#SEAgalleries — artcommune

In your opinion, what makes an ideal art fair for your gallery to participate in?
An art fair that is operationally well-managed and capable of carving a niche brand for itself. It should feature a significant variety of mediums and genres, and be able to draw a reasonably robust crowd.

What do you hope will come to fruition with your involvement at S.E.A. Focus?
Our gallery represents some of the finest artists in the Singapore visual art canon — from revered pioneer artists Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi, to leading second-generation painters like Wong Keen and Lim Tze Peng. We certainly hope this involvement extends another vital platform for us to showcase the works of some of these seminal local artists and help position them within a larger regional context. The Singapore art scene may be young in the region but there is a growing community of art collectors and enthusiasts who rely on platforms like this to view, understand or acquire art. We hope to use this opportunity to interact with galleries from different countries and specialisations, and audience from different walks of life. Even if our Singapore art market has its limitations in terms of size and potential, it is still possible for the local art community — artists, dealers, administrators, collectors, art lovers — to work together in growing and nurturing a homegrown art fair that everyone could enjoy and be proud of. We hope our participation contributes to this wider effort in strengthening Singapore’s art ecosystem, or at least, that is the vision we have in mind.

What are your thoughts on Singapore as a backdrop for a boutique art fair?
Singapore’s economy has grown strong enough to be an ideal host location for a boutique art fair. Currently, there are already Chinese, Hong Kong and Indonesian art collectors who travel to Singapore often to acquire works. Our location and efficient infrastructure will enable us to function well as a regional hub for art dealers and buyers from the ASEAN — Indonesia, Malaysia, and maybe even Thailand. From the example of Hong Kong, which consists of a small domestic market but big international market, we know that with the right strategies and support, it is possible for Singapore to one day establish herself as a competitive art trading hub in the region. Given our relatively young history and small market size, a well-branded boutique art fair with strong content is perhaps the best path towards it at the moment.

Name artists from the region you are currently excited about and why.
Not to flatter ourselves, but we’re definitely very excited about Cheong Soo Pieng and Wong Keen. 

Cheong Soo Pieng is Singapore’s canonical pioneer artist whose practice influenced the development of Singapore early art scene. As an immigrant Chinese artist to the region, his multi-media practice was ahead of his time in many ways and embodies the multi-ethnic cultures of our society (and Malaya). While he was a leading art figure in Singapore between the 1950s and 1980s, his art only rose to the fore again in the recent decade and many interesting works have begun to surface on the market in the last few years. For an artist so significant of his time, the scholarship and understanding on his general practice remains young; there is still much to be discovered and put into proper context. In comparison to other pioneer modern artists in the region, the pricing of his work, which has only taken off in recent years, still holds room for further growth.

2nd-generation Singapore artist Wong Keen is a trailblazer in so many ways, albeit an understated one. At the age of 19, his departure from Singapore for formal art education at the Art Students League of New York in 1961 was a bold and unprecedented move at a time when local artists and art students still looked to NAFA, if not Paris or London for training. He was the first Singaporean and among the earliest Chinese artists to venture into the flourished post-war American art scene—then the most avant-garde art centre in the world. This certainly impacted his practice as even his abstract ink work in as early as the 1960s can be easily agreed upon as being some of the most avant-garde of its time. Wong Keen is innovative across mediums and techniques, and his prolific body of work embodies a contemporariness that will no doubt appeal to an international crowd. While his work is certainly strong enough to hold its own against some of the best painters in the region, it remains relatively undervalued in terms of pricing and branding. We are hopeful, though, that this will eventually be rectified as the Singapore market strives to realise her potential. In the meantime, the fact that his work remains affordable on the market probably makes it attractive to collectors. 

Christine Ay Tjoe is another artist in the region that we keep a lookout for — we find her work to be among the most captivating of the Indonesian painters at the moment. Her work reflects not just great techniques in composition and colour, but a delicate sensitivity that reveals itself in every stroke and smear. The price of her work has started to take off but she has continued in her strong performance. More importantly, she is still relatively young for an artist so there remains a lot of room for development and maturing as she continues to put out new work.

Image: Cheong Soo Pieng, Musicians, 1966, Oil on canvas, 71 x 97 cm © Courtesy of artcommune gallery.