One-fifth the size of Rhode Island, Singapore is an island city-state off the Malaysian Peninsula in the middle of Southeast Asia that wields immense power in global financial and trade industries, like its traditional rival Hong Kong to the north. . Like Hong Kong, Singapore’s government has had larger-than-life ambitions since the late 1990s to position the country as one of the main competitors in the global art market. But, after several previous missteps, it has only recently begun to be a major player in the art world, as Hong Kong’s primacy begins to wane.
The tide seems to be turning in the city’s favour, partly due to a general migration across the region to Singapore due to the country’s relaxed Covid restrictions. According to reports, thousands of families and small and medium-sized businesses are leaving Hong Kong this year, and many of them are heading south. Even big companies such as L’Oréal, LVMH and VF Corporation, owner of Timberland and North Face, are moving to the city. Hong Kong’s financial community is also relocating staff to Singapore to offset the drop in business due to the former’s zero Covid policy over the past two years.
Under mainland China’s grip, Hong Kong is seen by international businesses as losing its competitive edge, with its current travel restrictions far removed from commercial hubs such as Singapore. Made up of majority Chinese, minority ethnic communities of Malays, Indians, Eurasians, etc., Singapore has also seen an increase in its generally affluent Indonesian community as well as a major influx of wealthy Chinese since the start of the pandemic.
These changes have begun to attract the attention of major international art players, even as other cities like Seoul, which has seen several Western galleries announce upcoming outposts and will launch a new iteration of Frieze there in September . Elsewhere in Asia, Tokyo will also host new art fairs in the coming years.
The possibility of Singapore as a counterpart to the rise of Hong Kong has been bubbling since even before the pandemic. Despite the last-minute cancellation of Singapore’s largest art fair, Art Stage, due to financial difficulties in January 2019, the city was scheduled to hold its last international art fair, ART SG, in November 2019. MCH Group, the trade fair conglomerate behind Art Basel, was looking to expand its portfolio with ART SG, but dropped its shareholding just months after the show was announced.
That reshuffle and the pandemic forced the inaugural edition to be postponed four times, before confirming its exhibitor list for January 2023 last month. In an even bigger sign of the changing tide, MCH Group bought a 15% minority stake in ART SG in January, while Art Basel teamed up for the first time this year with the local boutique art fair SEAFocus. And, just last week, Sotheby’s announced that after a 15-year hiatus, it would hold its first live auction in Singapore in August.
“Singapore is increasingly the destination of choice for global companies to be their base of pan-Asian and Singapore operations,” said Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of ART SG. ART news. “This is particularly evident in the technology sector, where large Western companies are moving in. It is also the location of choice outside of China for major Chinese technology companies.
Just last year, Chinese art dealer Liu Ying Mei opened an art gallery, 39+ Art Space, in the recently revitalized art hub of Tanjong Pagar Distripark, a warehouse near the city’s iconic port. town. The gallery owner, which showcases Chinese artists such as Lin Ke and Zhang Yunyao, has also observed trends of moving from China and Hong Kong to Singapore among its clientele.
“I have seen a number of experienced collectors move to Singapore recently and I know a few who are considering moving here long-term, with the intention of moving their entire art collection with them,” she said. “These are positive signs for the growth of Singapore’s arts scene and market.”
Liu added: “It goes without saying that Singapore’s highly developed business infrastructure, family lifestyle and traveler mobility all magnify its merits for those studying the art market here, with a general impetus towards the big ART SG fair next January. ”
Nevertheless, there is still concern that this influx of wealth, and even of art collectors, may not automatically translate into increased art purchases in a country where the level of patronage is certainly not comparable to that of the world. Europe, United States and South Korea. According to the National Arts Council of Singapore’s Our SG Arts Plan (2018-2022), the local art market is still “nascent”, accounting for only 1% of all global art exports and imports.
But there is hope that the rise of family offices, which manage the wealth of very wealthy individuals, could change this status. The city-state’s position as Asia’s capital of private wealth management has accelerated as interest in setting up family offices in Singapore has doubled in the past 12 months, and that number is expected to continue to grow. . The number of new family offices would have increased from 27 in 2018 to 453 in 2021, the last year for which data is available.
Earlier this year, Ning Chong, an art consultant from Singapore, set up Family Office for Art (FOFA) with her father, Chong Huai Seng, a former investment banker and art collector. Since its launch in June, FOFA has attracted the interest of private banks and their clients to share more about their experiences of buying and investing in art, as well as harnessing its passion to initiate new business ideas and create a legacy.
Ning Chong observed that Singapore has been dubbed the “Silicon Valley” of Asia, as many tech entrepreneurs are launching new ventures and multi-generational family business owners are based in the city-state. “We decided to create FOFA because we see a gap in the market for a full-service concierge who can handle all of your art collecting needs and more,” she said.
Michael Tay, a long-time Singaporean patron and managing director of The Hour Glass Group, a local luxury watch retailer, agrees that family offices can play a “very important role in (patronage) and, apart from pure philanthropy and simple, their contributions can also be shaped and directed by public policy.
With the proliferation of galleries demanding BOGO (buy one, give one) deals from potential clients and promised bequests for contemporary art to institutions, Tay envisions Singapore’s national collection will soon propel the country into the global art market. art: “My hope is that the Singapore government will change its national collections policy to include and showcase non-South Asian international art and artists,” he said. “While we believe in the importance of Southeast Asian art and our institutions do very important curatorial work in this area, the rest of the players in the global contemporary art market are not concerned. don’t necessarily care much.”
Tay added that the upcoming ART SG would be an opportunity for the global contemporary art world to discover that there is a dynamism among collectors residing in Southeast Asia and that “although this is a region that has been eclipsed by our Northeast Asian cousins, the time has now come for its cultivation.
Nonetheless, the general consensus is that the influx of individuals and businesses from across the region to Singapore could help fill gaps in the local art market. However, there is always the risk that people and money will just flow in and out of the country with very little impact, as can be the inherent nature of port cities and towns. border.
According to Singaporean curator Khairuddin Hori, who is also Vice President of the Art Galleries Association Singapore, “For visibly impactful change in the arts, Singapore needs direct investment from committed, local businesses and visionary individuals. who are genuinely passionate, concerned with long-term cultural development, and are mature enough to facilitate a diversity of perspectives.