By Ces Oreña-Drilon
Southeast Asia’s largest ever art fair, ART SG, held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center closed last Sunday, January 15, with over 42,000 visitors attending.
Collectors from the Philippines and other parts of Asia snapped up works of established and emerging Filipino artists.
In an interview with Bilyonaryo.com, Shuyin Yang, fair director of ART SG, enthused: “ It’s been wonderful. This has completely exceeded our expectations. The crowd has been fantastic, we’ve had visitors from all over the world. It’s the largest contingent ever from the Philippines.“
A smattering of bilyonaryos were spotted flying in from the Philippines and different parts of the world to join the international art spectators. Alicia Sy who handles VIP Relations for the Philippines, attributes the enthusiastic attendance of Filipino art lovers to Manila’s very active and engaging art scene, “It didn’t surprise me that many collectors would be interested in attending an art fair of Art SG’s caliber. Magnus Renfrew (ART SG co-founder) and Shuyin Yang made a few trips to Manila to host some private lunches, dinners, and even a large cocktail event where many collectors decided they would attend the fair.”
This enthusiasm easily translated into robust sales. The Drawing Room of Jun Villalon sold out its works by Pam Yan Santos to Pinoy art collectors, even before ART SG opened its VIP preview. Celebrity art lovers and low key moneyed art collectors flocked to admire Yan-Santos’ work. National Artist BenCab said her works stood out from the over 1000 artists participating represented by 164 galleries. “Pam is innovative and showed something new. Usually we see more or less the same art on canvas in art fairs. The rest, I’ve seen before. I am really an admirer of Pam.”
Keong Ruoh Ling, an art adviser who spent 15 years at auction house Christie’s as a specialist on Southeast Asia is another Pam Yan-Santos fan. We caught her at The Drawing Room booth with a client. At Christies, her job meant sourcing modern art from the Philippines for the auction market. Hence Keong is very familiar with the journey of Pam Yan-Santos, “I watched her grow with great interest and it’s like she has continued to surprise you, even an established artist like Pam. A good artist always gives you a surprise element. She wows you still. That is always the litmus test for an artist you know so well. Pam is very emotive and personal. Her work Involves her life, family. I brought someone from Indonesia yesterday who wasn’t familiar with her work and she instantly connected.”
Nicole Decapia, curatorial associate at Drawing Room says, “Pam’s works for this show talk about her experiences during the pandemic period when everything was a blur and pretty vague. She focused her work on things we do in life, but don’t know where they would lead to. That is why she uses a lot of the puzzles that you try to complete.”
Art Informal carried three artists, Singapore-based Elaine Navas, younger artists Amir Briza and Nice Buenaventura. Navas and Buenaventura’s works were sold out, while more than half of Brisa’s cut paper flower works were snapped up by collectors with prices ranging from $US 500-800.
At a lease of US $22,000 for the entire 5-day duration of ART SG, Drawing Room and Art Informal both made a tidy profit. In addition, their artists were introduced to a broader market. Art Informal owner Tina Fernandez says, “We had Singaporean buyers for Nice, Brisa and Elaine and Indonesian buyers for JC Jacinto at SEA Focus.” SEA Focus is another fair solely focusing on Southeast Asian Art held at warehouses along Tanjong Pagar Distripark in Singapore.
Keong Rouh Ling said she was pleasantly surprised at ArtInformal’s booth, “It’s very challenging to have a tightly curated booth with 3 different artists. There’s a dialogue among the three chosen artists. Most booths have disparate items.” Fernandez explains the theme of the show revolved around an arboretum where the 3 artists made works that reflected how they coped during the pandemic.
Navas says the three artists decided to do vegetation as a theme for the show ,“ I was thinking of gulay, because it’s an overlooked beauty. Whenever I go to the grocery, cause I cook and I see the display, it’s so beautiful! I even take pictures of it. The leaf of “gulay” is an art in itself.” She even jokes, “Parang ako lang ang ‘buang’ taking pictures in the grocery.” In fact, the biggest work of Navas at the exhibition prominently featured onions, now a scarce commodity in Philippine kitchens. Navas says painting the humble gulay was comforting for her during the pandemic.
Navas’ signature brush strokes are unmistakable in her works, showing an intense depth. We learned she divides her canvas into grids and works on them one at a time. This technique helps her with the daunting task of finishing her massive detailed works.
