THE RISE OF SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ART

S.E.A. Fo­cus, the world’s only bou­tique art fair ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to South­east Asian art, de­buts this Jan­uary dur­ing Sin­ga­pore Art Week. Y-jean Mun-delsalle sits down with the or­gan­is­ers

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Be­fore Art Basel Hong Kong in March and the first edi­tion of Art SG – to be launched by the co­founders 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 brand­new S.E.A. Fo­cus when the city-state plays host to the only bou­tique art fair fo­cused en­tirely on South­east Asian mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art, tak­ing place from 23 to 27 Jan­uary.

Ini­ti­ated by Sin­ga­pore’s STPI –Creative Work­shop & Gallery and or­gan­ised by Emi Eu, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of STPI, and Au­drey Yeo, founder of Yeo Work­shop, this re­gional art fair at the Gill­man Bar­racks visual arts en­clave will act as a guide to de­ci­pher­ing the South­east 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 South­east Asian art in Asia. Sin­ga­pore’s unique geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion al­lows ease of ac­cess for South­east Asian col­lec­tors, and art­work prices will be sit­u­ated be­tween those of 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, “South­east Asia is an im­por­tant art re­gion and there is no other fair re­ally giv­ing it the at­ten­tion it de­serves. With­out ques­tion, we wanted 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 of Gallery VER, which will present Thai artists Udom­sak, Wan­ta­nee and Nut­tapon, states, “As a Bangkok gallery that rep­re­sents many lo­cal artists, we hope to en­cour­age South­east Asian artists. We have heard from our friends, whether artists, cu­ra­tors or gal­lerists, that most art fairs in this zone are run by for­eign­ers or out­siders. Although there is noth­ing wrong with that, we still be­lieve that lo­cals can have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of art around South­east Asia. Once we heard that S.E.A. Fo­cus is a gath­er­ing of lo­cal peo­ple, we wanted to give our sup­port to this fair and push for­ward South­east Asian art.”

Over 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, Lat­iff Mo­hidin from Malaysia, and Viet­nam’s Nguyen Trung are among the blue-chip vet­eran artists; con­tem­po­rary masters Jane Lee, Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Agus Suwage, and 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 Jakarta-based Nadi Gallery be­cause he is one of In­done­sia’s lead­ing con­cep­tual artists who cre­ates ele­gant but sur­pris­ing forms from sculp­ture and paint­ing, and Manuel Ocampo of The Draw­ing Room, as he 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 talks se­ries dis­cussing art fairs, artists’ cul­tural val­ues, in­vest­ing and col­lect­ing art.

While the Asia Con­tem­po­rary Art Show may have pulled out of Sin­ga­pore last year and Af­ford­able Art Fair re­duced its two edi­tions to one, S.E.A. Fo­cus has a good chance of suc­ceed­ing be­cause it is gallery­ori­ented 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 STB, EDB and NAC.

“Col­lec­tors can go to in­ter­na­tional art fairs and see in­ter­na­tional artists, but it’s at a re­gional type pro­ject where they’ll be able to dis­cover some­thing new. S.E.A. Fo­cus re­ally of­fers an in­depth pre­sen­ta­tion of what’s go­ing on in our re­gion,” Eu notes.

Pham Phuong Cuc, gallery di­rec­tor of Hanoi-based CUC Gallery, says, “The rea­son we chose to par­tic­i­pate is that the fo­cus on South­east Asian art and 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 South­east Asian coun­tries through art. So we hope through this art fair, for the first time, peo­ple can re­ally see and un­der­stand where we stand and what we rep­re­sent.”

Yeo con­cludes, “Some­times South­east Asian art can be ex­oti­cised, 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 have been de­vel­op­ing our own scene at home with the gal­leries, and also in In­done­sia and the Philip­pines, they 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.”

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