Mixed Sales Results at ART SG’s Second Year Highlight Challenges in Asia-Pacific Market - The World News

Mixed Sales Results at ART SG’s Second Year Highlight Challenges in Asia-Pacific Market

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balance, the ARTnews newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday.

The return of ART SG last week to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Resort and Convention Center, with a 30 percent smaller list of exhibitors and the absence of several blue-chip names, prompted worry for many art dealers about the viability of Southeast Asia as a major art market.

However, several galleries sold works on the first day, and the exhibition floors were packed throughout the weekend. Notable attendees included ARTnews Top 200 collectors Harayanto Adikoesoemo and Alexander Tedja; local collectors Jackie Feng, Andrew Xue, Kim and Lito Camacho,and Albert Lim and Linda Neo; regional collectors Iwan Kurniawan Lukminto of Indonesia, Leo Shih from Taiwan, and Evan Chow from Hong Kong; and Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast. Institutional representatives present at the fair included MOCA Bangkok’s Kit Bencharongkul, Whale Art Museum founder Li Fan, Tai Kwun Contemporary’s Pi Li, Sharjah Art Foundation international programmes director Judith Greer, Chisenhale Gallery director Zoé Whitley, and Sook-Kyung Lee, director of the Whitworth gallery and curator of last year’s Gwangju Biennale and this year’s Japanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

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A closely cropped profile photo of ART SG cofounder Magnus Renfrew. He is wearing a navy blue suit, a white dress shirt, a pink striped tie, and his arms are crossed.

Despite the strong attendance, multiple galleries reported disappointing results, a sign Singapore is still a long way from becoming a seven-figure art market destination like Hong Kong.

ARTnews spoke with more than a dozen art dealers from around the world about their experience at the second edition of the fair.

(All sales are in USD unless otherwise indicated. Sales information is provided voluntarily by galleries but does not include confirmation of transactions, discounts, or other fees.)

Ian Davenport’s Lake No.1 (Tide) (2023) was one of four large, site-specific installations at this year’s fair. Photo by Karen K. Ho/ARTnews.

London gallery Waddington Custot returned to the fair with several of the biggest works on display, including a new wall-to-floor installation by  Turner Prize–nominated artist Ian Davenport that ran nearly 20 feet wide and a 770-pound, 13-foot high sculpture by Jean Dubuffet.

“Singapore seemed like a logical second center for us in Asia because it’s a different collector base,” senior director Jacob Twyford told ARTnews, referring to Hong Kong as the gallery’s first center in the region.

Last year at ART SG, Waddington Custot sold a large sculpture, several other works, and Davenport’s wall-to-floor installation Deep Magenta Mirrored, now on display in the Mondrian Singapore Duxton hotel. The London gallery also has a nearly three-decade relationship with ART SG organizer Magnus Renfrew, whose first job was working for Twyford.

“It’s still not a fair where we expect to do a lot of business, but there are serious collectors in Singapore and wider Southeast Asia,” Twyford said, while also acknowledging that there are a “fairly small number of serious collectors” interested in acquiring works like the massive Dubuffet sculpture.

Strong results came from works by Korean and Japanese artists at several Southeast Asian galleries. But works by Western artists still garnered some of the highest sums among collectors, despite accounting for a small fraction of the art on display.

Notably, Thaddaeus Ropac reported that on Day 2 of the fair, Anselm Kiefer’s painting Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr sold for just under $1.2 million (€1.1 million) and that Lee Bul’s Percy CVII sold for $190,000. Meanwhile, during VIP day, an oil panel by Jules de Balincourt went for $125,000 and an Alex Katz sold for $110,000. At least one other blue-chip gallery with a presence on multiple continents reported strong sales: White Cube said it had moved around $2 million in art during the fair. 

This work by Anselm Kiefer was among the highest reported sales at the second edition of ART SG. ©Anselm Kiefer. Photo by Charles Duprat, courtesy of Thaddaeus Ropac.

Wendy Xu, White Cube’s general manager for Asia, said this year’s mood was different compared to the party-like, more international “post-Covid” atmosphere during the inaugural edition. This year, she said, she noticed more local residents stopping by on the VIP day, though given Singapore’s makeup, they tended to be transplants from places like Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Japan, and South Korea.

Lehmann Maupin sold a work by David Salle for $250,000 to “a prominent family collection based in Singapore,” two Lee Bul works for prices between $200,000 and $300,000,” and Mandy El-Sayegh’s Piece Painting (Ariel) “in the range of $80,000 to 100,000 to a prominent collector based in Shanghai,” as well as two works between $50,000 and $70,000.

