The art scene in Singapore is plateauing according to art enthusiasts, artists, and galleries. They attribute the lack of growth of the art sector to exorbitant rental prices, different cultural backgrounds, and the people’s unwillingness to pay for the art.
A few weeks back, the country’s creative industry was engulfed in a dark cloud after there was an unexpected announcement from Art Stage Singapore indicating that it was being canceled. The contemporary art fair was scheduled to happen between January 25th and 27th, 2019. The happenings left one question on the mind of many: Could it be possible that the art gallery business is not sustainable in Singapore?
The origins of Art Stage Singapore
Art Stage Singapore was launched in 2011. It attracted buyers from all over the world to the island state in its previous editions and galleries to showcase modern Asian Art. However, this year, according to local media, low sales and supposed unfair competition from another similar event led to the pullout, making artists and galleries fight for other venues to avoid losses. However, the sudden withdrawal is not a new thing in Singapore.
Closure of museums and galleries
In the past several years, the art scene has witnessed several museums and galleries close shop. The closure has inadvertently made artists reconsider the value of art in the island state. Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, an art museum intended to be a business, stopped operating three years ago, citing poor performance and financial problems. The closure happened barely a year after its grand opening. The Singapore Contemporary Art Show only went on for two editions before calling it a day.
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With more art festivals using a downsizing strategy—a good example being the Affordable Art Fair, which reduced its shows from two to one—artists and galleries are worried about what lies in their futures. According to Herman Salleh, director of H.Arts Collective, an art consultancy company, the economy is not growing, and with incredibly high rent rates, the art gallery business may not be a viable venture in Singapore. Salleh adds that many galleries have gone online for sale, while others have partnered with commercial firms, like architectural firms and interior design studios.
Atin Yeo, a budding artist, is of the opinion that Art Stage’s exit came about due to the culturally diverse nature of the Singaporeans. He explained that artists often want to feel that they are appealing to the general public or the target audience. In other places, artists manage to communicate to their audience, since the public has similar cultural perspectives. However, this is not the case in Singapore, adds Yeo.
From Yeo’s view, the cancellation of Art Stage may result in discouraging future potential international artists, and is not a good sign for the betterment of artists and galleries. He felt that it was almost like the runners of Art Stage were out to tarnish Singapore’s image as an art platform.
There is still hope
Although many registered their disappointment with the cancellation of Art Stage, it helped to bring together the local art community. Plural Art Mag, a publication that supports modern art, came up with a Facebook Group—Art Stage SOS—to assist artists in obtaining places to display their work. Plural Art Mag said they had direct experience with how difficult it was for a few people to deal with the cancellation. Other support has come from studios and homeowners who have offered their spaces as alternative venues to exhibit artwork.
According to an attendee of Art Stage's three previous editions, Singaporeans are gradually taking over the ownership of the art industry, yet there is still a need for more efforts to have a lively art scene in the country. She feels people should start supporting art in deeds—by patronizing and spending on it. She adds that art is a reflection of and a building block for moulding a nation’s culture, so there is a need to think broadly and deeply about it. For the art scene to grow in Singapore, its inhabitants must stop seeing it as a luxury, and instead as a necessity.