|Michael Lee God's Villa from Office Orchitect 2011
Singapore’s visual art scene has grown in leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. New museums have mushroomed in the city centre, two major art fairs – ArtStage Singapore in January and the Affordable Art Fair in November – now frame the calendar for art lovers, and the opening of a new cluster of contemporary galleries at Gillman Barracks on Saturday are all helping to make the Lion-city a bona-fide contemporary art destination.
While many of these developments can be attributed to a top-down approach on the part of the government, which has for many years been intent on developing Singapore as a “Renaissance City”, there are now signs that sufficient momentum has been created to allow efforts from the ground to begin directing the way the local arts scene is developing. Amongst these efforts is the push to offer more affordable art to collectors with a limited budget.
In recent years, several new galleries have emerged that specialize in representing young emerging artists whose prices have not yet reached giddy heights and galleries offering limited edition prints of well-known contemporary artists like Damien Hirst or Takashi Murakami. In doing so, they offer the opportunity for collectors to own a genuine work of art for only a few thousand dollars.
Utterly Art can be considered as one of the grandfathers of this new breed of "affordable art" galleries in Singapore. Set up in 2001 by two knowledgeable art enthusiasts, the gallery has over the years championed Singaporean artists such as Justin Lee, Hong Sek Chern, Boo Sze Yang and Martin Loh as well as a number of emerging artists from other Southeast Asian countries. In 2002, Utterly Art gave Kiko Escora his first overseas solo show where the young Filipino artist presented a series of small charcoal drawings, many priced around the $800 level. Since then Escora's works have appeared numerous times at auctions, and in 2010 at Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, a larger charcoal on paper sold for 56,250HKD (S$9,275).
"From the start we knew we wanted to offer works that were affordable. Being a collector myself, I sort of know internally what prices we wanted the works to be priced at. And even today, I still use my internal clock to guide the pricing of works: 'I like this - what would I be willing to pay for it?,'" explains Pwee Keng Hock, co-founder of Utterly Art.
Other galleries that offer limited edition prints of well-known international artists include Pop & Contemporary, which has many works by Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst, which can start around S$3,000-$,4000, as well as Collectors Contemporary, which has prints by Andy Warhol and Takashi Murakami, amongst others. Both galleries participated in the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore last year, which requires galleries to only present works below $$10,000 at the fair.
The Affordable Art Fair’s organisers say that in the past two years, the fair has introduced thousands of people to the pleasures of collecting quality contemporary art on a budget. Attendance rose 42 percent between the first and second edition to 13,500, while sales grew 73 percent to an impressive S$3 million, with an estimated 44 percent of visitors purchasing at least one work at the fair.
For the upcoming fair in November 2012, the fair has received more than 140 applications for the 80 spots available, Hewitson says.
Pwee agrees noting that while more galleries equates to more choice for buyers, would-be collectors also need to educate themselves about the galleries and their artists. “Unless you are a very experienced collector you may not know whom some of these artists are because they are so new. Some may be very good, but some may be quite amateurish,” he warns.