Singing the praises of Singapore, three dealers reflected on the newly crowned art hub their galleries call home. But why did they end up there in the first place? In a chat with Artsy, Emi Eu, director of Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Frédéric de Senarclens, founder and director of Art Plural Gallery, and Galerie Michael Janssen’s eponymous owner open up on their respective draws to Singapore, the neighborhoods where they’ve come to prosper, the changes they’ve seen in the city-state—now a thriving art scene with the largest number of millionaires per capita in the world. They also reveal their favorite local haunts, where they’d send a visitor for satay, push-cart Dim Sum, or a rooftop panoramic view of the famous Singapore skyline.
Artsy: Can you describe the area where your gallery is located, and why you chose to open a gallery there—and generally, in Singapore?
Emi Eu: STPI is located in a converted warehouse along Robertson Quay; originally built in 1927, this cluster of godowns used to store rice and is now an architectural archetype of Singapore’s colonial, trading history. With a total area of 4,000 square metres, its main features are its skylit gallery, artist studio, and world renowned workshop which houses custom designed presses and the largest paper mill in Asia. It also includes apartments for resident artists, offices, and guest workshop. This place was chosen for its central location, its proximity to Singapore’s main business district, and being in the heart of Singapore’s arts and cultural vicinity.
Frédéric de Senarclens: Art Plural Gallery is a four-story platform located in Singapore museum district. Opening the gallery in this precise area is a very strategic and well thought decision. Initially, we wanted to be placed both in the heart of Singapore’s artistic energy and most importantly, in the center of the city in order for everybody to access it easily. Indeed, with the heat and the monsoon season, it is of paramount importance to be reachable. Neighboring the Peranakan Museum and the Substation and walking distance from Singapore Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore, Art Plural Gallery is part of Bras Basah district which is home to the Singapore Biennale, currently happening until February 2014.
For the last 10 years, the government has [made] incredible efforts to develop the local artistic scene and foster creation... We wanted to establish in Asia; Singapore is ideally situated and allows me to multiply my studio visits in China, Indonesia, India, Korea and the region... We chose Singapore five years ago betting on future and the city dynamism and I am pleased to be part of this booming and evolving art scene.
Michael Janssen: Michael Janssen Singapore is located on the Gillman Barracks—site of a military camp from the 1930s that used to accommodate the British infantry in Singapore. It now houses galleries and creative businesses, as well as the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA).
I have been interested in Asia in general for a while. By chance I heard about the project of the Gillman Barracks, and so I got in touch with the Economic Development Board (EDB) in Singapore, which had a leading role in the project. Initially the project was only conceived for Southeast Asian galleries, but the focus soon shifted to the larger Asian region.
There has been a shift of economic power from the West to the East and the new centre is Asia—particularly China, but also Indonesia. Singapore, with its three ethnicities (Malay, Chinese, and Indian) lies right in the middle and is a good strategic point.
Artsy: Generally, can you describe the art scene in Singapore and how it may have evolved since your gallery was established?
Emi Eu: The scene has evolved very quickly in the last five years and, with the support of the Singapore government there has been remarkable progress in making the arts and its industry relevant to many.
The growth of art here is also attributed to the global interest in contemporary art emerging out of China, India, and Southeast Asia, with international art fairs such as SH Contemporary and Art Hong Kong setting up since 2007.
Frédéric de Senarclens: Singapore is becoming the Asian artistic hub. International collectors are expected at the fourth edition of Art Stage Singapore. The Pinacothèque, the famous French private museum will open in 2015 at Fort Canning Park, as well as the National Art Gallery, the largest museum of Southeast Asian art.
Today, Singapore is a serious artistic destination and has a lot to offer between its museums, galleries, art centers, biennales. Moreover, the local artistic scene is stimulated by good art schools, residence programmes, and international exchanges, which foster creativity and guarantee a promising future to Singaporean artists.
Michael Janssen: The government acts very strategically in Singapore. Since the state was founded they have invested heavily in education. Education creates wealth, and wealth allows you the luxury of supporting culture. The potential here is enormous. In general one notices the immense curiosity of the people. Business-wise things are still progressing slowly for the moment. There are still too few people here who are familiar enough with the terrain to keep things running.
Artsy: Can you name any must-see events or exhibitions a visitor to Singapore for the Art Stage Singapore fair should be certain not to miss?
Emi Eu: Gillman Barracks is the perfect destination to gallery hop; see the latest offering by the Centre of Contemporary Art and the Singapore Biennale for Southeast Asian contemporary art.
Frédéric de Senarclens: At the same time as Art Stage Singapore, Art Plural Gallery will present “Flux”, a major collective exhibition displayed on the four floors of the gallery and featuring more than 20 artists... Of course Art Stage Singapore itself is a great event ... At Art Stage, Art Plural Gallery will also be organizing “Can Art Break All Boundaries?”, a conversation between prominent art critic Michael Peppiatt and art curator Jill Lloyd. Michael Peppiatt is an art historian, curator, and writer known for his important publications on Francis Bacon, Miró, and Giacometti. He is an excellent orator with a great British sense of humor! The rare opportunity of his talk in Singapore is certainly not to be missed.
Michael Janssen: The ongoing Singapore Biennale 2013, with the theme of “If the World Changed” focused on Southeast Asian art is definitely a must-see event for visitors to Art Stage Singapore 2014. It runs until the middle of February.
Artsy: What are your favorite local haunts in Singapore—places to eat, drink, see art? And where is the first place you’d point a visitor in Singapore, both during Art Stage Singapore and otherwise?
Emi Eu: One never goes hungry in Singapore. The food courts and hawker centers are the best places to try a wide array of cuisines and local Chinese, Malay, and Indian specialties such as chicken rice, satay (grilled meat sticks), and fish head curry. Easily accessible, it makes a convenient stop between fair-museum-gallery visits.
Frédéric de Senarclens: The Lantern at Fullerton Bay is my favorite place to head for a drink. The panoramic views are simply magnificent and breath-taking. On Club Street, one of my favorite bars is 83, it has a great artistic feel. Forlino is where I always recommend my friends for a good meal. Their tasty and creative dishes are something truly amazing. For casual dining, I also enjoy going to Duxton Hill where the restaurants scene is very active. My favorite tapas bar there is Sabio.
As part of Art Galleries Association of Singapore (AGAS), a bus tour will stop at different galleries around the island. It is the best way to enjoy all the artistic places in town. The Biennale, in the Bras Basah area, is another event to explore and harvest the creative energy in the South East Asian region at its best.
Michael Janssen: There is good food everywhere in Singapore. I particularly love of a place called Red Star Restaurant—it is a traditional push cart Dim Sum in Chinatown that is authentic and good. Arab Street is a cool place to hang out at night. The Gardens by the Bay and Little India are two touristic places that I like very much.
Portrait of Emi Eu courtesy of Singapore Tyler Print Institute; portrait of Frédéric de Senarclens courtesy Art Plural Gallery; portrait of Michael Janssen by Tom White, European Press Agency.
Look for these three galleries at Art Stage Singapore 2014, Jan. 16th – 19th:
Singapore Tyler Print Institute, General, Booth D16
Art Plural Gallery, General, Booth B20
Galerie Michael Janssen, General, Booth D14
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory