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Tropical Forest 0

Anna Arutyunova

Although Art Stage Singapore, that has come to an end, is still a very young art fair: this is only its third time. Local government puts monumental effort into turning the city of Singapore not only into financial centre of Southeast Asia, but also into its cultural centre. And opening a contemporary art fair (which today is a necessary attribute for cities, who aspire to hold the art capital status) is an eloquent evidence to that.  

Putu Sutwijaya. Puppet. 2012. Acrylic, canvas, 180 x 250 cm. Photo: Art Stage Singapore 

Everything, from the location of art fair on out to the choice of a curator, speaks of big ambitions. Art Stage takes place in the symbolic building of Singapore: a huge complex of three skyscrapers, merged roof, which reminds of a boat or snowboard. By the way, there is a wonderful view of the city and harbour from the top. A hotel and a shopping mall are located in the building; they are directly connected to the exhibition hall. Shopping is one of the main attractions in Singapore, so organizers certainly have placed their bets on wealthy customers willing to shop at the art fair, too. 

John Clang. Myth of the Flat Earth. 2012. Photo: 2902 Gallery 

Curator of Art Stage is Lorenzo Rudolf, an experienced manager, a man of great influence and well-known in the West. He has already organized Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach. However, two previous Art Stage Singapore art fairs weren’t very successful. Although, regulars of Art Stage and gallery owners say that this time Lorenzo Rudolf managed to find the happy medium that has turned this art fair into decent Asian art show. Rudolf himself doesn’t hide the fact that it hasn’t worked from the beginning, and has taken two years to find the identity of Art Stage through the period of trials and errors. “The first Art Stage attracted a lot of attention, but it was more of a nibbling. Next year we tried to create a concept of this art fair, tried to understand where it goes and finally we have defined our specialization and goals”, tells the curator of Art Stage

Nyoman Masriadi. Se-Konyong Konyong. Photo: Gajah Gallery 

Goals are quite simple and clear: to make Singapore a place for those, who are interested in art of Southeast Asia. Singapore is developing rapidly and it has quite an organic connection both with Europe and Asia. “There is already a big art fair in the region. Besides, it is part of the mighty conglomerate under the Art Basel brand”, Rudolf tells about contemporary art fair in Hong Kong, “We don’t have to compete with them because we can make Southeast Asia our speciality”. This aim is also reflected in the cast of participants: Southeast Asian galleries make three quarters, and the rest are participants from China, Japan, Australia, Great Britain and even two galleries from Russia. That’s what makes this art fair international.

This year the attention is focused on artists from Indonesia. There are not only stands in the main part of art fair, but also a special Indonesian pavilion. Many works are touching political and social issues; however, criticism is extremely soft and even decorative. It makes perfect sense, because Indonesia is a Muslim country, and Singapore is a sort of dictatorship, so, any criticism of political actions is prohibited. Thus, Abdi Setiawan’s rather chooses outcasts, gangsters and poor men as the objects of his sculptures and installations. In the space of Art Stage pavilion he had placed two wooden gangsters armed with their usual tools: chains and baseball bats. Dadang Kristanto’s installation Java reminds of Vereshchagin’s Apotheosis of War, just instead of skulls there are terracotta heads piled up like broken pots. 

Philippe Pasqua. Crane Sculpture. Photo: Zemack Contemporary Art, Tel-Aviv  

The most interesting works are born on the crossroads of contemporaneity and tradition, for example, Heri Dono’s. He puts old Javanese traditions and even Wayang theatre in the base of his art. As the result we see a strange procession of covered vehicles carrying actual political and cultural leaders accompanied by creatures in green masks (re-enactment of Jim Carrey). The name of the installation is Extraterresrial Troops. The entire installation shines and flashes and dings and rustles like a rainforest.

Heri Dono. The Extraterrestrial Troops. Mix media, 130 x 95 x 75 cm. Photo: Art Stage Singapore 

Duo Indieguerillas mixes Javanese folklore and modern urban environment. There are bright collages (including Silent Procession of This Cheerful Trojan Horse): the shape of the figures is referring to the traditional mystical creatures and animals, but content explores impact on modern technology and ancient culture. Sometimes the fancy of analyzing mutual interaction and impact falls into kitsch, and the only modern thing, that remains in the work, is the paint and the canvas. For instance, Nasiruna has dived so deep into exploration of Javanese Muslim culture and mythology, that his work visually turned into a colourful pile of figures, symbols, plants and visions of a shaman.   

One can also feel presence of Chinese galleries: there are more than 10 of them. Some artists are well-known even outside of Asian world: Yue Minjun, Zhang Huan, Ai Weiwei. Although, geography can barely be applied on Art Stage: almost all Western galleries present something Eastern on their stands or even completely dedicate their exposition to Asia. For example, Polka Galerie of Paris (one of the best stands at the show) presented a solo exhibition of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama (price of photos printed on canvas sways from 11,000 to 17,000 Euros).  

Daido Moriyama. Face. 1969-2007. Photo: Polka Galerie

Other pseudo Eastern galleries have strong and virtually related bonds with Europe. Edouard Maligne from Hong Kong actually belongs to the son of an antique dealer from Paris. By the way, his stand presents a very international mix of artists, including one of recent works of Janis Kunelis: very ascetic and specific installation inspired by long term trip to China (each of canvas was estimated about 260,000 Euros). Representative of Timothy Taylor Gallery of London, a newcomer at art fair, says that the best tactics is exhibiting several most wanted of gallery’s artists. They put their words into action by presenting recent work of Sean Scully (available at 550,000) Euros and Alex Katz (350,000 Euros).

There is no doubt that the most expensive stand is the one of White Cube gallery from London. Their heavy artillery consists of Mark Quinn, Gary Hume and Damien Hirst. A Chinese collector looked interested in two metres tall work of the latter. Quite well-known Jablonka Galerie from Zurich dedicated its entire exposition to Andy Warhol, a universal good for both Eastern and Western collectors. Another art industry shark from Japan is Kaikai Kiki Gallery and Takashi Murakami, who filled the world with expressly happy monsters, mushrooms and comic book characters. Mixture of works on the stand was as kitschy and bright as the gallery founder’s own works.

Half Sorceress. 2012 Photo: Kaikai Kiki Gallery 

Some pessimists predict that this bubble named Singapore will soon burst, and this will be the end of the local art scene and Art Stage, too. Optimists, of course, see things in a different light. They say that this tropical city grown from the jungle and ocean is the perfect place for cross-cultural contacts. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between: there is an enthusiasm and great funds in developing art-infrastructure of Southeast Asia and its artists, so there must also be just as enthusiastic purchasers. If every office building in the local City will be willing to purchase a couple of environmental installations, art fair will not be lacking customers for a long time. There is just a little left to do: to explain, to educate and to charm.

Kwon Ki-soo.Time-Reflected Forest with a Yellow Boat. 2012. Photo: Gallery Hyundai