11 Jan 2017: This January, with three important art events in Singapore, it’s a great time to think about buying art.
“Nowadays, we have economic crises worldwide,” declares Art Stage Singapore founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf. “It probably would be a good time to invest in art.” That may be a general statement, but for Singapore denizens, the time is more ripe than ever to reach into their wallets, particularly when it comes to investing in local artists. The art market here in the past 10 to 15 years has grown – with more exhibitions, art fairs and art spaces popping up – allowing individuals more opportunities to engage in the scene and learn about artists and their works.
To be sure, the opening of National Gallery Singapore just over a year ago, coupled with the opening of many commercial galleries – such as Art Asia X or AC42 Gallery, both of which specialise in local artists, as well as online platforms such as The Artling – has raised Singapore’s game on the world stage.
The high-profile auction titled Convergences: A Special Sale Of Singapore Art, held by Christie’s Hong Kong in 2015 to celebrate SG50, saw total sales meeting almost 97 per cent of its high estimate, with works by the late pioneers of Singapore modern art such as Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Chong Swee setting records decades after they were created.
For Seah Tzi-Yan, the director of local arts association T.H.E.O. Arts Professionals, this interest in older Singapore artists’ works indicates that the market is looking inwards to find “good things within our own shores”.
SPOT THE WINNERS
For the layman, it takes time to develop a nose for “good art”. And there are no shortage of opportunities here, with Singapore Art Week taking place from Jan 11 to 22. Art fairs like Art Stage Singapore, from Jan 12 to 15, are “a good one-stop shop to look, in a short period of time, at a lot of art”, says Audrey Yeo, the owner and director of gallery Yeo Workshop and arts association Arnoldii Arts Club. “They’re also a great place to get to see a lot of galleries, and identify the ones whose style you like and for the price points.”
To supplement the visual feast, T.H.E.O. Arts Professionals is holding the third edition of The Art Week Conversations, from Jan 12 – 21, that cover the art markets of the Philippines, South-east Asia and Singapore. The Art Week Tour on Jan 21 is worth checking out too – the full-day event takes participants from galleries to artists’ studios and collectors’ homes to give them an overview of the art scene. In addition to talks, discussions and panel debates with collectors, artist-curators and museum directors, Art Stage will this year present Collectors’ Stage 2017. The programme showcases 19 works on loan from six Singapore-based art collections, whose owners include Hady Ang, Michael Tay and Talenia Phua Gajardo (MT Collection), Michelangelo Samson and Lourdes Samson, and Kenneth Tan. Some of them will be present at the exhibition to talk about their collection.
OWN A PIECE OF CULTURE
However, while there’s money to be made in the arts, most people working in the industry look at investing from a cultural point of view, and that’s why the role that collectors play today is arguably more important than ever.
“I’ve seen collectors who are really specific in their collections,” says Yeo. “For example, they collect only works by the young generation of contemporary Singaporean artists between the ages of 25 and 45. This is very savvy as they can pick up works at good prices, and my guess is that they are attempting to define a generation in their collection, and that they will eventually publish a book or loan their collection out.”
Yeo believes in investing in an art scene and its local culture, rather than investing in objects. She says: “It is the act of collecting art that contributes to a person’s understanding of their culture and heritage.”
Seah agrees. “I think that when buyers start investing in heart-quotient, they start to take ownership of a precious cultural commodity that you won’t get anywhere else. It’s always worth investing in local artists if you choose to call this city your home. No other art will document and hold the same meaning for you,” she says.
That’s the philosophy with which a collector, who wants to be known only as Mrs Tay, began her journey. “We were living overseas and wanted to showcase the work of local artists, and to show another aspect of Singapore,” she remembers. The first work she purchased was by contemporary artist Tang Da Wu, one year after he founded The Artists Village group.
Today, her collection has expanded to become a survey of contemporary Singaporean art, with pieces by painter Heman Chong, photographer John Clang, sculptor Han Sai Por and installation artist Michael Lee, among others. But she also no longer buys art just because they’re made in Singapore.
“Now, we think of them as artists whose work we appreciate,” she says. “We don’t buy art as investment. We buy what attracts us, because we enjoy it and we want it in our home. Twenty years ago, we bought a few Toko Shinoda prints when we lived in Tokyo. Did those prints appreciate in value? Yes, they did, but we’re not rushing to cash in. We love them in our house.”
“There isn’t a formula to good buying and it’s fine to be a little eclectic if that suits your personality,” says Seah. “Know that your taste changes over time, and that’s fine too. Buying art should be an extension of your personality and character.”
Muses Rudolf: “All the best collections in the world are very, very personal ones. Not one was built up with thoughts of investment. But in the end, all these personal collections became the ones with the highest value. What you should do is buy (art) with your eyes, your brain, and your soul.”