Singapore’s major contemporary art fair has been canceled just one week before its planned opening on January 24. Gallerists with works of art already headed to Asia are urgently seeking alternative venues—as well as answers.
The cancellation came as a shock to the fair’s 35 exhibitors, who received an email this week from Art Stage Singapore’s president, Lorenzo Rudolf, less than ten days before the fair’s scheduled opening. He wrote: “I’m sorry to have to inform you that as president of Art Stage Singapore, I am forced to immediately stop the preparations for Art Stage Singapore 2019… and to cancel the fair.” He added that “given circumstances” left no other choice. “We ask you to cease all preparations for [the fair] from your side as well, or to reverse them,” he said.
The exhibitors are not the only ones left in the dark. Art Stage Singapore’s director, director Marcus Teo, said he was also waiting to hear the reason for its cancellation, which Rudolf promised in due course.
A Facebook group called “Art Stage SOS” was created yesterday, January 15, to help galleries and artists seek alternative spaces to show work during the concurrent annual Singapore Art Week. Others took to social media, calling the situation “messy” and complaining about artwork that had already been shipped and flights that were already booked.
The fair, which launched in 2011, was a cornerstone of the city’s art week and was backed by the island’s Economic Development Board and the Singapore Tourism Board. Held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center, the fair had been shrinking substantially in recent years. Last year, 84 galleries participated, down from 130 in 2017, and 170 in 2016.
According to ArtAsiaPacific, there has been speculation since December that the fair might be called off. Indeed, the event was curiously silent on social media, having not posted since November 19 on Facebook or Twitter. The fair did not immediately respond to a query from artnet News about whether it plans to return in 2020.
Last February, Rudolf, who is the fair’s founder and president, dismissed rumors that its future was in doubt, telling Straights Times that “no one has said anything that there would not be a continuation and, by now, we are used to these rumors.”
However, speaking at the opening of last year’s edition, Rudolf said that the art market in Singapore was stagnating, especially in relation to other Asian art hubs like Hong Kong. “If the market doesn’t grow, then I will have to reflect on what I do,” he said during the fair’s preview, according to South China Morning Post. “I sure won’t be sitting here until the end.”
Magnus Renfrew, a co-founder of the fair Art SG in Singapore, who is launching the fair Taipei Dangdai in Taiwan this week, remains confident about the viability of Singapore as an art hub.
“It seems like a real shame and I feel sad for the exhibitors who were committed to it,” he told artnet News. “The idea of having one major hub fair that can serve that audience and engage with the rest of the world has real mileage.”
The news comes amid a growing discussion about the glut of fairs around the world and whether there is enough demand to support them all. Last November, the parent company of Art Basel, MCH Group, confirmed that it was pulling out of several regional fairs in which it had invested, including Art SG, which is set to debut in November 2019.
The third edition of Art Stage Singapore’s sister fair, Art Stage Jakarta, was also canceled last year. It is unclear how the latest developments will affect the Indonesian fair, which is due to open its 2019 edition in August.
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