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New boutique art fair S.E.A. Focus to develop regional art ecosystem

S.E.A. Focus will be held in January 2019 at Gillman Barracks and feature about 25 local and international galleries.

A new home-grown boutique art fair called S.E.A. Focus will be held in January. Open to the public from Jan 24 to 27 at Gillman Barracks, it will feature about 25 local and international galleries and focus on modern and contemporary South-east Asian art.

Organised by Singapore’s STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, it will take place in a “special pop-up structure” in a carpark at the arts enclave near Alexandra Road.

S.E.A. Focus will showcase international galleries such as Commonwealth & Council (Los Angeles), 47 Canal (New York), as well as regional galleries The Drawing Room (Manila) and Lawangwangi Art Gallery (Bandung).

There will also be established Singapore players such as Artcommune Gallery, which will showcase several works by local pioneer artist Cheong Soo Pieng; Yavuz Gallery, which will present the work of Filipino social media sensation Yeo Kaa; and Gajah Gallery, which will display works by Indonesian artist Octura Chan.

The organisers hope the fair will become an anchor event at the annual Singapore Art Week – which runs from Jan 19 to 27 – that will “galvanise” the arts sector and allow galleries to network.

STPI’s executive director Emi Eu, who is working alongside S.E.A. Focus’ project director Audrey Yeo, says: “The main thing is to be able to offer to the public during Singapore Art Week (something) that is driven by the galleries ourselves… We needed a stronger platform than what we have.”

She expressed doubts about whether the current anchor event of Singapore Art Week, Art Stage Singapore, would continue to be held in the long run. The number of exhibitors at the art fair, which returns for its ninth edition from Jan 25 to 27, has fallen in recent years. Founder Lorenzo Rudolf, a Swiss national, previously dismissed rumours that this would be the final edition.

Ms Eu says: “As gallerists, we never know if it (Art Stage Singapore) is going to happen… So, why not do this thing (S.E.A. Focus), so we know it’s going to happen in advance.” She adds that subsequent editions of S.E.A. Focus might take on a different format.

(RELATED: Art Stage Singapore 2019 to include choice pieces from collectors in the region)

Artcommune founder Ho Sou Ping says his gallery will occupy at least one booth at S.E.A. Focus, with works by Cheong that range in prices from $30,000 to $300,000. “I hope to meet more new collectors from Singapore and the region,” he says.

He adds that the prices of works at other art fairs in Singapore have been “either too low or too high”.

“We are much like Hong Kong, we are small, don’t have a big domestic market and a lot of buyers come from the region. But then, our market is not as big, our buyers are not so sophisticated. We must look for an art fair that can support price ranges of $20,000 to $200,000. For works $500,000 and above, (buyers) go to Hong Kong,” he says, referring to the city’s Art Basel event.

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At S.E.A. Focus, a roughly 30 sq m booth will cost him about $6,300. After the cost of lights and transportation, he estimates that he will spend about $8,000.

The standard rate for a general booth at Art Stage Singapore starts at more than $26,000 for 35 sq m. Larger booths are more expensive.

Mr Ho, who took part in 2016 and will not be returning in January, did not recoup the more than $60,000 he spent on the fair that year, citing few foreign collectors as one of the reasons.

Ms Eu says: “S.E.A Focus is an initiative by STPI to support the development of the regional art ecosystem, hence we aim to keep the cost of participating attractive.”

S.E.A. Focus is supported by the National Arts Council, Economic Development Board and Singapore Tourism Board. Asked about the nature of the support they would be offering, the statutory boards said in a joint statement that they “will market S.E.A Focus as a new highlight event for Singapore Art Week 2019”.

An advisory committee of local and international experts, including art collector Lu Xun and Associate Professor of Arts and Culture Management (Practice) at Singapore Management University Kwok Kian Chow, will help the fair with its presentations and programmes.

Visitors can expect programmes such as #SEAcommunity, which will help children and school groups deepen their appreciation of art; and #SEAspotlight, with talks featuring artists, gallerists and curators from the region.

Ms Eu, who points out that many of the galleries at Gillman Barracks left after five years, says: “At the end of the day, galleries (are about) business, they need to be able to earn money to support their artists and programming.

“So, how can we make it more sustainable in the long term? It’s a long-term business… We want to be able to support those galleries who are committed.”

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This article was originally published in The Straits Times.

Photo: ArtCommune Gallery