Art Stage 2019 cancelled at the last minute, exhibitors finding alternative venues

Just nine days to its opening, organisers of Art Stage Singapore have cancelled the contemporary art fair. Likely caused by commercial reasons, this short notice has shocked several exhibitors. They are now desperately searching for alternative exhibition venues.

Gallery representatives who spoke to The Straits Times said they received an e-mail on Wednesday morning (Jan 16) from Art Stage's founder and president Lorenzo Rudolf, asking them to "cease all preparations for Art Stage Singapore 2019" or to reverse them.

"The given circumstances, about which we shortly will inform you, unfortunately leave no other choice," he said in the message. It added: "We will soon inform you about the next steps. We apologise for any inconvenience you may experience."

Calls and e-mails to Art Stage Singapore went unanswered.

 Japanese artist Miwa Komatsu's live painting performance at last year's edition of Art Stage Singapore. ST FILE PHOTO


Later on, Lorenzo sent out a press statement, which was almost identical to the open letter he sent to collectors. Both cited "the very difficult market situation in Singapore as well as... an unequal competition situation on site" as reasons for the cancellation at short notice.

He went on to say that of the 500 galleries invited to Art Stage Singapore over the past eight years, over 450 had refused to return because of poor local sales. In the open letter, he referred to "a new obstacle, a new art fair to be held concurrently at Gillman Barracks".

This is likely to be the upcoming S.E.A. Focus, a boutique art fair which is an initiative of STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery. It was announced last July and will run from Jan 24 to 27.

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Art Stage Singapore, which started in 2011 with backing from various government agencies and is regarded as Singapore's main art fair, was to run this year from Jan 25 to 27. It had 45 exhibitors, including 15 from Singapore.

The fair was to happen during Singapore Art Week, an annual public arts festival organised by the National Arts Council (NAC), the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). 

A joint statement from NAC, EDB and STB said: "We are disappointed that Art Stage Singapore has cancelled the 2019 edition of its fair. It is unfortunate that exhibitors, partners and collectors who had planned to take part in the fair, will be impacted by this development. We understand that the cancellation is a commercial decision."

A spokesman for Marina Bay Sands confirmed that Art Stage Singapore has cancelled its show at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre. The spokesman added that tickets bought through Marina Bay Sands' system would be refunded to affected customers.

Gallerists like Ms Lydie Blandeau are fuming. The chairman of Paris- and Singapore-based gallery Visionairs says it is the first time in her 10 years participating in art fairs that a cancellation notice has been sent the week before the event and without an explanation.

"How can we justify this to our artists? We spent money upfront to create the artwork, we invested a lot of money shipping from Europe and New York," she says. One of the works she planned to show was a watch that cost $100,000 to make. "This hurts the image of Singapore," she adds.

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Art Stage Singapore started here in 2011 as a flagship art fair for South-east Asia, helmed by Swiss national Rudolf, who used to be director of Art Basel in the mid-1990s. It had the backing of the EDB, STB, National Heritage Board and NAC.

The first fair featured works by master artists such as China's Ai Weiwei and notched million-dollar sales. However, footfall and sales declined in recent years. At Art Stage 2018, there were only 84 exhibitors, compared with 131 in 2017 and 170 in 2016. This year's edition would have had even fewer.

Watch what went down in Art Stage 2018: 

A version of this story was first published on The Straits Times.