southeast asia

Hope Runs High at the New Art SG Fair. But Slow Early Sales Cast Doubt on Whether Singapore Can Lead the Region’s Market

The long-awaited opening of Singapore’s ART SG fair, which finally took place this week at the Marina Bay Sands, is significant for many reasons. The first is that as one of the early fairs in an already busy art calendar, its results can set the tone for the year. Second, as those in the art world are keen to explore new markets, the fair’s debut is a test to see if this city-state in Southeast Asia can bounce back from the dramatic cancellation of Art Stage in 2019 and become a key market hub in the region alongside Hong Kong and Seoul.

The first two days of the fair, which opened to VIPs on Wednesday, showed some promising signs. Excitement was palpable in the (hot and humid) air this week, especially since the event’s debut had been postponed four times before. A notable crowd traveled to Singapore for the event, helped by the recent relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in the region as even China had dropped its zero-Covid policy (albeit very abruptly), with Hong Kong following suit and opening its borders.

Art lovers journeyed not just from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, but also from South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, and Japan, as well as from Europe and beyond. While in town, many indulged in local delicacies like pepper crab and chicken rice and partied until almost dawn at the local nightclub Marquee. Collectors seen on the ground include: Swiss mega collector Uli Sigg; Patrick Sun and Alan Lo from Hong Kong; Alain Servais from Belgium; Noh JaeMyung from South Korea; Singapore-based Linda Neo and Albert Lim and Nathaniel Gunawan; and the controversial collector and museum founder Michael Xufu Huang from China.

Art lovers taking snap shots at Sullivan+Strumpf's booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Art lovers taking snapshots at Sullivan+Strumpf’s booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

“Southeast Asian collectors are excited about the fair, one that is finally happening in our neighboring country Singapore, which is a hub for the region,” said Manila-based Timothy Tan, one of the collectors who flew in to attend the fair. “Some of the international galleries exhibiting are new to collectors from the region and they are interesting.”

Tan pointed out that buyers from the region tend to focus more on art originating locally, but this is beginning to change. “More are open to collecting works from other places. [ART SG] is a nice gateway to meet the galleries,” he noted.

But perhaps more importantly for an art fair, some galleries were reporting sales, albeit they were less robust than those typically seen at major contemporary art fairs in the West, Hong Kong, or even Seoul. The art market outlook for 2023 may not be as grim as some industry insiders in the West had predicted—or at least not in Asia. It seems Southeast Asia—a region largely overlooked by the West but where deep-pocketed collectors have quietly bought art for a long time—may be a conducive market after all, especially now that Singapore is experiencing an influx of Chinese money.

Rich elites reportedly have been fleeing mainland China and Hong Kong amid the increasingly unpredictable socio-political and geopolitical environment. The number of family offices in the city-state has gone from 400 in 2020 to 700 today. “ART SG has arrived at a perfect time,” said Leo Xu, a senior director at David Zwirner in Hong Kong.

Tomio Koyama Gallery. Courtesy of ART SG.

Tomio Koyama Gallery. Courtesy of ART SG.

Of the 160 galleries from 30 countries and regions featured in the inaugural edition of ART SG, nearly half have shops outside the Asia-Pacific region. The rest have locations across the region, from Japan and South Korea to mainland China and Hong Kong. Around 20 operate in Singapore, and less than 10 in Jakarta, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. Prices of works on show were diverse, ranging from a few thousand to over a million dollars—a very high price point for the region.

Exhibitors spanning two floors of the exhibition center were assigned to categories similar to most major art fairs. There was a main galleries sector; a “Focus” section for presentations of solo or duo artists or thematic exhibitions; “Futures” area to showcase galleries under six years old; and “Reframe,” which focuses on digital and crypto art.

Some collectors commented that the basement floor, which was where most of the big galleries were located, reminded them of Art Basel Hong Kong. The Art Assembly, the team behind ART SG, is the very same crew that launched ART HK in 2008, which was then sold to Art Basel’s parent company MCH, becoming Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013.

International blue-chip galleries all reported sales during the first two days. White Cube, for example, said it sold 17 works on the opening day alone, totaling around $3 million. Notable sales from the gallery include: Anselm Kiefer’s 1981 canvas  Dein Goldenes Haar Margarete, which sold to a collector in Indonesia for €1.2 million ($1.3 million); Antony Gormley’s cast iron sculpture Nerve (2020), priced at £450,000 ($549,144); a David Altmejd sculpture ($60,000, sold to an Australian); two editions of Tracey Emin’s bronze Belligerence (2014), which went to European and Asia collectors for £95,000 each ($115,930); Christine Ay Tjoe’s paintings Soluble Integrants ($165,000, sold to a buyer in China) and Docile Black 3 ($260,000, sold to a Hong Kong collector); and a work by Marguerite Humeau (£65,000/$79,320, sold to a buyer in Taiwan).

