All the World’s a Stage

Kate Sutton at the 4th Art Stage Singapore

Left: Art Stage Singapore director Lorenzo Rudolf walks a client around Kobayashi Gallery. Right: Writer Bharti Lalwani with CCA Singapore founding director Ute Meta Bauer atop Marina Bay Sands. (All photos: Kate Sutton)

“CAN YOU BELIEVE I’ve been in this country three months and still haven’t made it up here?” curator Ute Meta Bauer marveled from the terrace atop Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. Tapped as the founding director of Center for Contemporary Art Singapore, Bauer has spent most of her time at the Gillman Barracks, a reconverted army training facility now home to CCA as well as gallery franchises Arndt, ShanghART, Michael Janssen, and Pearl Lam. With CCA’s first exhibition—“Paradise Lost,” featuring videos by Zarina Bhimji, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Fiona Tan—slated to open just days later, it was understandable that sightseeing hadn’t been Bauer’s priority.

We were making up for lost time, toasting the sweeping view of the city before us, from its now-pristine reservoir to a stretch of shiny blue skyscrapers. None of this was here seven years ago, not even the land. In fact, as I was told, almost 30 percent of what we know as Singapore sits on recently reclaimed turf. Capitalizing on the new terrain, the city-state has indulged all manner of architectural whimsy. Take Michael Wilford’s roly-poly Esplanade or the Avatar-inspired, solar-cell-studded “Supertrees” in the Gardens by the Bay. Or the lily pad–like Artscience Museum, designed by Moshe Safdie as part of the greater Marina Bay Sands complex. All erected over the past few years, the buildings give the impression of having only just shed their wrappers, kind of like after a birthday party, when a child lines up all his new toys for evaluation.

Left: Collector “Dr Oei” Hong Dijen at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Dealer Graham Steele and artist Ashley Bickerton at Art Stage Singapore.

Built in 2011, the fourteen-million-square-foot Marina Bay Sands embodies the city’s most CGI-esque architectural ambitions. Each of its three towers helps support what resembles an enormous surfboard, a rooftop deck replete with restaurants, bars, and the oft-photographed “Infinity Pool.” “I’m staying in one tower, but they serve breakfast in another. I have to walk twenty minutes through the luxury mall to get there,” said writer Sabine Vogel. “Can you imagine all those Prada advertisements before coffee?”

We had been whisked up to the rooftop for a special brunch to inaugurate the fourth edition of ArtStage Singapore, a hybrid exhibition/art fair that’s the jewel of Singapore Art Week, part of the country’s bid to establish itself as the international hub for Southeast Asia. The fair opened its doors for a VIP preview last Wednesday, in its space at the Marina Bay Sands Expo Centre. (One unique perk? VIPs could use the pool.)

The fair itself features a heady mix of smaller galleries from Southeast Asia and a smattering of those Westerners who have opened second or third spaces in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. “I participated the first two years, then skipped last year,” dealer Kashya Hildebrand confessed. “I came back because I figured things could get pretty fun now that Art Basel Hong Kong has given all these Asian galleries the boot. Collectors missing their Asian art fix know they can come here.” All that and more: Berlin/Seoul/Beijing–based Michael Schultz Gallery made headlines offering a flashy $11.5 million Gerhard Richter painting, with another Richter reported as sold for a more palatable €580,000.

Left: Jane Ittogi, chairman of the board of the Singapore Art Museum. Right: Dealer Kashya Hildebrand at Art Stage Singapore.

As the preview crowds began to thicken, I clocked collectors Uli Sigg and “Dr Oei” Hong Dijon before running into artist Ashley Bickerton, who was inspecting a Zhang Xiaogang painting at Beijing Commune. “This guy’s a fine painter, but he keeps pulling the same tricks. Risks becoming a one-noter,” Bickerton clucked. I shifted the conversation to Bali and Bickerton’s status as an “Indonesian” artist, and he told me frankly that he was probably packing up and leaving the island. “It’s not like it was. The industrial machine is moving in.” He gave me a knowing look, and I couldn’t help but feel implicated.

ArtStage founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf (who helmed Art Basel in the pre-Keller era of 1991–2000) keeps the fair from feeling too corporate through the use of ingeniously deployed “Platforms,” nation- or region-specific exhibitions selected from the offerings at the fair by some of Asia’s most celebrated curators, including Mori Art Museum’s Mami Kataoka (Japan); Kim Sung Won (Korea); Charles Merewether (Central Asia); and artist Bose Krishnamachari, who’s responsible for creating Kochi, India’s first biennial. The mixture of curatorial statements and price tags seemed to take; Continua sold Qiu Zhijie’s The Politics of Laughing for $80,000, while Sundaram Tagore delighted in the $66,000 sale of Jane Lee’s 50 Faces. (Lee’s show continues at the gallery’s Gillman Barracks outpost.) Shakshi Gupta’s intricately-carved-and-feathered totem also found a home via Platforms. “You need to get her to tell you the story behind it,” Gupta’s dealer, Thomas Krinzinger, urged. “It’s something about an elephant that gets bitten by a dragon and spends many years nursing the injury. Once he learns to let go of this pain, however, he sprouts wings and learns to fly.”

