Major Singapore art fair Art Stage cancels a week before opening, leaving galleries and artists stranded

Japanese artist Miwa Komatsu during a live painting performance on at the eighth edition of Art Stage Singapore at the Sands Expo And Convention Centre in Jan, 2018.
The Straits Times

Art Stage Singapore, the Lion City’s main contemporary art fair, has suddenly been called off just one week ahead of its opening, causing havoc among the 45 participating galleries and their artists.

Visitors at Art Stage in 2018.
Lianhe Zaobao

In a letter to exhibitors, fair founder and president Lorenzo Rudolf wrote: “I’m sorry to have to inform you that as president of Art Stage Singapore, I am forced to immediately stop the preparations for Art Stage Singapore 2019 (Jan 24 to 27) and to cancel the fair.

“The given circumstances, about which we shortly will inform you, unfortunately leave no other choice. We ask you to cease all preparations for Art Stage Singapore 2019 from your side as well, or to reverse them.”

Marcus Teo, fair director, said today that he was also waiting to hear from head office the reasons for the cancellation. He added that they had just begun working with different stakeholders regarding the cancellation and he could not comment on whether the galleries would be compensated.

Rudolf, a Swiss national who used to be a director of Art Basel, launched the high-end international contemporary fair in 2011. Backed by the Singapore government, it became the anchor event of Singapore Art Week.

However, the number of exhibitors has fallen sharply, from 143 in 2016 to just 97 last year. Fewer than 50 had signed up for the 2019 fair.

Lorenzo Rudolf had cast doubt on the future of the Singapore event himself in 2018.
The Straits Times

Rudolf had cast doubt on the future of the Singapore event himself when he opened last year’s fair with a surprisingly vitriolic attack on the city’s potential as an art hub.

Yeo Shih Yun, an artist and founder of local art space Instinc, received the official email on Wednesday morning.

“I feel disappointed and played. We have put in a lot of efforts and so have our collaborators. We have three artists flying in,” she said.

Instinc had been preparing for a group show including Chihiro Kabata and Yuuri Kabata from Japan, Laudi Abilama from the UK, and Yeo herself. Kabata was going to give a contemporary dance performance at the booth and all artists were going to participate in a panel discussion about shared visual languages.

“It’s all down the drain,” Yeo said.

The Post first learned of the rumours of a cancellation on Tuesday and made calls to major exhibitors such as Opera Gallery and Tang Contemporary Art, which said that as of Tuesday evening they had not heard of the news and were still proceeding as planned.

Jasdeep Sandhu, owner of the Singapore- and Jogjakarta-based Gajah Gallery, said on Tuesday night that he had already made alternative plans to exhibit works by Yeo and Abilama based on rumours that Art Stage was going to be cancelled.

“I am holding an exhibition called ‘Monumental’ at my gallery and I guess I was the ‘plan B’ for those artists. I don’t think this is a big blow to Singapore as Art Week may benefit from decentralising and being reliant on one event,” he said.

“This year’s Art Week will see the launch of SEA Focus, a home-grown art fair that is going to be more relaxed and enjoyable than the Art Basel-type of fairs, and I think that’s what people want.”

Singapore, one of Asia’s wealthiest countries with world-class logistics and little restrictions on capital flow, has often fallen short of art fair organisers’ expectations as a market.

The Hong Kong-based Asia Contemporary Art Show pulled out in 2018 after demand proved insufficient to support its large-scale art fair. The Affordable Art Fair cut down its two editions a year to one last year.

But the search for a model that fits continues as two new art fairs prepare to fill the place of Art Stage.

There is SEA Focus, which opens at Gillman Barracks on January 24, and Art SG, a high-end fair launching in November.

The latter is organised by the same team behind Art HK before it was turned into Art Basel Hong Kong in 2012. It suffered a setback last November when MCH Holdings, the parent of Art Basel, decided not to invest in it and sold the stake to Magnus Renfrew.

Renfrew, a Hong Kong art consultant and Art HK co-founder, is this week opening his new venture, Taipei Dangdai, a new art fair that will add to the increasingly competitive scene for collectors in Asia.