While Hong Kong still remains relatively closed to visitors due to the city’s strict quarantine measures, other Asian art centers are slowly coming back to life.
On the last weekend of August, collectors from Southeast Asia flocked to Sotheby’s first live sale in Singapore in 15 years, as well as to the Art Jakarta fair in Indonesia, which returned after a two-year hiatus.
And on September 2, the first Asian edition of the Frieze art fair opened in Seoul, a large market for sophisticated art increasingly popular with international galleries.
Dealers and collectors say these regional rivals are unlikely to overturn Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s biggest art market.
“At the moment, Jakarta has a lot more of a regional sensibility whereas Hong Kong is still the focal point of the Asian art market,” says Indonesian art dealer Jun Tirtadji, whose gallery ROH Projects presented. artist Bagus Pandega’s Breathe: Exhale (2022) at Art Jakarta.
Singaporean gallerist Jasdeep Sandhu, who recently opened a new gallery in Jakarta, echoes this sentiment.
“Yes, the Hong Kong market has taken a hit, but the purchasing power is still there. Even if there is a little more exodus [of buyers]he will remain a very important actor.
“But I also think Singapore continues to develop as a hub in its own right.”
The mood was high at Singapore’s Regent Hotel on August 28, where Sotheby’s auction of 50 lots fetched S$24.5 million, beating the prior estimate of S$18 million .
Fiona Xie from the film Crazy Rich Asians attended the premiere, a perfect symbol of the influx of money into Singapore’s art market. This is partly linked to the many wealthy families in mainland China migrating to escape its draconian Covid-19 restrictions, as well as potential Western sanctions.
The auction room was packed with established local collectors and recent transplants to the city, as well as at least 30 buyers from Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea, according to the auction house.
The highest price paid was S$4 million (including buyer’s premium) by a telephone bidder who snatched up Walter Spies’ Tierfabel (1928).
Melis (1939) by Willem Gerard Hofker fetched S$2.3 million, double its high estimate, while Boats and Shophouses (c.1960) by Singaporean modernist painter Georgette Chen was acquired by an art collector. Southeast Asia for S$2 million.
Most of the lots – 76% – were modern works by regional artists, with the small selection of contemporary works by non-regional artists, including Michel Majerus’ OT (collaboration Nr. 8) (1999), which sold three times for S$1.1 million. his estimate and a record for the artist.
But the flagship lot – Untitled, between August and December 1958 (1958) by Zao Wou-Ki – is one of the three works that did not find a buyer. It had an estimate of S$3.8-4.8 million.
“The result exceeded our expectations and underscores the potential of Singapore and the South East Asia region as a whole,” says Jasmine Prasetio, Sotheby’s Managing Director for South East Asia.
Prasetio claims the sale was “additive” and not an alternative to their Hong Kong business.
“Singapore has been trying to foster and promote its artistic ecosystem for some time. It was the incubation period. Now is the time to deliver,” said New York dealer Sundaram Tagore.
The sale follows a no-sale exhibition hosted by Sotheby’s in Vietnam in August, part of the auction house’s various efforts to connect with Southeast Asian clients in their own territory.
According to Sotheby’s, demand from collectors in the region has grown exponentially. In the past five years alone, he has noted a 75% increase in the number of Southeast Asian participants in global sales.
“It’s still early days, but once you start a fire, it spreads,” says Chong Huai Seng, collector and co-founder of Singapore-based art consultancy FOFA (Family Office For Art), which associated with Sotheby’s to organize pre-sale events. .
“There were a lot of old faces but interestingly we also saw new residents from mainland China, some of whom have set up family offices here. Some were already collectors, but the majority were curious to start collecting.
Sotheby’s is not alone in seeking to tap into Singapore’s burgeoning collector base.
This month, international art gallery and consultancy LGDR announced the appointment of a Southeast Asia director, Dexter How, based in Singapore.
Earlier this summer, Phillips held a preview for its spring auctions in Singapore. According to the auction house, the total transactions (buying and selling by collectors) from Southeast Asia in its global sales of 20th century and contemporary art increased by 140% in 2021 compared to 2019.
