Local auction 

Sotheby’s will hold an auction in Singapore for the first time in 15 years as the art industry seeks to cultivate a new Asian clientele

Sotheby’s plans to hold a live auction in Singapore for the first time in 15 years as part of a series of new moves in Asia. The efforts are designed to capitalize on the meteoric growth of local collections and to diversify its business beyond Hong Kong and mainland China as the region becomes increasingly fragmented.

Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary Art Sale in Singapore will take place on August 28 at the Regent Hotel following a preview exhibition from August 25-27. The size and total value of the sale is yet to be determined as the house continues to gather shipments.

The offering is expected to mix Southeast Asian and international art by emerging and blue-chip names. Titles confirmed so far include a painting Fish market on the beach (1980) by Hendra Gunawan, a pioneering Indonesian artist whose work was recently exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Other artists represented include Vietnamese painter Lê Phổ, Georgette Chen and Cheong Soo Pieng from Singapore, as well as Filipino artist Fernando Amorsolo.

The sale will also include works by international names embraced by Southeast Asian collectors such as Chinese-French painter Chu Teh-Chun and Rafa Macarron from Spain. The Spanish artist born in 1981 achieved a new record last year at Sotheby’s Hong Kong autumn sale with the diptych Rutin Fluorine (2019), which sold for $550,280, more than six times the pre-sale estimate.

The Merlion statue representing a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish in Marina Bay. (Photo by: Benard E/Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

According to an invitation for consignment seen by Artnet News, Sotheby’s is positioning the Singapore auction as a “curated” sale marking the auctioneer’s return to the region. From 1996 to 2007, Sotheby’s made sales in the Southeast Asian hub before consolidating its Asian operations in Hong Kong. The document says the auction house is looking for a long list of modern, contemporary and emerging artists, with Southeast Asian names dominating the modern section.

In response to questions from Artnet News, Sotheby’s said the move to Singapore represented its overall strategy, which is to “take its business model beyond traditional sales centres”. Demand from collectors in Singapore and the Southeast Asian region “has grown exponentially”, a representative said, with a 75% increase in the number of Southeast Asian attendees at the sales worldwide over the past five years.

“South East Asian collectors have been one of the key players on the international art scene,” said Jasmine Prasetio, Managing Director of Sotheby’s Southeast Asia. “By holding this evening sale, Sotheby’s brings the latest market information to their doorstep.”

News of Sotheby’s Singapore sale comes after reports of a cooling market in Hong Kong, which is still clouded by ongoing travel restrictions and political unrest. This year, evening sales of modern and contemporary art at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips were down just under a third year-on-year.

Sotheby’s is also establishing itself in Asia. A four-day exhibition of modern Vietnamese art in Ho Chi Minh City this month drew more than 4,000 visitors. The auction house also moved its space to Tokyo earlier this year, appointed Jean Qian as general manager in China and plans to exhibit at the China International Import Expo in November.

Other players are also looking for new prospects in the region. In addition to Western galleries flocking to Seoul, Artnet News understands that Sotheby’s and Phillips will be hosting events in the Korean city during Frieze Seoul week in September.

Singapore, meanwhile, will inaugurate the new art fair ART SQ next January, and Japan will welcome international visitors to Art Week Tokyo in November ahead of the inaugural edition of Tokyo Gendai in July 2023.

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