Highlights from ART STAGE SINGAPORE 2014

Catherine Asquith
Feb 24, 2014 9:06PM

Highlights from ART STAGE SINGAPORE 2014

Lorenzo Rudolf, Founder and Fair Director in his catalogue introduction to the 4th edition of Art Stage Singapore, cites the necessity of bridging the gap between “the lifestyle and social aspects of art fairs” and “introducing a new art fair model”. His solution: introducing “an innovative fair format that aims to reconnect the art market and academia – the country and regional Platforms”. 

On the night of the vernissage however, the “social” aspect was in full swing behind Entang Wiharso’s “Crush Me #2”, a 6 metre long bronze gateway of sorts, barring the entry to the VIP Lounge. Clearly the rather expensive ($30 per glass) champagne was flowing!

As part of the South-East Asia platform, Wiharso’s work was just one of the many ‘entries’ by Berlin and Singapore-based dealer, Matthias Arndt. 

Included in the same region’s Platform, was FX Harsono’s “The Raining Bed”, again represented by Arndt. A biographically-infused work, utilising a traditional Peranakan bed, Harsono laments the “disconcerting situation of minorities and the socially underprivileged against the backdrop of Indonesia’s own history and political development”.  Simulated rain cascades down within the canopy against a LED running Indonesian text, all ensconced within a darkened enclave.  Apparently the ‘rain’ was intended to imbue a sense of “choking humidity and a cold breeze” but I just liked the echoic sound of it competing with the ambient noise of the venue.

Represented by Arndt, Jitash Kallat’s “Circadian Rhyme – 4”, a reduced scale figurative work harnessed the Indian platform with its central position within the booth.  There were more works by artists represented by Arndt, punctuating the fair format, but he was obviously busy at his booth on opening night, selling out Phillipines-based artist, Jigger Cruz’s “Dialectic Disruptions”, a collection of heavily impasto, oil on wood and canvas paintings.  Many delighted smiles from his staff were discerned as they gleefully advised the enquiring traffic.

More smiles and enthusiasm was emanating from the Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s booth: as they waxed lyrical about the sublime works by Japanese/USA-based artist, Hiroshi Senju, to a notable collector.  Did I hear correctly that the Emperor of Japan owned one?   Utilising natural pigments on Japanese mulberry paper, the impressive scale of these works (227.3 high by 162cm wide) rendered one quite speechless.

Also on display at the booth was the work of Singaporean artist, Jane Lee, an artist best known for her “inventive techniques and innovative use of materials”.  Indeed, her luscious paintings were enticingly tactile and were only resisted out of due respect and Fair decorum.  Lee’s “50 Faces” had also been installed on a 10 metre long wall, towards the entrance of the Fair, as part of the South-East Asia Platform.  The intention of these small scale (approx.. 20 x 20cm each) paintings was to “incorporate viewers’ faces into the work in order to add an element of interaction”.  I just wanted to touch them!

The gallery’s Singapore base at Gillman Barracks was also exhibiting a solo show by Jane Lee.  This was no coincidence and certainly a clever strategy; pique the interest of fair visitors with a feature work at the booth, and encourage a visit to the formal gallery space.  A number of galleries either followed suit or were afforded the same opportunity with the careful placement of numerous invites in their booths.

Pearl Lam Galleries’ purposeful and “carefully chosen” selection of artists at their booth was “in dialogue” with the official opening of their new Singapore space at Gillman Barracks on the Friday night.  The group show curated by Philip Dodd, “the acclaimed British arts writer and broadcaster”, entitled “WHERE DOES IT ALL BEGIN? Contemporary Abstract Art in Asia and the West” featured works by Zhu Jinshi, Pat Steir, Christine Ay Tjoe, Su Xiaobai and Peter Peri. 

A beautifully designed space in keeping with its other branches in Shanghai and Hong Kong, the premise of the exhibition to provide “a unique opportunity to see major artists from the USA and China, Europe and Indonesia, side by side, all exploring and revealing the power of abstract art today” was certainly achieved. 

With a shuttle service being offered from the Marina Bay Sands to Gillman Barracks on the Friday evening, a seemingly endless supply of champagne on offer, and the added cache of suitably notable ‘art personalities’, the advertised “Night Out” was sure to be a success. 

Whilst there seemed to be something of a proliferation of installation based work at the Fair, now and then one could discern the ‘familiarity’ of ‘worthwhile’ 2D work.  Aside from the painting (and not all of it was necessarily ‘good’) some of the photography was noteworthy.

Gallerist, Kashya Hildebrand (London) extended the kind of attention one can only but delight in when visiting a booth: an overwhelming enthusiasm and clearly, excellent knowledge of Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan born, New York based photographic artist.  As studies or reflections on the nature of Arab women, within an Islamic culture, Essaydi’s work is nothing less than ‘labour-intensive’ and furtively pointed.  In “Bullets Revisited #15” (on display), Essaydi erected a backdrop and flooring made entirely of thousands and thousands of bullets.  She has then meticulously tattooed the model inclusive of her costume, with a henna-based calligraphic text. One wonders where the bullets were sourced from!

Not to take anything away from the integrity of this artist’s practice, but at USD$25K per work, like Hildebrand, I would be enthusiastic too!

A more ‘demure’ presence was experienced at the booth of Officine Dell’Immagine, a Milan-based gallery, where an elegant and well conceived representation of 3 artists’ works were on display.  Notably striking were the photographic inkjet prints of Iranian artsit, Gohar Dashti.  Her experiences of the 8 year Iran-Iraq war have been articulated via a bastardised tableau setting, with the additional discarded wartime props scatted across the landscape. Quietly powerful works.

Probably some of the best painting I saw was from the Australian contingent; yes, it may well sound biased or even parochial, but there really was a very high standard of professionalism inherent to the Australian collection of booths.  It’s a challenge to select just one Australian painter (as I enjoyed meeting with several), but Kevin Chin at Dianne Tanzer + Projects was a stand-out. He’s young, fresh-faced and is doubtless destined for a very bright future.  Andrew Gaynor, recently appointed Gallery Manager, was very happy to discuss Kevin’s work, and clearly even more delighted to advise that one of the works had sold to a Hong Kong collector.

Whilst the Australian booths were well conceived, although I, like some of the gallerists, were a bit disappointed with their positioning (towards the back of the Fair and opposite the Magazines –  the latter being generally the least visited area by the punters), the Platform for Australia was a lacklustre affair.  Aaron Seeto’s premise of apparently a “snapshot into varied concerns and interests” was exactly what one would expect with an ‘instamatic’.  This was a pity because Juz Kitson’s extraordinary sculptural installation, “Changing Skin” was deserved of a far superior position and installation. Instead, her fragile, immaculate work was positioned on the sharp end of the corner of Platform. 

Seemingly Paul Greenaway, the gallerist representing Kitson, and director of GAGPROJECTS, was undaunted, as he extolled the highlights and significant achievements of a very young 26 year old Kitson, including her forthcoming ‘survey’ show @ MONA later this year.  With a selling price of approx.. AUD$52K it was cause for something of a preliminary champagne when I caught up with Greenaway at Gillman Barracks later in the week: a Hong Kong collector was “very interested” in the work.  I have no doubt.  Here’s cheers!

Catherine Asquith