One of the most popular art fairs in Singapore (in fact, probably the one of the only art fairs most Singaporeans have heard of), Art Stage Singapore has seen considerable praise and boasted high visitor numbers since its advent. This year’s fair, however, confirmed our doubts that Art Stage has been riding on the wave of its previous success. It has strayed from its core focus of bringing the kind of thought-provoking and emotionally stimulating content that art lovers yearn for.
Compared to the Art Stage of previous years, this year’s fair constituted more feel-good, purely aesthetic or ornamental pieces that would fit perfectly at a expensive well-decorated abode or a hotel space. This as as opposed to more provocative, subversive or concept-based art. Furthermore, there were also a lot more small paintings and sculptures and way fewer large-scale installations or sculptures as compared to previous editions, something we noticed last year and seems to be current trajectory of the fair’s artistic direction.
Sweet cat – blue and white (2015) by Osamu Watanabe
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with aesthetic pieces or smaller pieces in themselves, and no doubt they are crowd-pleasers all the same. Indeed, a mix of both allows a balance that caters to both the avid and casual viewers of art. However, the concern lies in that when an established art fair shows a collection that is slanted towards decorative pieces and neglects conceptual work, or that caters to buyer convenience with smaller work at the expense of monumental pieces, it shows a distorted view of the art industry. More importantly, the art fair as a major player in the industry also eschews buyer expectations, pointing them towards a certain type of art. In Danto’s words, buyer demand would then influence the rest of the Art world, directing dealers and artists to create such work and market such work.
“You Make Me Feel Beautiful Again!”
Nevertheless, despite the imbalance in the type of art shown at this edition of Art Stage, there are some outstanding highlights. I really appreciated Dada on Tour (presented by Bruno Art Group) for linking up to a crucial part of art history in the commercial art fair setting, for one. The corner set up specially for video work (presented by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art) and the fact that there were a lot more video art pieces in general is also worth celebrating. Video art is a comparatively young and rather underrated medium which could do with more exposure to the masses.
I’m also really taken by certain well-executed pieces. My favourites from the fair this year include Zheng Lu’s metallic calligraphy-inspired sculptures, which were installed as a Special Exhibit right at the entrance of Art Stage. Recalling fluid Chinese calligraphy forms, Zheng also incorporates Chinese characters into the material of the sculpture itself.
His sculpture also calls to mind the Chinese painting technique of liu bai, where the literati artist deliberately leaves space empty such that the viewer can fill it with his own imagination. Here, space and imagination are added as elements when viewers interact with his work within the empty installation space.
Viewers interacting with the space in Zheng Lu’s work
Another outstanding artist at Art Stage 2016 was Ching-hui Choi, whose thought-provoking photographic works were presented in a solo exhibition entitled “Animal Farm”. The photographs are accompanied by a behind-the-scenes video which shows the sheer amount of effort and direction needed for each shot. Very, very impressive. His work and the BTS video can be found here: http://www.chouchinghui-art.com/works/visual/12.
Photography series “Animal Farm” by Ching-hui Chou
The hyperrealist sculptures were also a great draw at the fair this year. I was fascinated by the sculpture by Mark Sijan (which, unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of), but my favourite was this one by XooAng Choi which married hyperrealism and fantasy. The details are brilliant (look at the veins on the male’s forearms) and the pink hair is extremely eye-catching.
Dreamers in Pink (2015) by XooAng Choi
The paintings of Antonio Santin drew crowds for their mastery in illusion. Santin employed deep knowledge of light and shadow to give the illusion of something under a rug, only to have the viewer move close and realise that it was, all along, a flat painting.Something’s under that carpet! By Antonio Santin
Yayoi Kusama also featured strongly in several galleries this time, with this one exhibit employing mirrors and light turning out particularly popular amongst visitors.Yayoi Kusama and her polka dot obsession, stretching as far as you can see.
Conclusively, by absolute standards, the 2016 edition of Art Stage is very much still a leader in its own right. However, when placed beside its more stunning predecessors, the variety and intensity of the fair is rather lacklustre in comparison, and its whopping $32 ticket price is a rather tough sell to the art community. Hopefully, future editions of Art Stage go back to its roots by taking risks in showcasing art- the exact reason it was a draw for art lovers from the start.
Photographs by: Audrey Kwok for WhatsNextSG
All image copyrights to photographer.