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“The main mission is to present fine art as a first class citizen to investors, position it as a suitable asset and enable them to be involved in the process.”
Returning to Singapore for the 3rd consecutive year, Art World Forum sought to discuss market dynamics and industry trends by addressing the simple – sustainability.
The Deloitte Art and Finance Report 2017 focused on global trends and their impact on Modern and Contemporary Art. In an analysis of regional trends, future wealth indicators predicted a growth of +30 to +170% in UHNWIs over the next 10 years in Southeast Asia. Spanning countries with a diverse range of languages, cultures and levels of economic development, one size does not fit all. Despite Singapore’s recent blockbuster hit with “Crazy, Rich Asians”, the local players painted a rather different picture.
Welcoming over 140 international guests for a half-day agenda, the event was supported by our long-standing supporter, and Reception and Networking Sponsor AXA Art; one of Singapore’s key members club, The Straits Clan, as the Sponsor of our Speaker’s Reception; our Closing Reception Sponsor, Hatch Art Project, a newly opened Contemporary Art gallery representing regional emerging artists; and finally, Lasalle College of the Arts as our Educational Partner.
Welcoming numerous art investors, art management service providers, and professionals form the institutional sector, including representation from Bordier & Cie, Pearl Lam Galleries, Michael Werner Gallery and Le Freeport, the tone was set and art was contextualised.
Acknowledging its investment potential, coupled with financial strategies and banked as an asset class, Gabriel Dufourcq, a private collector of photojournalistic works interviewed Jezamine Fewins, Partner of Stephenson Harwood in Hong Kong.
“Buying art is not just investing money. It is also losing money. And spending money more generally. I’d say collecting is a personal thing” Dufourcq mentioned. Operating within rather unique parameters, art is very unlike traditional investments. Benchmarking the quality and potential of a work on the artist, who you buy it from, conducting due diligence and the work’s prominence in art history, it also heavily relies on reputation and hype.
Distinguishing between big league investors chasing blue-chip artworks and so-called “Sunday buyers”, people who are convinced by galleries that certain decorative items are solid investments, their commitments bear a hefty maintenance expense and an exit strategy dilemma.
“The exit strategy is the big question mark. Anyone investing in art needs to get to grips with what their rights are,” concluded Fewins.
Approaching art investment with less risk and alternative financial avenues, Marcelo Garcia Casil, CEO of Maecenas offered new benefits. Positioning his platform as a game-changer whose objective is to simplify the way investors access fine art with liquidity potentials, Maecenas leverages blockchain to reduce costs. Catering for investors keen on broadening their portfolios at a price, the aim lay in democratising the arts and making it more accessible.
“Close to 40% of lots at auction fail to sell at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which is a bold risk for investors looking to liquidate. The reason for this is because the auction sale is looking for a single buyer who has enough capital and purchasing power to fully own the work. Comparatively, our approach is to target global investors who merely need an internet connection and an account on our platform. We see ourselves as facilitators of innovation.”
As new players in a big conservative market which runs on reputation, new technology and its subsequent platforms are promoting efficiency, transparency and access. “The main mission is to present fine art as a first class citizen to investors, position it as a suitable asset and enable them to be involved in the process.”
Introducing investors with a capacity to feature as patrons, contributing to the sustainable growth and new business models in Singapore, a panel discussion looked to current norms and how approaches can be changed. Recognising Singapore’s strategy to bridge the private and public sectors and strengthen the latter with the insight and expertise of the former, moderator Kay Vasey, Chief Connecting Officer of MeshMinds, stated “we want to engage more in partnerships. We can’t just rely on the NAC’s funding forever.”
Spearheading sustainable innovation with the help of technology, Meshminds positions itself as a not-for-profit arts organisation specialising in harnessing immersive and interactive technology (virtual, augmented and mixed reality) to maximise engagement, empathy and action. Looking passed the quantitative measures of footfall, the essence lies on impact and cultural importance for the creative economy.
Adopted as a proactive strategy for numerous initiatives in the region, Lisa Polten, Director of Chan + Hori Gallery agreed with the benefits of working with corporations on culturally enriching projects. She emphasised “there shouldn’t only be governmental storytelling and initiatives, the private sector should also play a crucial part in Singapore, producing shows and content. I therefore think local companies should be approached first with creative opportunities rather than renowned players like Facebook and Capitaland.”
In a communal effort to raise the bar and make the arts more inclusive, patronage was not simply defined as monetary, but as the act of putting in the time, effort and engagement to speak about it.
Polten continued to state “donating money to museums is outdated. This is not what people want anymore; they want involvement, to be part of the storytelling and the option to visit the artist. That’s something we have to change in our minds.”