Left: Dealer Pearl Lam. Right: Art Stage Singapore India Platform curator Bose Krishnamachari.

“We’ve spent the last few years building up our infrastructure. Now we’re ready to focus on art and culture,” explained lawyer Jane Ittogi, chair of the Singapore Art Museum and board member of the National Art Gallery. (Ittogi is, incidentally, the wife of Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s deputy prime minister and current chair of the International Monetary Fund Committee.) She was sitting with Chong Siak Ching, the newly announced CEO of the National Art Gallery (slated to open in 2015), at a table installed outside the Singapore Art Museum as part of The World Embassy of Problems. The performance, Indonesian artist’s Tisna Sanjaya’s contribution to the biennial, encouraged visitors to pull up a chair and discuss real issues. Dutifully, Ittogi and I traded polite commentary on the state of Singapore’s art scene over sticky spoonfuls of a globe-shaped cake, while around us artists acted out our affirmations through burlap-sack costumes and fingerpaints. After what seemed a respectful amount of time, I excused myself and ducked back to a crew of artists and writers on the museum’s lawn. “I imagine someone just got herself fed a whole heaping of the party line,” a Hong Kong writer cracked. “And cake!” I clarified.

Party line or not, there is no denying that the city’s art scene is blooming, and not just at Gillman Barracks. Helutrans, a set of massive portside warehouses currently enables projects like Ikkan, Galerie Steph, and Richard Koh. Other galleries—Yavuz and Art Plural—stick to the museum district. As part of Singapore Art Week, Chan Hampe Gallery’s Benjamin Milton Hampe helped organize “Art in Motion,” a gallery bus tour that kicked off the week with a welcome dinner timed to coincide with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute’s opening for Han Soi Pur. “Our Louise Bourgeois,” as I was advised, the sculptor is best known for her monumental stone works (a few of which camp outside the National Museum). For the STPI event, however, Han made the most of the Institute’s in-house paper mill and tried her hand crafting pulp into the shape of tropical fruits. “She’s one of the few women working with industrial materials here,” Heritage Board curator Tan Boon Hui informed me. “It’s mind-blowing—not to reinforce the stereotype that women can’t work with stone, but have you seen her? She’s so tiny! It’s amazing to think she is the force moving and shaping these gigantic stones.”

Left: Dealers Manfred Wiplinger, Thomas Krinzinger and Ursula Krinzinger with artist Entang Wiharso at Singapore Tyler Print Institute. Right: Artist Han Sai Por at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

Left: Singapore Art Museum curator Tan Siuli at the Singapore Biennale venue National Museum. Right: Dealers Tecla Cislaghi, Mario Cristiani, and Federica Beltrame at Art Stage Singapore.

Left: Singapore Art Museum director Susie Langham. Right: Dealers Sunny Kim and Bona Yoo at Art Stage Singapore.

Left: Dealer Stephanie Tham with artist Sharmistha Ray at Galerie Steph. Right: Dealer Shugo Satani at Art Stage Singapore.

Left: Dealers Uli Zhiheng Huang and Etsuko Nakajima at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Artist Shin Il Kim at Space Cottonseed.

Left: Artist Tisna Sanjaya. Right: Artist Tan Peiling at Galerie Steph.

Left: Frans Hals Museum director Ann de Meester at CCA. Right: Dealers Ben Brown and Andreas Hecker at Art Stage Singapore.

Left: CCA Singapore curator Anca Rujoiu atop Marina Bay Sands. Right: Rogue Art's Adeline Ooi at the Singapore Arts Dinner.

Left: Art Stage Singapore Australia Platform curator Charles Merewether at the Singapore Arts Supper. Right: Dealer Benjamin Milton Hampe with National Arts Council's Paul Tan atop Marina Bay Sands.

Left: Dealer Michael Janssen. Right: Dealer Can Yavuz.

Left: Dealer Chris Dharmawan at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Pipeline's Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva with CCA Singapore curator Lee Weng Choy at the Singapore Arts Supper.

Left: Singapore Tyler Print Institute's Emi Eu at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Artist Entang Wiharso, collector N Hady Ang, and artist Genevieve Chua at Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

Left: Dealers Fabio Rossi and Mauro Ribero at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Dealer Ethan Cohen (left).

Left: Dealer Junior Tirtadji with writer Bharti Lalwani at Helutrans Art Space. Right: Art Stage Singapore Korea Platform curator Kim Sung Won.

Left: Dealers Lorraine Kiang Malingue and Edouard Malingue at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Beijing Commune's Lu Jingjing at Art Stage Singapore.

Left: Dealer Masatoshi Kobayashi at Art Stage Singapore. Right: Artist Riyoo Kim and dealer Kenneth Loe at Ikkan Gallery.

Left: ArtJog director Santriagama Rakantaseta. Right: Art Stage Singapore Taiwan Platform curator Rudy Tseng.