Alan Koh, Fair Director of Affordable Art Fair Singapore On His Journey to a Successful Art Career
Making art accessible and being transparent with artwork prices
Affordable Art Fair Singapore is the city-state’s longest-running international art fair, and it has accompanied and seen how the little red dot evolved to be a cultural hub for the arts to thrive. Despite a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had halted almost all economic activities, the beloved fair returned to much fanfare in November 2022 where it saw 15,000 art enthusiasts over the three-day event.
Ahead, we talked with Alan Koh, Fair Director of Affordable Art Fair Singapore, who is the main organiser of this highly regarded art fair. He shared with us some of his thoughts on the art scene, and tips and tricks on getting your art collecting journey started.
How did you first get introduced to the arts and culture industry in Singapore?
In 2007, Sotheby’s Institute of Art launched an outpost in Singapore and I joined them as a marketing executive. Working with the institute exposed me to the world of art as I worked closely with industry experts and lecturers from around the world for the courses offered. I visited museums and galleries in various countries as well as got connected to the local cultural scene. Since then, I have never looked back and have been involved in the arts and culture industry in Singapore.
Have you always been interested in the arts and what was the first artwork that you purchased?
I have always had a strong interest in the creative industry and loved flipping fashion magazines in my younger days to look at how beautiful the fashion spreads were. My first purchase was a reduction linocut print by printmaker Matthew Ivey in 2010 from the launch of the first Affordable Art Fair.
Could you share with us, especially those just starting out on the art collecting journey, how to select a piece of art that resonates with us?
First and foremost would be to look for a credible gallery, art dealer or art fair. Affordable Art Fair would be a great starting point for those looking to start collecting art as we showcase 80 quality galleries from all around the world.
Do the research of galleries online, then go through the artists and artworks they represent. Let your eyes help you define the type of work you are looking for visually. It will be helpful to know what type of artwork and price points you are willing to invest in. Following that, delve deeper into the artwork and artists — have they won awards, shown in museums, how long have they practiced, where did they graduate, and any other notable accolades?
Following that, look into the mediums and how the works are created. Generally, original prints and photography are affordable options to start with as they have edition sizes. Original paintings and sculptures are more expensive due to being a one-off and using more materials and time to create them. There are also various interesting mediums artists use which could be of interest to you.
Should we place a high premium on artwork? And does placing a monetary value on a piece of art diminish the intrinsic value it holds and becomes a transactional exchange instead?
I think the premium of the artwork is a result of the artists’ work and effort so they should definitely be priced. Without the premium, it is not easy to define the value of an artist’s work, the amount of work and effort that has been put into it. The intrinsic emotional value of owning an artwork one loves much more surpasses the monetary value it has.
With over a decade of experience in the industry, what are some changes or trends you have observed in recent years with regard to attitudes toward art collecting and art appreciation in Singapore?
More locals are much more open to the idea of collecting and buying art compared to the early days when we first launched Affordable Art Fair in Singapore and Asia. Buying art is common with expats and westerners as they have a long history of being exposed to arts and culture.
In Singapore, we are still in the early stages of cultural consumption. However, we now have 65 per cent of locals who visited the fair and 25 per cent bought their first piece of art at Affordable Art Fair, showing that our fair is an ideal place for your first-time visit! The recent Singapore Art Week also saw many visitors and engagements, which is a positive growth in the interest towards arts and culture in Singapore.
What type of art styles are the hottest buys in Singapore now and what is your prediction of artists to keep an eye on in 2023?
We noticed a number of expressive and colourful paintings that were very popular, such as Joaquin Valdez’s “Blue Room” and Camilo Celis’ “Messi”. Pop art and sculptural works also appealed to buyers, such as the bear popsicle sculptures by Yu Uchida. Abstracts are still a firm favourite such as Kris Ancog’s “Vulnerability 24”.
What would you say is your proudest achievement in your art journey and how does it elevate the local and regional art communities?
2022 was a very special year as the Singapore fair made a comeback from the impacts of the global pandemic after three years. I feel very proud to be working alongside passionate individuals who made this possible. With the fair coming back, we are able to promote the love of art to new visitors and art buyers locally and regionally, and help people experience the joy of collecting art. This will also encourage more people to visit galleries all year long as they get connected with the international galleries we work with. And in turn, artists can continue to build on their careers and doing the creative work they do.
Affordable Art Fair first took place in 1999 in London and now holds fairs in 14 cities around the world. What do you think is the winning formula of Affordable Art Fair?
Making art accessible and being transparent is a winning formula. With this ethos, we create a fun and engaging fair where people feel comfortable connecting with galleries, artists and artworks. Artwork prices are also clearly displayed, eliminating the boundaries between our audience and art, giving them much more clarity into what it takes to get into art collecting.
Is there a reason why a price ceiling is placed on artworks shown at Affordable Art Fair?
We create transparency and manage people’s expectations before they attend the fair. With a price ceiling, people know what to expect at the fair and will know that they can find something they love that falls within their budget.
As Affordable Art Fair works very closely with galleries and artists, how does the organisation groom and care for its partners? Are there some galleries that Affordable Art Fair Singapore have worked with since its inception?
We keep in close contact all year round with the galleries and partners we work with, see what new artists and artworks they have and how their business is going. We will promote them through the fair’s channels so to keep reminding people to visit these galleries. Having a listening ear and taking in feedback is important for us to create a fair that supports the galleries and partners. We have worked with REDSEA Gallery, Art Forum, Artredot, Quantum Contemporary Art, Rebecca Hossack, Utterly Art, ArtBlue Studio, Marine House at Beer, Manyung Gallery and more since our inception.
Affordable Art Fair Singapore concluded its 15th edition last year, what are some highlights and overall was it what you had expected it to be?
We welcomed 15,000 visitors who bought S$4.5 million worth of art. We are very happy with the results. Highlights would be the #SPOTLIGHT section where we showcased Cheo Chai Hiang’s works as he is a veteran but only showed with us for the first time. The Dorsett Hospitality International digital AR installation space was a treat and many people loved the engaging digital artworks. The Children’s Creative Space by Art Wonderland and The Art Studio by Visual Arts Centre were also popular with visitors. We loved that we had the opportunity to engage our visitors with these interactive programmes and that they loved it. It is more than what I had expected. A very happy edition. The support from visitors, galleries and partners was overwhelming.
What can visitors expect to see in this year’s edition and how excited are you for the upcoming fair in November 2023?
We are very excited for 2023 as we seek out new installations and programmes for the fair, so watch this space.
In the years to come, how do you envision Affordable Art Fair Singapore to be?
As the longest-running international art fair in the city, we hope that we will continue to do what we do best to foster the next generation of art lovers and collectors in years to come. We will continue to evolve the programmes, seek out new galleries, artists and installations, be the platform for existing galleries and artists to develop further and continue to engage our art-loving visitors as much as we can.
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