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The Business Times | Art returns with a vengeance
November is packed with visual art events, as galleries go all out to court new and seasoned collectors.
by HELMI YUSOF
GUILLAUME Levy-Lambert has a story to tell. Amid the pandemic, a married couple with two children visited his Art Porters Gallery in Spottiswoode Park. "They said their vacation plans were cancelled because of travel restrictions," he says. "I almost cried when they told me about it.
"However, they'd decided that they were going to use their vacation budget to buy art. So they talked about it as a family for about an hour. And, after a long discussion, the two kids and their parents chose one artwork. Then, two hours later, they WhatsApped me and said they wanted a second one as well.
"So sales do happen . . . But we must put out positive energy," concludes Mr Levy-Lambert.
All through this weekend (Nov 20 to 22), 32 galleries and art organisations will do just that in Singapore's first Gallery Weekend. The three-day city-wide programme features a broad range of exhibitions, with artists often on-site to talk to visitors about their works and practices.
There are demos, performances and a block party - but carried out with safe distancing measures, of course. And all of it is self-funded by the Art Galleries Association Singapore (AGAS) which saw membership skyrocket by 50 per cent in 2020 as galleries sought to band together and help each other out. AGAS' revised constitution allowed more galleries into its fold.
The Singapore Gallery Weekend is just the latest major visual arts event to take place in November, alongside the just-opened Singapore International Photography Festival (Nov 5, 2020, to Jan 30, 2021) and the soon-to-open National Gallery Singapore's exhibition of Georgette Chen (Nov 27, 2020, to Sep 26, 2021). All these come on the heels of Gillman Barracks' Art After Dark (Nov 6 to 15) festival just a week earlier.
The flurry of openings is no coincidence. With the government gradually allowing art venues to open in Phase 2, galleries and museums were able to plan their openings once more. And with Christmas round the corner, what better time to have people shopping for art than now?
Rita Targui, vice-president of AGAS, says: "Prior to the pandemic, we gallerists were running around the globe, participating in art fairs, always going in separate directions. But the pandemic helped us cocoon and get closer together. We regrouped and put certain discussions back on the table. We've wanted to organise a Gallery Weekend for a couple of years but never got round to doing it. This year, we could."
The Gallery Weekend has become an urban tradition around the world, from Berlin and Milan to Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. It involves local galleries and artists banding together to organise special activities. They typically draw thousands of people, both from and outside of the city, and are highly anticipated annual events. Singapore is somewhat late to the game, but hopes to make up for it quickly.
The galleries on Malan Road in Gillman Barracks (near NTU CCA) are organising a two-day block party (Nov 20 and 21) with BurgerLabo, popular for its flavourful burgers, and Hopscotch, which makes Singapore-style craft cocktails. Chan + Hori Contemporary is doing a 12-hour podcast with several guests to discuss art and society. And every gallery is pitching some of their best artists for the event.
Separately, the Singapore International Photography Festival has just opened at multiple venues around town, such as the shipping-container structure DECK on Prinsep Street and the beautiful blue-and-white former Singapore Chinese Girls' School building on 37 Emerald Hill Road.
The art world has not escaped the brunt of the pandemic. But the severity of its impact varies across galleries and institutions. STPI, for instance, reports "fairly healthy" sales still, while other galleries such as Intersections Gallery and Chan + Hori Contemporary have had to shutter their physical spaces and open pop-up spaces instead.
But Khai Hori, president of AGAS and a partner of Chan + Hori, says: "Our pop-up on Purvis Street has been good for us. We've somehow managed to reach out to new prospective clients from around the world and we've sold works unexpectedly from our inventory . . . So for a gallery that does not have a permanent space, it's been good in terms of sales."
Ms Targui, who is also director of STPI, echoes his sentiments: "We've been getting some inquiries from collectors overseas. For people staying at home or working from home, their online shopping behaviours have expanded beyond retail and fashion to include art."
"I must say, though, I've rarely had such deep conversations with our clients that I do now, because their attention is now more focused on the artists they're interested in, and they don't have a dozen events to run off to."
Greater attention on the art and artists is what gallerists are counting on this weekend, as potential and seasoned collectors make their way to galleries across the island to interact with the artists on-hand.
Mr Levy-Lambert says: "We've put together these physical and online shows, and we want people to enjoy the art, first and foremost. We want to increase the pool of art lovers over time, if we can . . . whether we sell or not, that can come later."
5 places to be this weekend
1. Gillman Barracks
There are a dozen exhibitions taking places in Singapore's premier art cluster, so you'll need at least a few hours to take them all in. Start at the end of Lock Road, with Mizuma Gallery and the Columns Gallery. Then work your way down to the end of Malan Road, where there's a block party (on Nov 20 and 21) with good art and equally good burgers and cocktails.
2. CBD/Tanjong Pagar
In the beautiful cavernous warehouses of Helutrans at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, you'll find an exhibition of works by batik artist Sujak Rahman (opening on Nov 21) as well as Gajah Gallery's showcase of its best artists such as Ashley Bickerton, Suzann Victor and Kumari Nahappan. Spottiswoode Park is a 15-minute drive away, so drop by at Art Porters Gallery for its showcase of Jamie Tan and Jamie Teo's colour field paintings. The two artists are there in the afternoons to meet visitors. Then, take a 20-minute drive to Fullerton Hotel where Intersections Gallery is showcasing Myanmar artists. There are tours at specific times.
3. Bras Basah-Bugis district
There are many participating galleries in this arts and heritage enclave. Here's just one suggested route: Start at Cuturi Gallery on Aliwal Street, take a short drive to Artcommune Gallery in Carlton Hotel (Bras Basah), walk over to The Private Museum on Waterloo Street, and then to Deck on Prinsep Street for the Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF). After that, cross a couple of streets to Art Glass Centre on Upper Wilkie Road for a demo of glass art-making by Tan Sock Fong, organised by Art-2 Gallery. Finally, take a short drive to 37 Emerald Hill Road (former SCGS) where SIPF is showcasing more art photography.
If you have kids, we suggest bringing the whole family to STPI on Robertson Quay between 11am and 4pm. The gallery is organising fun papermaking workshops, with no prior registration required. While there, check out STPI's exhibition of paper pulp works by leading artists such as Goh Beng Kwan, Shinro Ohtake and Shambhavi Singh.
If you wish to stay in yet still be part of the Gallery Weekend, tune in to Chan + Hori Contemporary 12-hour podcast on art and society featuring several guests. (Visit the gallery's website for details.) If you want to shop for art, there are various online galleries such as the Affordable Art Fair and The Artling.