The Jakarta Post
"Dream Seller" by Nauval Abshar (Courtesy of Art Porters /-)
"I Cannot Afford Love" is one of the works by Indonesian artist Nauval Abshar that was prepared for the now-canceled Art Stage Singapore 2019. (Courtesy of Art Porters /-)
Nine days before it was to begin, the organizers of Singapore’s prestigious Art Stage Singapore have suddenly pulled the plug on the event, shocking all participating exhibitors and artists.
Art Stage Singapore, set to run from Jan. 25 to 27 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center, is usually regarded as Singapore’s most significant annual art event.
Around 45 exhibitors were set to participate this year, a number that was likely behind the reason why the event was canceled. Over the past three years, the number of exhibitors, visitors and sales have reportedly declined steeply, with around 160 exhibitors in 2016 to only 84 in 2018.
According to reports by The Straits Times, Art Stage president Lorenzo Rudolf sent emails to all participating exhibitors on Jan. 16 informing them to cease all preparations “or reverse them” for Art Stage Singapore 2019.
Affected by this sudden cancellation is Indonesian artist Naufal Abshar, who was set to exhibit eight works at the fair under his gallery, the Singapore-based Art Porters.
The artist said things started to sound odd when he was trying to confirm his booth details with the fair’s organizers after being left in the dark for a month.
“It was only four days ago when I wanted to make a printed invitation for collectors that I asked [the organizers] again for my booth number, and they right away told me about this rumor that Art Stage might be canceled,” he told The Jakarta Post.
“But despite this, we still had a positive mindset about it. It was on that morning [of the cancellation] that I got an official email from [Lorenzo Rudolf] saying that the fair would not go on because of some issues […]”.
As the fair’s participating artists scrambled for alternative exhibition venues, Naufal, currently in Singapore, has an exhibition at the Hatch Art Project at Marina Bay’s Asia Tower 1 starting Jan. 18 along with several other artists from Southeast Asia, including fellow Indonesian artist Aditya Chandra H.
"Nauval Abshar" (Courtesy of Art Porters /-)
Naufal’s original paintings for Art Stage Singapore will instead be displayed at the Art Porters Gallery at Spottiswoode Park Road, according to the gallery’s cofounder Guillaume Levy-Lambert, although as of Friday he said the exhibition date had not been finalized.
Naufal – whose works are known mainly by his go-to aesthetic of depicting laughter in his various surreal and, at times, positively discomforting depictions -- has taken part in exhibitions in Indonesia and abroad, including Singapore, Ireland, Italy and Lithuania. In 2018, he created the album cover for Indonesian popular musician Kunto Aji’s album Mantra Mantra.
Hours after the news of the cancellation, sympathetic galleries across Singapore offered their spaces as exhibition hubs for the stranded galleries and artists.
A Facebook group named Art Stage SOS is the main online hub for such interactions, with the number of members recorded at 363 as of 2 p.m. Western Indonesia Time on Friday.
The online hub is a forum that Art Porters gallery head Guillaume Levy-Lambert is also taking part in.
“I feel very good with all the initiatives people have taken to offer their help,” Levy-Lambert said. “[For Art Porters itself], we are holding an exhibition by Singaporean artist Su-en Wong, which opened yesterday as scheduled. So at best, what we can do is to offer pop up [exhibitions] later this year”.
"Be Number One" by Nauval Abshar (Courtesy of Art Porters /-)
Attempts to reach out to Lorenzo Rudolf for this article went unanswered. While the former Art Basel director did not elaborate on the reasons why the fair was canceled in his initial email to exhibitors, a full statement circulating in various Singaporean media outlets, initially appearing in Prestige Online Singapore, has been revealed.
In the email, Rudolf laments increasing “unequal competition” and a stagnant art market in Singapore, with rival art fairs cannibalizing the market. For one, the S.E.A Focus art fair at Gillman Barracks is set to begin and run at the exact same dates Art Stage was supposed to be held.
Rudolf singled this fair out as one of the main obstacles to holding Art Stage in his statement. “What is the benefit if, in the difficult market situation [in Singapore], all the participants are previous exhibitors of Art Stage, lured by low participation costs? No new galleries and hardly new collectors and buyers. Is this the necessary incentive for the weak local market?”
He also highlighted the “stagnant market” in Singapore, which resulted in many of the invited galleries of past fairs not wanting to return because of a lack of sales.
Indonesian art auctioneer and expert Amir Sidharta strongly criticized the decision to cancel the fair in the abrupt fashion that it was and for the reasons that were given.
“The appearance of the S.E.A Fair should be looked at as a positive thing. The more the merrier, right?” Amir told the Post.
He said any claims about the fair’s falling attendance rates should have been considered in the initial planning phase. “If Art Stage is as prestigious as he claims, then why should he be scared about holding it?” Amir said.
“I think [Lorenzo] forgot the fact that many galleries and artists in Singapore and abroad have spent large amounts of money preparing for the event next week. It seems that there was no thought spared for these people.”
On a brighter note, Amir also saw the dissolution of Art Stage Singapore as an opportunity for the Indonesian art market to draw attention – if Indonesian players were able to network and market themselves well and catch the attention of global collectors.
“What happened with this Art Stage fiasco is an example of the art world becoming too capitalistic, be it Southeast Asia or in many other parts of the world. The focus shifted toward sales figures rather than showcasing creativity and talent.” (ste)