The third Pinoy gallery, Cebu-based Tropical Futures Institute is among 12 young galleries invited by ART SG. These galleries showed works by emerging talents especially created for the fair. Each gallery was given a discounted rate of US $10,875 for a 25 sqm booth. Chris Fussner, founder and creative director of Tropical Futures says, “It’s been great, there’s a strong reputation for Philippine art and the scene in Singapore. In ASEAN there’s a lot more understanding between countries. The Philippines is perceived as having strong collectors and strong artists — a thriving market for emerging artists especially. “ It was after Tropical Futures’ participation in Art Philippines in 2020 that they were spotted by ART SG.
Shuyin Yang says ART SG aims to establish a broad appeal from established to rising talent, “We reached out to young galleries under six years of age, “ ART SG wants to give young galleries the experience of setting up in the international landscape. “They have risen to the occasion,” she says.
ALSO READ: Who’s Who at ART SG
Chris Fussner couldn’t have hoped for more, “For sure we did good business at Art SG considering we’re a new gallery from Cebu; several collectors from Korea and Singapore bought our works.” Tropical Futures didn’t sell everything but their showing definitely exceeded their expectations for the fair.
One of its featured artists is Kris Ardeña who says the response to his works was unexpectedly good, “I’m very happy about it.” His main idea is to challenge painting, departing from traditional materials like oil and acrylic, which are from the Western canon. “I wanted something based on where we’re from in the Philippines. It’s always humid, the climate is obviously tropical, things crack easily, degrade easily so I wanted to use that as a form of construction in terms of painting.”One work takes inspiration from the jeepney’s leatherette upholstery and another from the lowly retaso basahan with tarpaulin as its canvas, “it’s a common material in the Philippines, something relatable to us culturally,” Kris explains.
Artist Kris Ardeña’s work on tarpaulin painted with house paint to truly reflect the colors of the tropics. Kris was inspired by the humble retaso basahan. Beneath the layers are ‘White Flower” labels, a favorite liniment of Kris’ mother.
Filipino artists were also showcased by galleries outside the Philippines. For instance, Singapore and Sydney based Yavuz Gallery hung Kawayan De Guia, Ayka Go, and Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan works. Gelyn Marquez of Yavuz Gallery says all their pieces were sold.
Shuyin Yang says sales reports from participating galleries were looking strong, “This is a major art event taking place after the pandemic, we aren’t out of the pandemic yet actually so naturally people are just starting to get used to attending large scale events. We’ve had sales of over a US $1 million from the major blue chip galleries like White Cube, David Zwirner, Gagosian on the first day. A number of galleries are reporting that they are meeting first time buyers, new to them and already transacting on the first day.”
There was much anticipation for ART SG’s inaugural which was marked by several delays, but as it turned out its timing couldn’t have been more opportune. “Over the last 18 months, things shifted in a very interesting way. We saw an influx of wealth coming in. Demographics like the Indonesians and the Chinese have started to take up residency here. You realize that we were actually building an international event. So it has been quite an interesting journey, although challenging at times.”
Asked if Singapore was out to compete and grab Hongkong’s standing as an art capital, Shuyin Yang said, “We want to Art SG to stand on its own feet. We want Southeast Asians to say this connects us. There is a good diversity of art collectors in Asia. There is space for several fairs.”
ART SG is under the umbrella of Art Assembly which handles a portfolio of art fairs around Asia, with one in Taiwan and soon in Tokyo as well.
The choice of Singapore as a venue to showcase Southeast Asian art was a no-brainer because of its infrastructure, hospitality, ease of transport and English being commonly spoken. Shuyin Yang adds, “The stability that Singapore has to offer in terms of travel borders reopening was a plus. We are a mask free event that is pretty phenomenal.”
In addition Alicia Sy says Art SG was a huge success in bringing together the world’s finest art galleries to the doorstep of Southeast Asia, “I appreciate that the intent was to create an art fair specifically for the region with its collectors in mind , and I thought it did just that, through the galleries that were represented and the artists that were featured. All participants really brought their A-game to the fair. I also loved that there were many satellite activities happening around Singapore in celebration of Singapore Art Week.”
Trickie Lopa, co-founder of Art Philippines, which is mounting its own fair this February says, “I think it’s great that a major art fair highlighting South East Asia has been launched. Singapore has always been the meeting point between our part of the world and the rest of the globe. ArtSG and all the initiatives organized throughout Singapore Art Week will present wonderful opportunities for Philippine artists and art lovers: both to highlight Filipino art and also to increase our exposure to global conversations.”
Now hopefully all roads will lead to Manila this February 17-19 for Art Fair Philippines- a smaller modest version of ART SG, with a distinctly Filipino touch.
If there’s anything that was proven by Pinoys in ART SG, it’s that our soft power in the world of art deserves more projection.
*This article was made possible with support from The Singapore Tourism Board