Jaume Plensa sculptures on show at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

Jaume Plensa sculptures on show at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

The Museum MACAN in Jakarta bought two works by the late artist Ashley Bickerton for an undisclosed sum from Gagosian. Pace sold several pieces, including those by James Turrell ($950,000), Keith Haring ($250,000), Lee Ufan ($150,000), and Louise Nevelson ($105,000). More than half the works on David Zwirner’s booth found buyers, including pieces by Neo Rauch, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Wolfgang Tillmans, totaling more than $2.5 million.

Lehmann Maupin, which just appointed former deputy director of the Asia Society Museum in New York Ken Tan as its Singapore-based director, placed works in local collections. Tammy Nguyen’s Our Ministry (2022) sold for $90,000 to a private collection in Singapore, while four new works by Mandy El-Sayegh, priced at a combined total of $335,000, went to different collections across Singapore and the region.

The U.K. gallery Unit London, which amassed a strong following in Asia during the pandemic through its social media channels, made its fair debut in Asia, selling out its two-artist booth of works by Hong Kong’s Stephen Wong Chun Hei and Seth Armstrong from Los Angeles, priced between $10,000 and $30,500. One of Wong’s paintings went to a Malaysian private collector, who is a trustee of several institutions across the world.

“It is our first time here in Singapore… Many local collectors were already aware of our program as they’ve engaged with the gallery online for the last few years. But we have been delighted to meet lots of new collectors that really span all age groups—from very active budding collectors in their late 20s through to the more senior collectors who are interested in diversifying their collections of Southeast Asian artists,” Unit London’s co-founder, Joe Kennedy, told Midnight Publishing Group News.

Works by Hong Kong artist Mak2 on show at de Sarthe's booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Works by Hong Kong artist Mak2 on show at De Sarthe’s booth at ART SG. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Regional galleries also reported sales. Whitestone, which recently opened a new space in Singapore, sold out all its pieces by the hot young Japanese painter Etsu Egami, priced at $10,000 to $30,000. WOAW Gallery, which also just inaugurated an outpost in the area, sold works by James Goss, Jon Burgerman, and Charlie Roberts for prices ranging from $9,000 to $22,800. Hong Kong’s De Sarthe gallery, which opened a space in Arizona last year, sold works by Mak2 and a painting by Zhong Wei, for prices ranging between $10,000 and $30,000. Artworks by young Singaporean artists Faris Heizer, Aisha Rosli, and Khairulddin Wahab, priced between $5,800 to $9,500, found buyers at Singapore’s Cuturi Gallery.

“The Southeast Asian market has been too rooted in their own local culture, but change is happening. Collectors have the desire to embrace what’s happening on the global stage and in international art,” noted dealer Pascal de Sarthe.

However, some regional dealers reported that sales have been slower than expected, Midnight Publishing Group News has learned. They still made sales, but to existing clients in the region rather than to new ones. While the VIP day and vernissage were packed with visitors, the aisles felt much more spacious on the second and third days. Some collectors took more time to make their purchases, especially those contemplating works by Southeast Asian artists new to them.

neugerriemschneider's booth at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

Neugerriemschneider’s booth at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of ART SG.

This led some to question, despite the amount of wealth in the city-state and the region’s potential growth, if the collector pool in the region was big enough to sustain a fair of this size and a growing art market.

Many dealers, however, chose not to speculate as they wanted to see the fair and its co-founder Magnus Renfrew—a highly respected figure in Asia’s art scene—succeed.

“For a first-year fair, I think it’s got off to a very good start. The sales have been okay. My feeling is that there’s going to be activity right up until 5 pm on Sunday,” Renfrew told Midnight Publishing Group News. “We are really expecting things to be happening throughout the upcoming days. The energy has been positive. People feel welcomed by the city, and that there’s a sense of the potential for the future. This is really just the first step.”

While sales have traditionally been an important benchmark for an art fair’s success, a new barometer is needed for fairs in Asia, especially for young fairs in young markets, Zwirner’s Xu pointed out.

