Art Fair Turns Dealer at Art Stage Singapore to Promote Indonesian Art

Art Fair Turns Dealer at Art Stage Singapore to Promote Indonesian Art
Art Stage Singapore 2012
(Courtesy of Art Stage Singapore)

SINGAPORE – International art fairs should not just be spaces for selling art, says Lorenzo Rudolf, director of Art Stage Singapore, they also have a role to play in developing an eco-system between artists, galleries, and collectors. And where the galleries are failing, an art fair should step in.

Now in its third year, Art Stage has announced it will be going one step further in its next edition, and treading controversial new ground, by helping Indonesian artists sell directly to collectors as part of a new Indonesian Pavilion being established within Art Stage Singapore 2013. The fair will also be taking the dealer’s commission on these sales, which is typically around 50 percent.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Rudolf agreed this was “new ground” for a fair, but argued that it was a step necessary to take because many of these artists are not represented by any galleries and therefore would otherwise not have the opportunity to showcase their works in an international art fair.

The Indonesian Pavilion will form a “show within the show” with over 1000 square meters of dedicated space. Rudolf feels Indonesian contemporary artists deserve the spotlight: “They are really very strong, absolutely competitive with the best of the best in the West.”

Such an endorsement begs the question of why these talented artists remain unrepresented but Rudolf argues Indonesia has a “unique” art scene in Asia, because it has great artists and a very strong collector base, but a weak local gallery infrastructure, which is not promoting its artists enough internationally. With more international galleries coming in and cherry-picking the top Indonesian artists, local galleries are now facing the risk of being edge out on the more lucrative part of the market and thus finding it more difficult to support the emerging artists, Rudolf argues.

He noted that since the start of the year, the participation of Indonesian galleries in major art fairs (like Art Stage and Art HK) had dropped by up to 50 percent compared to the previous year, resulting in limited access to Indonesian art for international collectors and limited market access for emerging artists.

The Indonesian Pavilion will have a Galleries section, with the fair offering a “host of benefits and incentives” to galleries (about 10 to 12) that specialize in Indonesian art, but there will also be a special exhibition section offering works from about 30 established and emerging contemporary artists, such as Heri Dono and Yudi Sulistyo, that will be available for sale directly to the public.

Rudolf stressed that none of the artists in the Special Exhibition section had exclusive representation with any gallery.

Art Stage’s decision to perform the middleman role usually met by galleries, “will be surely a point of discussion,” he agreed, but added that it would be unfair to compared the situation in Southeast Asian with that of New York or Europe, as the gallery infrastructure here is not similar.

“It is a certain change of the philosophy of how an art fair works. We interfere here in a structure of galleries and artists. But I would never do this in New York or in Europe, because you have there a gallery infrastructure that is working. Here, we have to do it; if not, we will have an entire art scene that doesn’t have a chance to move to the next stage. We are only doing this with Indonesia, not Japan, China, where you have a very strong art scene,” he explained, adding this allows the fair to show “really the best of Indonesia,” and not just the artists represented by galleries.

Meanwhile, gallery owner Valentine Willie of Valentine Willie Fine Art noted that while many of the galleries are small and cannot afford to pay the high fees associating with taking part in art fairs, they have used social media such as Facebook to reach audiences outside of their homeland with some success. “My Indonesian gallery sells 30% online and mostly outside Indonesia,” he noted.

In recent years, quite a few Indonesian and regional artists have been taking part in European and American galleries’ shows, and this will surely increase, he added. “So there are other less costly and more effective ways to promote Indonesian and regional art without recourse to art fairs,” he argued. His gallery participated in Art Stage in 2010, but will not again this year.

Art Stage Singapore will take place Jan 24-Jan 27, with about 130 galleries participating, with about 80 percent of those from Asia and Australia. It will also have a new online platform Art Stage + in a special collaboration with Gallerist Inc, which will allow collectors to preview the works three days ahead of the fair, and also let collectors buy on line once the fair has actually opened to the public.

More detail on the fair will be released in October.