Singapore Art Week: S’pore collectors share their buys at Art SG and S.E.A. Focus

Arthur Sim, The Straits Times, January 20, 2023
SINGAPORE – Collectors were spoilt for choice at Art SG and S.E.A. Focus, the two art fairs that ran during the recently concluded Singapore Art Week.
More than 180 galleries offered works – from politically charged paintings to provocative portraits, challenging abstracts to whimsical pop art.
Art SG, which had its inaugural edition, was held at Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre and drew nearly 43,000 visitors. The smaller S.E.A. Focus took place at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
The Straits Times speaks to five collectors who bought works at the fairs.
Apart from the usual reason of filling up their collections and walls, they say they were keen to support the arts and artists.
While the collectors were happy with their acquisitions, most of them declined to say how much they had spent. What is important is that they had felt a connection to the works that caught their eye.

The novice collector

Mr Ng Tse Meng bought The Edge Of Shadows #13 by Boo Sze Yang from AC43 Gallery at S.E.A. Focus.
Mr Ng Tse Meng, who describes himself as a “beginner” collector, visited the fairs with the purpose of buying art to decorate his office.
The financial services professional in his 40s left with a deeper appreciation for the artists, in particular acclaimed home-grown painter Boo Sze Yang. Mr Ng forked out $15,000 for the artist’s The Edge Of Shadows #13, which was sold by AC43 Gallery at S.E.A. Focus.
The work is from a recent series by Boo that looks at the urban landscape as being in a constant state of renewal and reconstruction; a world constantly dissected and displaced.
Mr Ng says: “The piece has a concept I like. I imagine it as a parallel universe. Sze Yang is a distinguished artist who is capable of capturing his thoughts and moods and presenting them in his unique way.”


The veteran collector

Mr Chong Huai Seng bought Fail Time At The Pet Salon by Chinese artist Zhong Wei from De Sarthe Gallery at Art SG.
Mr Chong Huai Seng, 71, frequents art fairs all over the world, but having events such as Art SG and S.E.A Focus at home is a boon for avid collectors like him.
The co-founder of private art space The Culture Story and consultancy Family Office For Art made several purchases at the fairs.
One is a painting by Chinese artist Zhong Wei called Fail Time At The Pet Salon, from De Sarthe Gallery at Art SG. Zhong’s paintings at the fair were priced between US$10,000 (S$13,200) and US$30,000.
For the piece purchased by Mr Chong, the artist delved into memes and online imagery to construct alternate realities.
“It speaks a contemporary language,” says Mr Chong, adding that visual considerations like colour and composition are typically what initially attract him to an artwork.
The artist or sales representives should be prepared for questions from the seasoned collector, though. “If the painting is not interesting, I don’t even want to know,” he says.


Drawn by social, political themes

Ms Lourdes Samson bought Shan State Army - N by Sawangwongse Yawnghwe from TKG+ gallery at S.E.A. Focus.
Collecting art is a passion project for Ms Lourdes Samson. “It doesn’t need to be pretty,” says the 52-year-old art curator based in Singapore and Australia.
Instead, she looks for works with strong social and political themes, mainly by South-east Asian artists. 
Having collected art for 20 years, she realises there are gaps in her collection – namely works by Myanmar artists. “Not many Myanmar artists get exposure,” she notes.
So, when she spotted Shan State Army – N, a painting by Myanmar-born artist Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, at S.E.A Focus, she had to have it.
The work is a depiction of military dignitaries at ease, but also hints at the undercurrents of power at play.

Supporter of Asian art

Mr Albert Lim (right) and artist Aisha Rosli in front of her painting, Can’t Stop Wondering Where  You Are, which he bought from Cuturi Gallery at Art SG.
When Mr Albert Lim goes hunting for art, he looks very closely at the details.
“The technique here is very different. There is a lot of layering,” he says of Singapore artist Aisha Rosli’s painting Can’t Stop Wondering Where You Are, which he bought from Cuturi Gallery at Art SG.
He and his wife, Ms Linda Neo, have a large collection of art that includes earlier works by Rosli. The couple, who are in their 60s, are also the founders of private art space Primz Gallery in Woodlands.
“We support mainly Asian artists,” Mr Lim adds. “We have the pick of the best art in Asia here.”
His latest Rosli acquisition is a provocative self-portrait of the artist, deftly depicted as both vulnerable and defiant.


The occasional collector

Ms Evelyn Yeo bought In The Moment (2022) by Chok Yue Zan from Art Porters Gallery at S.E.A. Focus.
Ms Evelyn Yeo, who is in her 40s, does not see herself as an art collector, “but on rare instances when a piece captures my eye, and heart, I’ll try to get it”.
And what caught her fancy at S.E.A. Focus was In The Moment (2022), a painting by Kuala Lumpur-based artist Chok Yue Zan that was exhibited by Art Porters Gallery.
The financial services professional was attracted to its “harmony, serenity and colours”.
She adds: “I just felt a very strong affinity with it, particularly after hearing about the artist, his inspiration for the art and what it represents.”
The work reflects Chok’s memories of his birthplace in Tawau, in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, which he thinks of as his lost paradise.
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