Acknowledging the struggles and obstacles faced in adopting change to regimens within institutional structures, Uma Parameswer, Director of Athina Consulting and a Board Member of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), mentioned “globally, the arts are not the main industry, especially in emerging and developing economies like Singapore. Similarly, in India which is also an emerging economy, focusing on the arts is not considered a priority industry. Therefore, the question is how do you approach the most suitable business model to maximise what you already have but also involve talent from the private sector? How do you divert precious government funding to the arts rather than pumping it into healthcare?”
With heavy reference to government bodies and the recently published National Arts Council (NAC) Plan 2020, terms from the report were thoroughly addressed. Highlighting key words like “disruption” and the NAC’s interest in conducting market research to better understand audience needs, the speakers agreed that this approach should change. Suggestions included the power of creative and cultural influence as promoted by Palais de Tokyo’s Michael Jordan show, or the V&A’s David Bowie exhibition.
To strengthen the argument even further, Polten stated “I was listening to a talk given by the CEO of the National Gallery and she mentioned Marcel Duchamp in his ability to completely disrupt art. Nowadays many Singaporean artists are still influenced by Marchel Duchamp and this is a good example proving that no market research would have told you to put a urinal in the gallery nor that it would have such a lasting impact. So we need to disrupt what we believe art is and what we believe is worth showing. We can then reach new audiences and think of new ways of showcasing.”
Crediting much of the latter on attitude, the new demographic has a greater sensitivity to innovation, entrepreneurship and maintaining fresh objectives. Working with shifting agendas and blurring hierarchies in the industry, demands are focusing on the bigger picture.
Moderator of the panel focusing on engagement, perception and experience, Bala Starr, Director of Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore at Lasalle College of the Arts, defined the traditional art landscape. “Artists never discussed the market; they very rarely were in a conversation about the sale of an artwork. You didn’t know who collectors were; they were not players in the same way. Museums were arguably elitist spaces for a very verified audience, or specialists who prioritised scholarship. Galleries were once an almost church-like environment, pristine, showing precious rarefied unreproducible works of art. Now, the experience people are demanding has changed.”
Propelling growth in a very different environment, which is ready and waiting for ideas, projects and people, the challenge still remains in that sometimes the attitude is still not there. Keen on remaining adaptable in spite of global reputation and recognition, Priya Mudgal, Business Director of Pearl Lam Galleries in Singapore, explained how the gallery tested demands by stepping beyond conventional means. Proudly hosting a residency program with a local artist in the gallery ticked numerous boxes in this new generational trend led by “those who are inquisitive to learn, to grow, and be involved in the art market, keen on knowing more about artists and their works.”
Crediting social media for its ability to connect people with both galleries and artists alike, it is still a matter of content and access to it. Using technology as a tool to cover greater ground, the industry still greatly operates in silos, with information being the key driver.
With encouragement to think outside the box, and move passed local-centric mindsets, Benjamin Hampe, Asia Pacific Representative of Arndt Art Agency (A3) mentioned, “I once had very good advice from my employer at the time “there’s no point doing anything unless you’re going to change everything.” I don’t know if that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself but if you’re not learning anything new, then it’s time to change.”
Often reflecting on shifting tactics paired with financial means, our sponsored discussion and artists of the day felt heavily affected by this. Wanting to pursue their creativity and develop their practice, key concerns started with the basics – affording studios. Often feeling restricted within their given space Ngoc Nau, an emerging artist from Vietnam bluntly said “I don’t have a studio because I can’t afford one. I am a multimedia artist who collaborates with others and shares the benefits. I use what I have and despite the challenge, the quality is good.”
Comparatively, fellow speaker and artist Issay Rodriguez from the Philippines approached the discussion in a more ephemeral manner, suggesting “for me a studio is not necessarily a physical space but something you keep with you.”
Referring to space in ambiguous terms, whether physical, emotional or digital, Vasey strongly shared “you can’t deny that technology is here, and it’s here to stay. Creativity is the last thing that we’re going to hold on to. Yes, AI creates art, but I don’t think that’s going to win the market over. We still have to nurture the traditional skills, build platforms but also think outside the box.”
Throughout the day, in dynamic and constructive conversations which tackled conventional and entrepreneurial models in their struggle to be sustainable, whether with the help of technology or not, the agenda was summarised by the need to change.
Naturally loving art for its subjectivity (for the most part) Starr ended the discussions with “one of the very attractive attributes of pursuing visual art is that not everybody grasps it immediately, or understands it ever. But if just 10 people can understand the value of a work of art on Instagram then that is worth having in the world.”
At the end of the day, having hosted a greatly Southeast Asian focused agenda, “Art is no longer a regional game.”