Phillips, however, does not plan to mount a sale in Singapore. Instead, it plans to continue hosting events and having field representatives in Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok.
“There is a thirst and a thirst for collecting in the region,” says Jonathan Crockett, president and head of 20th century and contemporary art for Asia at Phillips.
“But I would say that currently the region is more important for certain categories. For watches and jewelry, Singapore and Southeast Asia are generally extremely important, and when it comes to art, it is a region that is redefining itself and has enormous potential.
Crockett is particularly optimistic about the growing number of young, second-generation collectors in the region who, he noted, are open to collecting international names from outside the region.
Tom Tandio, director of Art Jakarta, has also seen a growing number of young collectors from Southeast Asia who have a voracious appetite for art, particularly in Indonesia.
“The market is now animated by young collectors,” he explains, explaining that preparing the next generation of collectors is one of the missions of his fair.
Millennial shoppers from across Southeast Asia were out in force at Art Jakarta, which took place August 26-28 at the Jakarta Convention Center and attracted 32,000 visitors.
This year’s edition was more focused on local and regional gallery owners, with only 23 foreign dealers out of a total of 62 exhibitors.
Most visitors to the fair were locals, but around 150 collectors came from neighboring countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Several gallery owners, such as Inge Santoso, founder of Jakarta-based Can’s Gallery, have noticed a larger contingent of second-generation collectors at the fair this year compared to the 2019 edition.
She says many young buyers in the area tend to lean towards works with a street art aesthetic, such as Flowers in the Window (2022) by Indonesian artist Arkiv Vilmansa, a luminous painting of a cartoon character acquired by a young collector for 10,000 dollars.
Ryotaro Ishigami, director and owner of YOD Gallery in Osaka, Japan, who decided to exhibit for the first time this year, said he was particularly interested in tapping into the burgeoning base of young art collectors. South East Asia.
It achieved several sales, including a graffiti-like gestural portrait Study for Null: Portrait of Someone #064 by Japanese artist Yutaka Hashimoto, which sold for 168 million rupees (US$11,300).
The much higher-priced Modernist works from the fair also found homes.
Singaporean agency Art Agenda, SEA, for example, sold a vibrant 1964 painting by Indonesian expressionist Affandi for close to its asking price of US$480,000 to a local buyer.
“Singapore has the potential to become a world capital of art, but we never want to overestimate the work we are going to have to put into it,” said Shuyin Yang, director of Art SG.
Mature collectors have snapped up contemporary works from market darlings like Indonesian artist I Nyoman Nuarta, whose monumental metal locomotive sculpture Poco Loco (2022) sold for US$350,000 to a local collector, who plans to display it in a public place.
Singapore-based Gajah Gallery sold most of its stand, including Balinese artist Ashley Bickerton’s Rainbow Stripe Painting Motorcycle (2020), priced at US$240,000, among others works.
Several Art Jakarta exhibitors and collectors said they looked forward to the Art SG fair in Singapore to continue the building momentum in the region.
The inaugural edition, which will run from January 11, 2023 to January 15, 2023, will feature 150 galleries, including international heavyweights such as Gagosian, Pace and David Zwirner, alongside major regional dealers.
“International gallery owners have heard of the good appetite for the collection in Singapore and Southeast Asia,” says Shuyin Yang, Director of Art SG, while explaining the impressive list of exhibitors. “The potential for them to engage a lot of new collectors as well is really exciting.”
Yang also observed a diversification of Singapore’s collecting base, including more second-generation shoppers and an influx of Indonesians and mainland Chinese moving to the city.
Many in the art scene believe the fair will be a barometer to gauge whether Singapore can truly transform into a global art hub.
“Singapore has been trying to nurture and promote its artistic ecosystem for some time,” says New York dealer Sundaram Tagore, who has space in Singapore’s Gillman Barracks gallery district. “It was the incubation period. Now is the time to deliver.
“But what kind of egg will it produce?” It all depends on the efforts of the whole ecosystem, which includes art fairs, galleries, museums and the tourist board.
Yang agrees: “Singapore has the potential to become an art capital of the world, but we never want to overestimate the work we’re going to have to put into it.”
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This article was first published in the South China Morning Post.