Do art fairs take on the qualities of the cities that host them?
Art Stage Singapore opened last week at the convention center of Marina Bay Sands, the slick casino complex that has been anointed the city-state’s current “it” venue. I looked forward with as much anticipation to my first glimpse of
the monumental M-shaped edifice as I did to the art inside the fair. Spearheaded by Lorenzo Rudolf, the former director of Art Basel, Art Stage Singapore’s advance publicity promised an event to rival the more established art fairs in the region. As part of the VIP program, and to kick-off the fair, collectors had been invited to a preview in the afternoon, before the Vernissage, to meet art superstars Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, photographer David Lachapelle, and even our own Ronald Ventura. Unfortunately, I took a midday flight, and did not get there in time. So while I can confirm that Lachapelle did put in an appearance, there’s seems to be some confusion as to whether the celebrated Japanese artists did indeed make it.
The exhibition hall’s lay out certainly impressed with its expansive booths, high walls, and wide corridors. A glance at the exhibitors list manifested a bias towards Asian and Southeast Asian galleries. Very few of the American and European powerhouses, Gagosian, Pace, and White Cube–who participated in ArtHK, Hong Kong’s very successful franchise–came to Singapore. Those that did, like the Marlborough Gallery and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, played it safe with works by Botero, Picasso, and Murakami.
This regional slant, however, meant that much more Philippine art went on view. The Drawing Room was the only Filipino gallery who had their own space, and they carried the artists they represent: Alfredo Aquilizan, Rodel Tapaya, Marina Cruz, Kawayan de Guia, Kiko Escora, Mark Salvatus, Riel Hilario, Lirio Salvador, and Troy Ignacio. Troy’s oil on paper pieces immediately caught the eye of Singaporean collectors.
Geraldine Javier’s triptych, Three Dead Trees, went up alongside an equally
jaw-dropping installation by Subodh Gupta and paintings by Leslie de Chavez at Korea’s Arario Gallery. Ghe’s piece, which now belongs to a collector from Indonesia, has hand-embroidered trapped birds embedded onto her paintings of biblical trees. The gallery will ship this piece to Korea for her solo exhibit in May. Leslie’s grisly Meat Lover’s Paradise, with its references to the Ampatuan Massacre, had already been sold when I saw it.
The Singapore-based Artesan Gallery, owned by Filipina Roberta Dans, filled their space with Ronald Ventura’s work. His paintings and sculpture, with layers of images from pop culture finished with technical flair, just throb with
One came across a different Ronald, however, at the Primo Marella Gallery of Beijing and Milan. They brought in his pieces from the Nanjing Biennale. A photorealistic painting of a living room could have been easily mistaken as Nona Garcia’s. It came with three reworked television sets fashioned by Ronald into dioramas that depicted scenes from local TV fare. Again, the figures seemed uncharacteristic of Ronald. Perhaps, as one art enthusiast put it, Ronald just wanted to show that he could do anything. He certainly can.
Norberto Roldan reigned over at Taksu with a solo exhibit, The beauty of history is that it does not reside in one place. Peewee brought out a fantastic array of his assemblages put together from his collection of knick-knacks and folk religious artifacts. I loved the piece Quleques Fleurs 2, a six feet by eight feet diptych of vintage black and white studio shots of women framed against glossy magazine images and glass perfume bottles. For the series Fugitives From Years of Captivity, he used slats from demolished wooden houses to contain his collation of found objects. Peewee definitely made me proud to be Pinoy.
Other Filipino artists at Art Stage: Annie Cabigting and Liv Vinluan had paintings
at Richard Koh Fine Art, Nona Garcia’s photo assemblages and more of Geraldine Javier’s embroidery could be found at Valentine Willie Fine Art, Nikki Luna’s wooden chest of light boxes stood inside the Primo Marella Gallery space, while a large-scale Bencab print was at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute’s booth.
At the rear of the exhibit hall, MAD or the Museum of Art and Design had a section devoted to Chinese artists. It included an installation by the controversial Ai Wei Wei, one of my favorite artists, the creator of the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium. Through, from
2007-2008, first shown in Sydney, is an installation from Qing Dynasty wooden temple beams and tables. They have been deconstructed and depicted as teetering, on the verge of collapse, with the beams seeming to impale some of the tables. Here one experienced Ai’s commentary on the constant reinventions that make up Chinese history. Now why didn’t the organizers give this piece a more prominent spot?
I also enjoyed the offering of Collectors Contemporary from Singapore. They had works by Banksy, Hush, and Faile, along with those of Rauschenberg and Warhol. Even street artists succumb to the lure of the dollar.
Overall, I felt Art Stage Singapore mirrored the city itself. It evinced a chic and cosmopolitan air, but did not quite measure up to the sophistication, edginess, and sizzle of Hong Kong’s ArtHK. It allowed collectors to focus mainly on art from within the region, and gave a taste of big name artists via safe, already commercially viable works.
An Indian artist did create a sensation in the local press with his performance at the Gallery Maskara space. He sat naked in front of a Frida Kahlo print. Even if this was done behind a black curtain, by the fair’s second day, the gallery had been quietly asked to stop the performance. Yes, this was indeed Singapore.
Art Stage Singapore was at the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition & Convention Center from 13 to 16 January 2011. For more information, visit http://www.artstagesingapore.com