SINGAPORE’S high rental prices, cultural diversity, and unwillingness to pay for the arts may have forced art festivals and galleries to exit, said artists, galleries and art enthusiasts as they raised concerns over a plateauing art scene.

Just last week, a cloud of gloom plagued the country’s creative industry when a sudden announcement from Art Stage Singapore stated it was cancelling. The annual contemporary art fair was slated to take place from 25 to 27 Jan. Is the business model of a gallery simply unsustainable in Singapore?

The fair, launched in 2011, has seen international buyers flock to the island-state for its past editions, as artists and galleries gather in the name of contemporary Asian art. But this year, poor sales and alleged unfair competition from another art fair resulted in a pull-out, local media reported, causing artists and galleries to scramble for alternative venues to mitigate losses. The abrupt withdrawal is not new to Singapore.

Over the years, the art scene has seen the closure of museums and galleries which has inadvertently forced artists to rethink the value of art in the country.

Commercial art museum Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris shut its doors three years ago due to weak visitorship and financial challenges — just slightly less than a year after its grand opening. The Singapore Contemporary Art Show also ceased operations after two editions.

Not a surprise

As more art festivals start to downsize – the Affordable Art Fair has cut down its two shows to one — artists and galleries worry what lurks ahead for them.

“In Singapore, the economy is slowing down and rental space is also really expensive,” said Herman Salleh, director of art consultancy company H.ARTS COLLECTIVE, explaining that the business model of a gallery may not sustainable in Singapore. Salleh added that some galleries have shifted to online platforms for sales, while others venture in collaborations with commercial companies, such as interior design studios and architectural firms. “There are also not as many collectors here now, with most of them from overseas, so in Singapore, there are really not many buyers,” he said.

For budding artist Atin Yeo, the culturally diverse nature of Singaporeans was a factor that contributed to Art Stage’s exit. “Artists often want to feel as if they are speaking to and being understood by the general public or intended audience,” said the 20-year-old, who is half-Thai.

“In other places, the audience shares similar cultural perspectives so artists can get their messages across. They’re probably not going to be achieving that very well in Singapore.” The cancellation of Art Stage would hinder future prospective international artists, added Yeo, and shows a lack of care or concern for the wellbeing of artists and galleries.

He said: “It’s almost as if the executors of Art Stage (are) trying to damage Singapore’s reputation as an art platform.”’

the business model of a gallery may not sustainable in Singapore
Photo Credit: Art Stage 2017

Not all is lost

Even though many expressed their disappointment over the cancellation of Art Stage, it only contributed to getting the local art community to band together. Plural Art Mag, a publication that promotes contemporary art, started Facebook group “Art Stage SOS” to reach out to artists to find venues for them to exhibit their work. The team at Plural Art Mag said they saw firsthand how difficult it was for a small collective to deal with the cancellation.

“We thought that as a media platform, we could use our reach to see if any of our readers had space that they could share with other artists and gallerists affected by the cancellation,” said publication founders Usha and Pauline.

Studio and homeowners have also jumped in by offering their spaces as alternative venues to display artworks. Learning of the number of offers that originated from the general public who were not necessarily in the art sector was heartening, said Usha and Pauline.

Faith Joyce Koh, a communications undergraduate who attended Art Stage for the past three years, agreed that Singaporeans are slowly taking ownership of the arts industry, but said more needs to be done to cultivate a vibrant arts scene for the country.

“People can start first by willing to support the arts in action — both by patronising and paying for it,” said Koh, who is a communication undergraduate. “Arts is a reflection, as well as the building blocks of shaping a nation’s culture. It helps us to think critically and in more dynamic ways,” she added.

Alas, it appears we need to stop thinking of art as a luxury if the nation is ever to grow in this respect.



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