Snippets: Art Stage Singapore 2014

Regional collectors make their presence felt in Singapore, the island state and this art fair jointly promoting themselves as Asia's art capital. Its well-publicised "focus on Southeast Asian [SEA] art scenes" mocks the uninitiated, as the SEA exhibition space is relegated to the periphery, its participating galleries not even included in the floor plan displayed. An exception is selected Singaporean galleries who share the same row with major players like White Cube, where the heralded melted cheese-like paintings of Jane Lee hang opposite. Platforms are a gimmick to inject academic credentials to exhibited works, which regional curators are commissioned to develop market reports and conduct tours (no one appeared in my pre-arranged tour appointment). Art fatigue quickly sets in, as visits to the snazzy lounge provide temporary relief in the form of Papa Palheta coffee. 

Yayoi Kusama - Repetitive Vision (1996)

Walking past a dog humping R2-D2 and holographic cards attached to metronomes, it is difficult to spot good art among the crowd, especially with the smell of stinky tofu drifting in the air. teamLab greets visitors in mesmerising fashion with ultra high definition digital projections, while the static but equally engaging photographs by Sebastião Salgado also capture nature and its vitality. Bemusement ensues in Yves Hayat's 'Les Icones Sont Fatigues' at Mark Hachem Gallery. Celebrity heads with closed eyes seemingly meditate on their own demise, a stark juxtaposition presented alongside Lalla Essaydi's powerful portrayals of Islamic women. Iranian Gohar Dashti injects love and tenderness into conflict zones, humanising such situations with touching staged images in the series, "Today's Life And War". Made popular by the internet, Liu Bolin's assimilation of his painted self into the picture background, also proved to be interesting.

Gohar Dashti - Today's Life and War #2 (2008)

Stepping back from the contemporary, superb works by Joan Miró and Zao Wou-Ki are found; Dotted pumpkin lovers should seek out the wonderful 'Repetitive Vision' by Yayoi Kusama. Marefumi Komura's expressionist paintings intrigue, as do the tiny etchings by Etsuko Fukaya, and the intricate line drawing of Waqaz Khan. A number of high quality works by Indian artists are on display - Sakshi Gupta's cement sculptures, and gouache drawings by J Sultan Ali and MF Husain, among others. Gallery Hyundai leads the Korean contingent, featuring kinetic light sculptures by Choe U-Ram, contextualised landscapes by Lee Jinju, and contemporary oil paintings by Lee Jeongwoong. Other attractive Korean works include deceptively flat sculptures (Yi Hwan-Kwon), polystyrene wall hangings (Yun Yong Wook), monochromatic flowers (Kim Eunju), and photo collage with unique perspectives (Lee Jiyen). 

[Movement captured from top left (clockwise)] Choe U-Ram - Gold Chakra Lamp (2013) 

On the Southeast Asian front, Indonesian artists Entang Wiharso and Eko Nugroho exhibit great works, but none better than FX Harsono's 'The Raining Bed', an outstanding manifestation of political and self critique. Showing a flair for installations are Thais Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew, whose giant golden skull and shadowy father image respectively, evoke introspective sentiments. Malaysia is well-represented with Anurendra Jegadeva's painted wedding dais and neon bright kolam, whose mature presentation and technical skill provide a stronger narrative, compared to the younger Haslin Ismail and Justin Lim. Haslin's strength in crafting details into his eye-catching installation may be lost towards the casual observer, while Justin's visceral simplicity also inhibits one from detecting the intended nostalgia. Most Singaporean works tout the contemporary flag, devoid of aesthetic value in its documented concepts.

FX Harsono - The Raining Bed (2013)

Art fairs are business - participating galleries bear substantial costs, where art installation at individual booths utilise single-source contractors. Media agencies and websites like Artsy survive by supporting art fairs, which in this case, is subsidized by a government engrossed in purchasing culture. Schoolchildren trot around with sketch pads and iPhones, as market players socialise/fraternise among themselves. Galleries that participate regularly in art fairs treat it as a dumping ground, where attention-grabbing works fill the supply pipeline for the nouveau riche. Institutional buying happens rarely at art fairs, so why do artists feel they need to be represented at such events? Leaving Art Stage, I feel a sense of pride that the Malaysian representatives have presented good art to an international audience, but do dread the day a gallery exhibits some dated Hirst dots and Emin lights, then call that art.

Anurendra Jegadeva - Migrant Altar (2012)