“For example, established, active collectors may know about us, but not the younger ones. That’s why we want to do the fair—we want to reach out to those who buy cars, shoes, Street art, and NFTs, and introduce them to other kinds of art and other galleries. This is a conversion process,” Xu noted.

ART SG runs through Sunday, January 15, 2023.


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As Singapore’s ART SG Fair Launches This Week, Meet 5 Collectors From Southeast Asia Helping to Shape the Region’s Art Scene

Is Singapore, with its 5.5 million-strong population, big enough to be an art hub of Asia?

When discussing the city state’s position in the global art market, one must not overlook its context in Southeast Asia. In fact, Southeast Asia, which includes the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia Nations) member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), has a population of 640 million (more than European Union’s 446.8 million), with a GDP of $2.55 trillion. It is set to be the fourth largest single market after the U.S., China, and the E.U., and more importantly, it has a young population. It is estimated that the median age of the region will be just 33 years old by 2030.

The promising economic future of Southeast Asia offers a great advantage to Singapore. Recently, the island has attracted renewed interest from the global art world as China, including Hong Kong, was practically cut off from the rest of the world thanks to the government’s zero-Covid policy that only just recently ended. Sotheby’s decision in 2022 to bring live auctions back to the Lion City for the first time in 15 years is another new boon for the region and all eyes are on this year’s Singapore Art Week, which will see the return of the fifth edition of the S.E.A. Focus art fair as well as the long-awaited launch of ART SG. The latter fair, which is finally due to open on Wednesday (January 11) after multiple delays, will showcase more than 150 galleries from 30 countries and regions around the world.

But most importantly, Southeast Asia already has a solid base of collectors who have amassed significant collections that not only demonstrate their sensibilities towards the region’s cultural roots but also speak to their global vision. Here are five collectors (three are couples) based in Southeast Asia that you need to know.

Linda Neo and Albert Lim

Linda Neo and Albert Lim

Linda Neo and Albert Lim. Courtesy of Linda Neo and Albert Lim.

Based in: Singapore

Occupation: Linda Neo and Albert Lim come from a background in the financial markets, the former in oil and gas and the latter in financial instruments. Neo is the chair of OH! Open House, a non-profit organization promoting arts within the community. She is also the chair of the Art Science Council of Mind Art Experiential Lab (MaeLab)—the arts arm of Mind Science Centre—and sits on the advisory board of ART SG.

What’s in their collection: Neo and Lim began their collecting journey with Western and Renaissance art. Over the past 20 years, they have developed a distinctive assemblage of contemporary art that reflects the cultural landscape of Southeast Asia, while resonating with and challenging the geopolitical views of the region at the same time. Their collection includes works by: Genevieve Chua, Daniel Chong, Ian Tee, Jane Lee, Donna Ong, Alvin Ong, and Melissa Tan from Singapore; Erizal, Aditya Novali, Mangu Putra, and Yunizar from Indonesia; Andres Barrioquinto, Marina Cruz, Rodel Tapaya, Leslie Chavez, Norberto Roldan, and Ronald Ventura from the Philippines; and Chan Kok Hooi, Chang Yoong Chia, Pangrok Sulap, and Yee I-Lann from Malaysia.

Distinguishing factor: In 2014, the couple founded Primz Gallery as a private art space to showcase their collections and promote art appreciation and education. The gallery is currently showing “To Begin Again,” a solo exhibition of Singaporean artist Jane Lee, which coincides with Singapore Art Week.

Where they shop: Art fairs such as Art Jakarta, Frieze Seoul and Frieze London, and more events like Paris+ and Asia Now. As they collect mainly Southeast Asian artists, they acquire works from nearly all the Singapore galleries: namely, Cuturi Gallery, Fost Gallery, Gajah Gallery, Ota Fine Arts, Richard Koh Fine Arts, Sundaram Tagore, Yavuz Gallery, and Yeo Workshop. They also buy modern pieces from Art Commune and auction houses.

Recent purchase: Donna Ong’s conceptual piece Four Colors Make a Forest from Fost Gallery and a work titled Ghost, which reflects the mental state of a young girl by the 19-year-old artist Vanessa Liem, purchased from Cuturi Gallery. Both works were acquired in 2022.

Fun fact: Neo and Lim are longtime supporters of Jane Lee. They exhibited their collection of her art for the first time in the 2017 show “Rise & Fall, Ebb & Flow: Works of Jane Lee.” The current exhibition at Primz Gallery features work newly acquired by the couple.

Michelangelo and Lourdes Samsons

Mikey and Lou Samsons. Courtesy of Mikey and Lou Samsons.

Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson at their home with Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo’s triptych 1874625.5 (2017). Courtesy of Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson.

Age:  Both Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson were born in 1970.

Occupation: Michelangelo Samson is a banker and Lourdes is an independent curator and an arts organizer.

Based in: Singapore and Sydney.

What’s in their collection: Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson have collected Southeast Asian contemporary art for more than two decades. Their collection features paintings, sculptures, installations, and digital media works by established and emerging artists from the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos.

It focuses on the various artistic strategies and material concerns of artists in Southeast Asia, shedding light on the common issues and themes these countries share but also celebrating the differences that make each culture unique. Broad themes that the collection engages with include power and politics, identity and the self, and tradition and contemporaneity. It features artworks by internationally renowned Southeast Asian artists like Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Charles Lim, Jane Lee, FX Harsono, Mit Jai Inn, Natee Utarit, Sopheap Pich, Dinh Q. Le, Martha Atienza, and Yee I-Lann, among others.

Distinguishing factor: The couple is actively involved in the Singapore art scene as patrons and collectors, supporting institutions such as STPI gallery and the Singapore Art Museum, where Michelangelo sits on the board. They have loaned works to both local and international institutions, with pieces featuring in shows such as “As We Were,” organized by Seed the Art Space at [email protected] in 2021, and “A Bird Flies Into The Mirror” at Appetite in 2022.

Where they shop: Leading regional galleries, including Silverlens, Yavuz Gallery, STPI, Richard Koh Fine Art, and Roh Projects, as well as art fairs like Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Fair Philippines, Art Jakarta, and S.E.A. Focus.

Fun fact: Michelangelo and Lourdes are originally from the Philippines but have called Singapore home for the past 24 years. The couple recently relocated temporarily to Sydney for work. Aside from the few photographs that fill their Australian apartment, their significant collection of Southeast Asian art remains in Singapore.

Kim and Lito Camacho

Kim and Lito Camacho. Courtesy of Kim and Lito Camacho.

Kim and Lito Camacho. Courtesy of Kim and Lito Camacho.

Age: Both are 67

Occupation: Both are graduates of Harvard Business School. Jose Isidro N. “Lito” Camacho is the managing director and vice-chairman for Credit Suisse Asia Pacific. Previously, he was the Secretary of Finance and the Secretary of Energy for the Philippines. Although Kim Camacho now describes herself being a “full-time art collector,” she was responsible for opening the Sotheby’s representative office in the Philippines in 2001 and founded her own fashion accessories company.

Based in: Singapore and Manila

What’s in their collection: The couple began collecting art in 1981and their nearly 1,000-strong interdisciplinary collection features artists from Japan, America, the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia. Highlights include: some of the most important works by Yayoi Kusama—eight of which are currently on loan to M+ for the artist’s retrospective in Hong Kong; major collections both of Gutai art and of pieces by the American abstract expressionist Alfonso Ossorio; what is believed to be the largest private collection teamLab’s video installations; as well as works by the likes of Tishan Hsu, Carlos Villa, and David Medalla.

“We live with our art collection in our homes in Manila, Singapore, Berlin, and our farm outside of Manila,” Kim Camacho told Midnight Publishing Group News Pro. The couple is now working on a project to catalog their ever-expanding collection, which they intend to pass on to their six children.

Distinguishing factor: The couple plays an active role as patrons for the arts and education. Lito Camacho is the chairman of the University of the Arts Singapore and a member of the board of STPI. Kim Camacho was an advisor to the National Gallery of Singapore (NGS) in 2014 and chaired the art auction for NGS in 2018. Kim has been a trustee of the Yuchengco Museum in Makati since 2005. Both are also members of the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee of the Tate in the U.K. They regularly lend works from their collection to institutions, galleries, and biennales around the world, including the National Art Center Tokyo, Newark Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.

Where they shop: The couple has acquired works from galleries from around the world as well as from auctions, art fairs, dealers, other collectors, and direct from artists or their family’s estates.

Recent purchase: Two large paintings by Kusama from her “My Eternal Soul” series, as well as a mylar work by Tishan Hsu and the video work Universe of Fire Particles by teamLab.

Fun fact: Kim and Lito Camacho have had many direct encounters with artists over the years. Among their most memorable experiences was spending more than two and a half hours with Kusama. “It was several years ago at her studio, where we saw her working on a painting, marveled at her artworks as she described each one and explained the titles,” they recalled. They brought the artist mooncake (“she enjoyed very much”) and listened to her recite a couple of her own poems.

