First published in the print edition of Art Market Report, March 2011 issue.
This is an edited transcription of a personal interview with Lorenzo Rudolf (LR), CEO/ Director of Art Stage Singapore.
PC : Lorenzo, I read that you were approached to start Art Stage in the 90’s before and thought Singapore was not ready. Can you share with me what is the difference between the 90’s and now that made you change your mind ?
LR : I think in the 90’s, and if you compare Miami and Singapore, there were certain differences but also certain similarities. What we have today more or less, is a globalised art market.
We don’t have anymore and we will not have anymore one or two centres of the contemporary art in this world as we had ten years ago. I think we have a world with a lot of centres. And a lot of centres means we need also certain places where we can link these centres together, especially in a place like Asia. If you compare Asia to Europe or America, there is one big, big difference. Today, the art scene in Asia is totally fragmented. That means, you have a Chinese scene, an Indian scene, tell me how many Indians buy Chinese art and vice-versa and so on.
That was not the case in Europe; that was not the case in America. The big chance Singapore has, we have, if you want to open, and to support and to make and strengthen this market, is to first of all, not to think of Western buyers. The biggest potential is here. We have to interact with each other. We have to build these bridges to open these doors. And that means you also need a place where you can do it. If you go to India, it will be difficult; it will be dominated by the Indian contemporary scene. The same thing as in China. Singapore is ideal. Singapore is a small, neutral, multi-cultural place in the crossroad of China, India, Southeast Asia. There, you already have the 3 biggest art scenes, the 3 biggest art markets and the 3 fastest growing economies.
It is stable. It has high-life quality – that means, you come here, you can really have fun. You are pampered, and everything. So, this part is there. What you need to do is to build up a cultural environment. And the cultural environment, you cannot create everything yourself. But you have here a government that clearly realises what the role of contemporary art is for today and in the future; and what the role is on different levels.
First of all, surely, speaking of Singapore on an economic level; but I think also, on a social level, of vanity. And they have decided which direction they want to go. I think the idea is absolutely right -- the need for an art fair, to become the centre of contemporary art. A centre means a place of matchmaking; a place of exchange.
Looking at that again, at the same situation when I started Basel; I said Basel had to become the place of matchmaking. I think what we did in Basel, even as Basel is much much smaller, it can be done here without copying Basel. Singapore is a place where you can bring together the art world. If you do something in Beijing, it is like the New York situation.
And having this vision with Singapore, we go together with the state, and try to build up something where the fair is the flagship. It is part of an entire policy and way to position Singapore. That means, it is done in a parallel way, hand-in-hand, with projects like Gilman Village, where matchmaking shall happen -- with huge artists-in-residence programmes to bring emerging artists from all over Asia here to Singapore. They will begin to interact, to know each other, and create new stuff. It is flanked by Kunsthalle, with rolling programmes. This will attract galleries and collectors. I have already got 3 collectors who are more than interested to do something here. And you see, you create something.
The same thing happened in Miami, but on a private basis. There, collectors created everything. Here, we have a totally political situation. But it is the same thing. We are somewhere at the beginning of a realisation of a great vision. Whether it happens, it depends not only on me, that is clear. But to share this vision, to be part of, to help to create this vision, to create something really great, that is what fascinates me.
I think, all in all, Miami had a great chance to be really a unique spot at the edge between 2 big cultures. Here, in Singapore, the potential is even bigger. So, play the game the right way and I think we can really play a great game. It is not only the political situation. It is also a multicultural situation. We have the Chinese community; we have the Indian community; we have the Southeast Asian community. We have even the community from the Gulf state, from Australia, and everything is here.
And coming back our example of Switzerland, it is the centre of private investment.
PC : Hong Kong does not have a political situation or the different communities, but it has an emerging art scene, proximity to a big market. What does Singapore have that Hong Kong does not? I have a hypothetical question. If there were to be no Art Hong Kong, would you have considered Hong Kong ?
LR : I think it is a good question. I think the biggest advantage in Hong Kong is clear. The tax situation. That is absolutely logical. And the second biggest advantage, but it can also be a big disadvantage, is China. China was the first Asian market in this globalised marketplace -- the first time a global taste is forged involving a known western art scene. And with that, the entire boom began. In China we have probably the biggest art scene in Asia, without any doubt; and also the biggest potential of a market. The middle and the upper class growing there is unique. And Hong Kong is the gateway. Big advantage. Disadvantage ? It is China. It is dominated by China. What shall an Indian do in Hong Kong ?
On the other hand, Singapore is much more multi-cultural than Hong Kong. It has taxes, maybe not the highest one, but it has taxes. Coming back to your question. I think, on a long term basis, with the goal of building up a world event, to become a matchmaker of all Asian art markets, I would still have chosen Singapore if I were to have both.
I think in Hong Kong, you have the dominance of China to contend with. Besides, you don’t know how the political situation will change. If China decides to build up Shanghai as the financial centre of China, the loser will be Hong Kong. In another words, China will move. China is a giant and China is the biggest market. Here, it’s again a bit like Switzerland. The island of the lucky. In the end, who are the investors here in Singapore ? It’s also the Chinese. There’s Indian money here.
PC : And you have access, and you have neutrality.
LR : Absolutely. And you have even something else. I was not even thinking about it, but it’s true. Yang Bin, you know, a Chinese collector, told me something, “Look, we love Singapore, we come often to Singapore”. I said, “Great. Why ?”. “It’s the place outside China where I can speak Chinese.” It is so simple and banal but it’s true. It’s true.