Art Stage Sin­ga­pore direc­tor Lorenzo Ru­dolf dis­pels a myth or two


“NO­BODY IN THEIR RIGHT MIND will ask me what Swiss art is,” de­clared Lorenzo Ru­dolf as he po­litely swirled his cup of cof­fee. In the mid­dle of his nar­ra­tion about the in­dus­try, Ru­dolf com­ments on the beauty of art in a glob­al­ized set­ting: “You have a col­lec­tor from the Mon­go­lian Repub­lic now in­stead of per­haps a well-ed­u­cated pro­fes­sor from Brook­lyn.” Fur­ther proof to his seem­ing ar­gu­ment for glob­al­iza­tion, Ru­dolf cites the lo­cal land­scape as an ex­am­ple: com­pared to artists hav­ing to fly to New York or Lon­don to pur­sue a ca­reer in the arts, nowa­days, th­ese folks stay and en­joy the av­enue that is the In­ter­net.

A known cu­ra­tor, art fair or­ga­nizer, and founder of Art Stage Sin­ga­pore, Ru­dolf ’s pop­u­lar­ity may very well be cred­ited to his pre­vi­ous post as one of the main men at Art Basel for a decade. “My luck was,” re­veals the art ar­chi­tect in a hushed man­ner, “I was the first one in this art world that came from a to­tally dif­fer­ent back­ground. I had all the crazy ideas be­cause I had never done any of this be­fore.” Cit­ing his dis­tance from the in­dus­try he now finds him­self in, Ru­dolf in­ti­mates his cur­rent bal­ance—a com­bi­na­tion of his ed­u­ca­tion and his pas­sion.

With a lin­eage of lawyers, Ru­dolf ini­tially agreed to the re­hearsal of law un­til he un­earthed his early affin­ity for art, hav­ing been a painter grow­ing up. “I would do in­stal­la­tions, acrylic on can­vas, even oil, but I just ad­mit­ted to my­self that there are just more, bet­ter artists than me.”

Of course, a more ob­vi­ous rem­nant of his paint­ing ca­reer was his de­ci­sion to take the helm at Art Basel in 1991. For years, the for­mer artist and cur­rent art cu­ra­tor was tasked with or­ches­trat­ing a fair that would later on prove it­self iconic in the art scene. “It came to the point where peo­ple would ask other artists why they weren’t at Basel,” re­veals Ru­dolf, tes­ta­ment to the fair’s pop­u­lar­ity. As at­ten­dance grew in num­bers and even be­came im­per­a­tive, the cu­ra­tor spurred a sud­den res­o­nance with the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try when he ac­cepted an of­fer to cra­dle the Frank­furt Book Fair. In 2010, Ru­dolf de­cided to ven­ture into the art ter­rain in Sin­ga­pore and founded Art Stage.

“An art fair isn’t like any trade show,” ex­plains Ru­dolf. Promptly dis­pelling the myth of the starv­ing artist, the art or­ga­nizer nar­rates the art fair’s need to strike a re­la­tion­ship with sim­i­lar in­dus­tries for profit. There is the luxury in­dus­try, there is the bank­ing in­dus­try, says the cu­ra­tor. An­other myth eas­ily shat­tered? An art fair as a mar­ket place. “While it is an agora, an art fair is still re­spon­si­ble for more than buy­ing and sell­ing,” ex­plains Ru­dolf. Cu­ra­tors and or­ga­niz­ers are tasked with build­ing the mar­ket for the art that they are sell­ing at art fairs. “It’s a beau­ti­ful thing,” ad­mits the direc­tor of be­ing part of a move­ment that helped re­al­ize the po­ten­tial of the Asian mar­ket.

“Sure, it’s much less de­vel­oped and way more chaotic,” says Ru­dolf, “but you’re grow­ing some­thing—you’re do­ing some­thing in Sin­ga­pore, which is fast be­com­ing a hub of a re­gion.”

Asked what he thought of the loom­ing demise of the print in­dus­try, Ru­dolf smirks and raises his chin slightly. “Why are you ask­ing that?” Two sec­onds of si­lence into what prob­a­bly should have been an av­enue to jus­tify the query, he laughs and al­lows his ear­lier ideas to resur­face. “The beauty with art is that it’s per­sonal; it’s not just Asian art or Euro­pean or West­ern art. No one calls art from Switzer­land, Swiss art. It is, at the core of it, art. There’s a need to over­come th­ese na­tion­alisms.” And per­haps that’s the very thing that pop­u­lates the print and pub­lish­ing in­dus­try: the lan­guage re­lies heav­ily on its ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions, while art, well, Ru­dolf ’s ide­al­ized art re­mains ap­pre­ci­ated, free from any lan­guage bar­rier.

“I would do in­stal­la­tions, acrylic on can­vas, even oil, but I just ad­mit­ted to my­self that there are just more, bet­ter artists than me.”

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