THE RISE OF SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ART
S.E.A. Focus, the world’s only boutique art fair dedicated exclusively to South-East Asian art, debuts this January during Singapore Art Week. Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle sits down with the organisers
Before Art Basel Hong Kong in March and the first edition of Art SG – to be launched by the co-founders of Art HK, Tim Etchells and Angus Montgomery Arts – in November, art lovers in Singapore and the region will get their first taste of the brand-new S.E.A. Focus when the city-state plays host to the only boutique art fair focused entirely on South-East Asian modern and contemporary art, taking place from January 23 to 27.
Initiated by Singapore’s STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, and organised by its Executive Director Emi Eu and Audrey Yeo, founder of Yeo Workshop, this regional art fair held at the Gillman Barracks visual arts enclave will act as a guide to deciphering the South-East Asian art world, understanding its diversity, transformation and potential for development, and discovering its established and rising stars. It feeds into Singapore’s arts hub ambitions and the belief that there is untapped demand for South-East Asian art in Asia. Singapore’s unique geographical location allows ease of access for South-East Asian collectors, and artwork prices will be situated between those of the Affordable Art Fair and Art Stage Singapore – from US$2,000 to US$200,000.
Ursula Sullivan of Sydney-based gallery Sullivan + Strumpf, which has a Gillman Barracks outpost, discloses: “South-East Asia is an important art region and there is no other fair really giving it the attention it deserves. Without question, we want to be involved. We’ll be showing some great works by Jeremy Sharma, Dawn Ng and Kanchana Gupta at the fair, and will also have Australian artist, Lindy Lee, in our gallery.”
Pearamon Tulavardhana, Project Coordinator at Gallery ver, which will present Thai artists Udomsak, Wantanee and Nuttapon, echoes the sentiment, stating: “As a Bangkok gallery that represents many local artists, we hope to encourage South-East Asian artists. We’ve heard from friends – artists, curators, gallerists – that most art fairs in this zone are run by foreigners or outsiders. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, we still believe that locals have a better understanding of art around SouthEast Asia. Once we heard that S.E.A. Focus is a gathering of locals, we wanted to give our support to it and push forward South-East Asian art.”
More than 54 artists from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India and the US will be exhibited by 26 local and international galleries such as Artinformal, Art Seasons, Commonwealth & Council, Galerie Quynh, Richard Koh Fine Art, Ruci Art Space, The Columns Gallery, Tomio Koyama Gallery and 47 Canal.
Singapore’s Cheong Soo Pieng and Chua Ek Kay, Malaysia’s Latiff Mohidin and Vietnam’s Nguyen Trung are among the blue-chip veteran artists, while contemporary masters Jane Lee, Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Agus Suwage, as well as emerging artists Julian “Togar” Abraham, Brisa Amir, Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, are among those to look out for.
Yeo cites two artists to watch: Handiwirman Saputra of Jakartabased Nadi Gallery, because he is one of Indonesia’s leading conceptual artists who creates elegant but surprising forms of sculpture and painting, and Manuel Ocampo of The Drawing Room, who represented the Philippines at the Venice Biennale. Eu explains the fair’s approachable nature: “We didn’t want to make it so large that people would be intimidated. Often, when people visit a fair, it takes forever to go around, but this will be quite intimate and easy to navigate. It’s the right size for people to start on something.” Highlights will include collector home visits, special museum tours and a talk series discussing art fairs, artists’ cultural values, and investing in and collecting art.
While the Asia Contemporary Art Show may have pulled out of Singapore last year and the Affordable Art Fair, reduced its two editions to one, S.E.A. Focus has a good chance of succeeding because it is gallery-oriented and gallery-led, with the organisers being gallerists themselves and aware of the needs of galleries in the region. Members of the Art Galleries Association, the leading national body representing the interests of gallery owners and operators in Singapore, had been discussing such a project for years, although preparations for this edition only started in March 2018, after obtaining a grant from the Singapore Tourism Board, the Economic Development Board and the National Arts Council, Singapore.
“Collectors can go to international art fairs and see international artists, but it’s at a regional-type project that they’ll discover something new,” says Eu. “S.E.A. Focus really offers an in-depth presentation of what’s going on in our region.”
Pham Phuong Cuc, Director of Hanoi-based CUC Gallery, shares that the reason the gallery chose to participate was because the focus was on South-East Asian art, and also because “Singapore, as a new art and cultural hub, will be even more critical compared to the past. Vietnam recently has been experiencing many changes and developments in terms of the economy and cultural shifts. We can see the differences and similarities between South-East Asian countries through art. So we hope that through this art fair, for the first time, people can really see and understand where we stand and what we represent.”
“Sometimes, South-East Asian art can be exoticised,” Yeo says. “But young contemporary artists today are creating universal works, so regional fairs are a chance for people to update their knowledge on certain regions. We’ve been developing our own scene at home with the galleries; Indonesia and the Philippines, too, have been developing their own gallery scenes, so it’s really nice to have a platform like S.E.A. Focus, where everyone can get together. It’s about networking, and updating tastes and aesthetics, so it’s really exciting to be part of something that’s very current and to have our finger on the pulse of that.”
Pictured: Brisa Amir,Uncertain Slopes, 2017 Opposite page: Yeo Kaa,Alone but Not Lonely, 2018