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December 12, 2010

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Singapore art fair gets a makeover

LORENZO A. Rudolf, director of Art Basel from 1991 to 2000, has created legends throughout his career, including the Frankfurt Book Fair and ShContemporary.

Rudolf, who trained in international affairs and law, became famous for his ability to merge art and commerce.

He raised the profile of Art Basel, known as the "Olympics of contemporary art," and extended it into Art Basel Miami Beach.

The little art fair in the quiet village of Basel, Switzerland, has been transformed from a small trade show into the virtual template of what art fairs are today - lots of glitz and glamor, lots of money, and lots of quality art - through the efforts of Rudolf and his team.

In his 10-year stint, he turned collectors into VIPs, introduced corporate sponsorship, supported emerging artists and made this small Swiss village the center of the art universe. By the time he left, there were 800 galleries on Art Basel's annual waiting list. But Rudolph does not rest on his laurels.

He now is in a position to shape Art Stage Singapore, which holds two major arts events next year. The first, from January 12-16 will feature around 100 galleries.

Q: The Singapore Art Fair has been around for 10 years. What draws you to Art Stage Singapore after ShContemporary?

A: Having left ShContemporary in 2008, I was still convinced that Asia needs more than one good arts platform. The only two places across Asia to house a good contemporary art are Hong Kong and Singapore.

Q: What are the essential elements in building a successful art fair and image?

A: The elements critical to success of an art fair are first, quality, and second, joy. Quality refers to the artworks and commercial success; beyond that point, it has to bring joy to all the people involved, especially as a cultural product.

Q: The ultimate aim of all art fairs is to sell art. How do you think art fairs worldwide should distinguish themselves?

A: The commercial success of an art fair is one of the most important elements. To make it a great success, the process of branding has become very important in defining its uniqueness.

Art Stage Singapore is trying its best to present the image of the fair for any Western collector who wants to buy Asian contemporary art - the first place to go. If that happens, it will set it apart from every other fair in the world.

Q: What is the hardest part of running an art fair in Asia?

A: There are many difficulties in running a successful fair in Asia, especially for a person without much knowledge of Asian cultures. The most difficult part is trying to share something in common between the concerned partners, whether directly through profits or indirectly through operating the fair.

Q: What's the advantage of Art Stage Singapore, as both Shanghai and Hong Kong have mature art fairs?

A: Singapore has advantages and disadvantages. For instance, Singapore has given the fair tax-free status, as has Hong Kong. Singapore through its different government agencies has made a master plan to develop the country as an international art hub by building up a number of significant projects.

Q: Recently ancient Chinese ink-wash paintings and calligraphy have fetched astronomic prices at auction. Could this divert collectors from hyped Chinese contemporary art?

A: It is good to see the price of art going up on the Chinese mainland and elsewhere in Asia, which suggests the Asian economy is improving. Contemporary art does not come from nowhere, and the same is true for Chinese contemporary art. It has to be put in context in terms of its development. And I was convinced that with the booming of economies across Asia, the art market will become more mature.

Q: Do you collect Chinese artworks?

A: I have not started collecting Chinese artworks, I am still in a process of learning.


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