Nathaniel Gunawan

Nathaniel Gunawan

Nathaniel Gunawan. Courtesy of Nathaniel Gunawan.

Age: 37

Based in: Jakarta and Singapore

Occupation: Nathaniel P Gunawan has a background in private investing and is currently the director of Oasis Waters International— a fast-moving consumer goods company specializing in manufacturing and distributing ready-to-drink water in Indonesia.

What’s in his collection: An avid lover of history and literature, Gunawan is keen on artists “whose practices reveal strange but useful facts of our intricate societies and ourselves,” he tells Midnight Publishing Group News Pro. He has more than 200 works in his collection, but less than half the number of artists, with more than two-thirds originating from Southeast Asia. “I tend to collect in-depth,” he says. Notable focuses include pieces by Agus Suwage, Mella Jaarsma, Yonathan Albert Setyawan, Arin Sunaryo, Robert Zhao Renhui, (Estate of) I Gak Murniasih, Pow Martinez, and Aracha Cholitgul.

Another theme is artists’ impulse to convey mixed, concealed feelings associated with massive urbanization and rapid digitalization, and artists from outside of Southeast Asia such as Chen Ching-Yuan from Taiwan, Kei Imazu from Japan, and Hong Kong’s Lee Kit. He picked those three in particular because their work echoes such impulse, he notes. “To make sure I won’t be lost along the way, I try to write at least one paragraph on each newly acquired work.”

Distinguishing factor: Gunawan is an active art patron in the region. He is currently a member of the board of STPI gallery and a member of Art Jakarta’s Board of Young Collectors. “I am a firm believer in the importance of institutional presence in Southeast Asia and looking to commission a public artwork in Jakarta this year,” he says.

Where he shops: Commerical galleries such as Mizuma Gallery, ROH Projects, Silverlens, Antenna Space, ShugoArts, Empty Gallery, STPI, Various Small Fires, Ota Fine Arts, Yavuz Gallery, Nova Contemporary, Mor Charpentier, Lehmann Maupin, TKG+, Sullivan + Strumpf, Yeo Workshop, Gajah, and A+ Works of Art. Also at air fair like Art Jakarta, Art Basel Hong Kong, S.E.A. Focus, and hopefully at Art SG as Gunawan says he is “excited for its inaugural edition.”

Recent purchase: Untitled (00044 N.O.W.R.F.Y.H.) (2020) by Vunkwan Tam and Nadya Jiwa’s painting Isyarat (2022).

Fun fact: Gunawan is also an award-winning film producer; he is the co-founder and director of Phoenix Films, which focuses on Singapore and Indonesian films. He has already produced four films in Indonesia, in partnership with Palari Films, since 2017. Their most recent project, the action drama Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, became the first Indonesian film to win the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 2021. One of his co-producers, Natasha Sidharta, is also a fellow collector. “My hope is to produce further collaborative efforts between the visual arts and film-making in Southeast Asia, perhaps a documentary series on the region’s art collectives, for example,” says the young collector.

Timothy Tan

Timothy Tan. Courtesy of Timothy Tan.

Timothy Tan. Courtesy of Timothy Tan.

Age: 46

Occupation: Italian furniture and lighting distributor

Based in: Manila

What’s in his collection: Tan began collecting about a decade ago, starting with works that are closer to his Southeast Asian roots and expanding to Western, international contemporary art. His collection, primarily paintings with some sculptures, now boasts around 100 works by mid-career and emerging contemporary artists. Prominent names abound in his collection, including Cecily Brown, Tracey Emin, Amoako Boafo, Vaughn Spann, Rashid Johnson, Takashi Murakami, and George Condo.

Distinguishing factor: Tan has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces on the international art scene as he has been spotted jet-setting across the globe for fairs as travel restrictions have eased. He is now working on presenting his collection at two museum shows in Manila in February 2023, running concurrently at the newly-opened Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. “The latter show is organized specifically for students,” the collector told Midnight Publishing Group News Pro.

Where he shops: At art fairs such as Paris+, Art Basel Miami Beach, Frieze Seoul, and Frieze London as well as at commercial galleries like Another Gallery, Gagosian, Salon 94, Thaddaeus Ropac, White Cube, Almine Rech, Pilar Corrias. He also buys at auctions, at Midnight Publishing Group, and at art at pop-up shows, Linseed Projects, and Penske Projects.

Recent purchase: The painting The end of august heat (2022) by Li Hei Di and Triple Dive Violet II (2022) by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. Both pieces were purchased last November.

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