Sundaram Tagore Gallery (which has locations in New York, Singapore, and London) sold three works by Hiroshi Senju between $240,000 and $410,000, along with several other works between $35,000 and $60,000. Director Melanie Taylor told ARTnews that sales were good and that Jane Lee’s No Thing is #8,a mixed acrylic painting, sold for $76,000 to an Indonesian collector with plans for a private museum in Singapore.

Gordon Cheung’s Home installation made out of financial newspapers and bamboo frames, presented by Richard Koh Fine Arts. Photo by Karen K. Ho/ARTnews

Richard Koh, who runs an eponymous gallery in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok, told ARTnews on the second day of the fair that his team had sold almost everything except for one work, with pieces by South Asian artists like Natee Itarit, Justin Lim and Ruben Pang having found buyers for prices between  $20,000 and $180,000. “People were actually inquiring, taking notes, understanding what the works were and what they like,” Koh told ARTnews.

On the first day, Johyun Gallery from Busan sold four works by Lee Bae: two charcoal on paper works for $50,000 each and two charcoal on canvas works for $120,000 and $180,000. For the second edition of the fair, gallery director Min-Young Joo told ARTnews she brought more smaller-sized works by the same Korean artists as last year, in order to generate a higher overall sales volume.She added that, compared to other investment-focused collectors she has met in Hong Kong or Seoul, buyers at ART SG seemed focused on acquiring pieces by Korean emerging artists they wanted to support. Interest in figurative paintings by Kang Kang Hoon was so high, it generated a waiting list.

Tokyo gallery A Lighthouse Called Kanata brought bigger, more ambitious work in a booth that was about 320 square feet bigger than last year. The additional space paid off, with a 30 percent increase in sales of 15 abstract paintings and sculptures, by artists like Chiko Takei and Masaaki Yonemoto, for between $20,000 and $150,000.

Gallery founder Wahei Aoyama said the results were a “very pleasant surprise,” on par with its results at West Bund or TEFAF Maastricht. The works all went to private collectors from Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and China.

“I think Singapore provides a new frontier,” he told ARTnews, citing the ongoing migration of residents from China and Hong Kong.

Works by Lee Bae quickly sold during the first day of the fair. Photo by Karen K. Ho/ARTnews

Albertz Benda, which has locations in New York and Los Angeles, returned to the fair with a solo exhibition of large, psychedelic paintings by Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton. Associate gallery director Kate Moger said it was “an easy decision” after bringing Barton’s work to other fairs and a professional relationship that spans almost a decade.

Along with “a lot of interest,” all seven works by Barton, which ranged in price from $30,000 to $200,000, were purchased by a Shanghai-based collector with the intention of hanging them as a single installation for a future private museum.

Rissim Contemporary considered ART SG an opportunity to reach collectors and institutions it would otherwise not have access to. The young gallery from Malaysia featured striking, large works by two Indigenous artists: Paul Nickson Atia’s abstract Chinese ink paintings and Saiful Razman’s vivid mixed media collages.

Six of the larger works sold first, including one to a private museum in Kuala Lumpur, as well as two smaller works. “We weren’t expecting that,” gallery partner Suleyman Azhari told ARTnews.

The works were priced between $4,000 and $10,000 but Azhari said that the level of demand in Singapore means the gallery will have to consider how to carefully raise rates for future fairs. “We still have to protect our local collector base in Malaysia, and their price points are not the same as that international level,” he said.

Paul Nickson Atia uses his training in architecture for his large, abstract ink paintings. Photo by Karen K. Ho/ARTnews

Retro Africa participated in the fair as a way to bring more awareness to works from Central and South Africa. Gallerist Dolly Kola-Balogun, who is not even 30 years old, sold two large moody, oil figurative paintings by the London-based Nigerian artist Ken Nwadiogbu on the first day, both for around $21,000 each.

Even with all of these results, multiple galleries told ARTnews they had poor or no sales at ART SG, or that their experiences left a big question mark on whether they would return for future editions.

One European booth only sold works to collectors prior to the fair and will have to ship everything back. “This has been frustrating,” they said, asking to speak anonymously so they could speak candidly. “I don’t think we will come back.” Another South Asian gallery reported that they only sold a work they had on display to a local collector in their home location. “I don’t think the art fair has been realistic enough about expectations.”

Art adviser Edward Mitterrand was straightforward in his assessment about what needed to change before more blue-chip or mega galleries consider expanding to Singapore, as they have in Tokyo or Seoul. “It takes a level of hope for the future before you start opening spaces here and that’s still the competition with Hong Kong,” he said during a tour of curated works from Pierre Lorinet’s private collection. The title of the exhibition? “Rough.”

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