Despite Diminished Gallery Participation, Art SG’s Second Edition Draws Healthy Attention From Collectors

While a slew of galleries chose not to return to the Singapore fair, those that did saw lively sales on opening day.

Ian Davenport's "Puddle" painting. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

Second acts are notoriously tricky to pull off, and this year’s edition of ART SG in Singapore is no exception. After a two-year delay due to Covid, the inaugural event last year generated the kind of buzz you’d expect from the launch of a new art fair.

And when you consider that 89 out of last year’s 164 participating galleries—including David Zwirner, Pace, Galerie Perrotin, and Skarstedt—decided not to come back, it looked like fair organizers had their work cut out for them this year, with the mandate to produce the same level of excitement with just 114 exhibitors, including 39 newcomers.

“Obviously there are headwinds,” fair co-founder Magnus Renfrew said when asked about the leaner fair on the eve of Art SG’s opening day. “The economic, geo-political factors, inflationary pressures, high interest rates…so galleries have to be more pragmatic.”

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of buying power in Southeast Asia. Singapore boasts 570,000 millionaires, and 4,200 ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) with at least $50 million, according to the 2023 Knight Frank Wealth Report. Including neighboring Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, the number of UHNWIs is 7,413.

The number of family offices in Singapore has grown from about 100 in 2017 to more than 1,000 today. “We anticipate strong attendance for ART SG, as nine out of ten high net-worth art collectors surveyed plan to continue attending exhibitions in 2024,” UBS co-head of global wealth management for Asia Pacific, Jin Yee Young said. UBS is the fair’s principal sponsor.

While many dealers who opted not to come to the fair this year cited an insufficient collector base to support the fair despite all this largesse, the VIP preview and vernissage held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention on January 18 may have proven them wrong.

Just ask Albertz Benda Gallery. With spaces in New York and Los Angeles, it sold out its entire solo booth by Australian painter Del Kathryn Barton to a single buyer. A Shanghai-based collector bought all seven paintings priced from $30,000 to $200,000 and plans to hang as a single installation for a private museum he is building.

“The overall vibe is better than last year and they brought in more collectors from overseas,” said Daphne King, director of Chinese ink specialist Alisan Fine Arts (Hong Kong, New York) who was nervous about returning to fair “as the population isn’t as mature or sophisticated as Hong Kong even though they have deep pockets.”

Among some of the notable collector attendees were Alan Lo and his wife Yenn Wong from Hong Kong, Lito and Kim Camacho from Manila, Rudy Tseng from Taipei, and representatives of the billionaire Kwee family whose Pontiac Land Group built the condo project incorporating three new floors of MoMA. Curators from LACMA, the Tate Modern, and the Toledo Museum of Art were also present at the fair.

Many galleries reported strong first day sales. White Cube sold a seven-foot high cast iron work by Antony Gormley priced at £500,000 ($634,000) to a Southeast Asian collector and an Anselm Kiefer work on canvas priced at €1.1 million ($1.2 million), also to a regional collector. “It’s been better regionally attended this year,” gallery director Faina Derman said of the fair.

A Georg Baselitz offered at White Cube. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

Sundaram Tagore, who has spaces in New York, Los Angeles, and Singapore, said he sold two Hiroshi Senju paintings to existing clients for $260,000 and $360,000, an Edward Burtynsky photo to a French collector from Hong Kong, a $70,000 painting by Singaporean Jane Lee to an Indonesian buyer and a work by American abstract expressionist painter Robert Natkin for $60,000.

Gajah Gallery based in Singapore sold two bronze sculptures by Indonesian artist Yunizar priced in the mid five figures as well as a six-figure silicon bronze piece by Singapore’s Han Sai Por to a Southeast Asian Collector. Thaddaeus Ropac unloaded an Alex Katz priced at $110,000, a Jules de Balincourt for $125,000 and a James Rosenquist for $40,000.

Jacob Twyford, senior director at London’s Waddington Custot was 99 percent sure he’d sold a $360,000 work by U.K. artist Ian Davenport to a buyer in the Middle East (“we’re just waiting for the wire transfer”). Davenport’s “puddle” painting, which involves meticulously pouring acyclic paint down a canvas (this work used about 120 litres of paint), which then spills on the floor where the colours merge into swirls and pools. The dealer also has received serious interest from a Singaporean in a four-meter high Jean Dubuffet sculpture priced at $2.4 million, the priciest work on offer at the fair.

Lehmann Maupin reported six first day sales, including two Lee Buls priced $200,000 to $300,000, and a David Salle oil, acrylic, and pencil on linen also between $200,000 and $300,000.

Nigerian artist Ken Nwadiogbu. Photo by Frederik Balfour.

First-time exhibitor Retro Africa, from Abuja, Nigeria, is presenting a solo show by Nigerian artist Ken Nwadiogbu who paints with a blazing palette of orange, red and yellow in which he explores themes of migration and identity, drawing on his own recent experience in London studying at the Royal College of Art.  The gallery sold two of his works priced at $21,000 and $21,500 to an American university professor living in Tokyo who came to the show as a VIP guest so he could meet Nwagdiogbu.

At the bottom range of prices, Malaysian indigenous Bidayuh artist Paul Nickson Atia, showing with first-time exhibitor Rissim Contemporary, from Kuala Lumpur, was thrilled that all four of his works of Chinese ink on canvas sold for between $3,600 and $4,000 each.

Another artist happy to be attending the fair was Ukrainian kinetic designer Valery Kuznetsov (Smith) who was allowed to leave the country because his weak heart rendered him unfit for military service while his partner Otto Winken had to remain at home. The pair together form the studio laboratory Smith & Winken, a duo that created the works on offer in the city of Dnipro for five months ending in October. The pieces are priced between $18,500 and $74,000 and are sold as limited editions in a partnership between Singaporean watch retailer The Hour Glass and MB&F M.A.D. gallery in Geneva.

The war is “the ugliest thing that makes people more resilient to create the most beautiful things because they might not have them tomorrow,” Kuznetsov said.


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