate and very accessible environment that we want.

What sort of visitors are you hoping to attract?
The big volume of art purchases is done by a group of people with a disposable income that are interested in art but not always going to all the openings — they are busy and have many other hobbies. They're professionals, both expat and local. They have a nice house with big white walls and they'd like to put original art on there. When they walk into a gallery, it's quite intimidating and they don't have a lot of choice. They don't really know if they're paying too much or whether it's a good deal so they buy at art fairs because they can overcome those things. It's not so intimidating and it's very accessible. There are lots of people you can talk with so you can make an informed and confident choice.

Why did you choose to have it at the same time as Art Stage Singapore?
If you look at any major art hub, everybody has an art week and events around the same time. Of course, if you want to bring out this group of people, it helps to have a lot of events so there's something for everybody. We want to bring out this group that's very interested to do this in the shape of an art week. I think the second aspect is for the international collectors who come to Singapore — it's more interesting to have two or three things to go to instead of one. So I think in many ways it's good, as long as you add to it. So you don't just copy what someone else is doing — as long as you address a certain different demand and need, I think it's all good.

Let's talk about that difference between Singapore Contemporary Art Show and Art Stage.
Art Stage is positioned a little bit higher in the market than us, so we're between Affordable Art Fair and Art Stage. I'm sure there's an overlap, but I think the bulk of the work at our show will range from $20,000 to $50,000. I think Art Stage has a very strong South East Asian focus, while we probably have a little bit less — we are more about bringing a very diverse range of art.

With both fairs happening at the same week are you concerned at all that you will have visitors only going for Art Stage?
I think a lot of them will still go because they are looking for choice. Are there some certain collectors who always go to Art Stage and can't be bothered to go anywhere else? Yeah, probably. Is that a worry to me? Not really. The number won't be huge and if that's what they want, it's not a big concern.

So for new collectors, what's the price range they can expect from you guys?
The range of choice. There are some that will be far less than $10,000 I think.

I noticed you have Dean Reilly as one of your artists — his works are a good start for young collectors.
He's very good actually and well established in Australia. If you look at some of his other works, he has some really cool stuff. He lives in the hills somewhere, in the deepest, darkest part of Australia. He's doing a new series for Singapore. But yeah, he's very collectible and his prices are steadily moving up but he's not very expensive as yet. I would say US$10,000 to US$15,000, and you can have his works.

The Singapore Contemporary Art Show will be held from 21 to 24 January 2016 at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre. For more information, click here.