Culture / Art Republik

Jonathan Toh of All About Art Makes Art Investment Accessible to All

An approachable retail experience that goes beyond the conventional white-wall gallery.

Sep 05, 2022 | By Joseph Low
Jonathan Toh, All About Art
Image: All About Art

Set up during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, All About Art is a Singapore-based art gallery co-founded by Jonathan Toh. Initially, this venture started off as a weekend side hustle where Jon resold art pieces he collected from his previous stints abroad. Jon shared that the deals were conducted off his bay window for a period of time before he moved into a proper place of business.

To Jon, the idea of starting an art business was a natural extension of his growing passion for collecting art pieces. He felt that there was a lack of transparency regarding what was disclosed to buyers and the hidden costs that many didn’t know about. A sense of confusion was felt within the industry and Jon himself.

Jonathan Toh, founder of All About Art
Image: Royston Neo

“I set myself a task of building a Murakami piece from scratch and I realised that there was a vast difference between what was a reasonable markup and then what the other galleries were trying to sell at.”

Having been through the process himself, Jon decided that the gallery would bridge the gap for both new and seasoned collectors alike. This approachable direction enabled Jon to build a community for the gallery, which helped him broaden his reach to new customers.

All Abiut Art
Image: All About Art

Being in architecture definitely boosted Jon’s confidence in giving advice to clients when they are looking for a new art piece. The perception of space, design and colours acted as a guideline for him and he would offer suitable options for the customers to pick from. The objective was not just to close a deal but to provide good options that matched the space, budget and aesthetics.

The transition from architecture to art dealing was a smooth one. Jon had always been interested in art dealing and “grew less fond of plans and construction that will take two to three years”. The self-taught entrepreneur now finds the same gratification in the quick turnover rate of the art industry, where new artworks are constantly created and placed in homes.

Image: Royston Neo

Apart from solely appreciating art for its beauty, Jon shared that valuing art for its investment was a perspective that is on the rise amongst many collectors these days. This is similar to how cryptocurrency, watches and luxury cars are now perceived as alternative assets; contemporary art has now gained the same level of acceptance by the new age of collectors.

Despite the economy facing headwinds and inflation on the rise, art as an investment is still a lucrative venture to consider. To that, Jon says that it is because of two factors: Confidence and Transparency.

“There is an increasing consensus from a new generation of collectors/investors that art is going to be a mainstay in their investment portfolio. This gives the asset class validation, transaction volume and hence — potential gains. Art has been an asset class for a long time, and will continue to be.”

Image: All About Art

He continues, “The artspace was previously perceived as inaccessible and hard to grasp. Even to this day, it might still be to some! However, investors are much savvier, and access to data (e.g. auction results, last transacted) has improved, which creates a certain basis of analysis where people feel they can make better-informed decisions. This in turn fuels confidence and lifts the overall positive climate.”

People who are into arts were often stereotyped by the masses to be of a certain age group, maybe those above the 50s. And to this group of art collectors, art is largely confined to the few key mediums. This notion is not the case according to Jon, who observed that more people are more accepting of contemporary art styles and new mediums. Artists like Takashi Murakami, Roby Dwi Antono, Javier Calleja and others have all come up at the top of the list of many collectors.

Accompanying these artists is a younger demographic. Jon reckoned that collectors who frequent his gallery are between 30- to 42-years-old, this group represents a new wave of art collecting.

Jonathan Toh, founder of All About Art
Image: Royston Neo

In Jon’s gallery, you will be able to find a bevvy of artworks from both established and emerging artists. Unlike other art galleries in Singapore, where there is this “invisible push” for local artists, Jon believes in pushing for what catches his attention, regardless of nationality and location. All About Art believes that being an art collector comes first, art investor second. Hence, an advice for those looking to take a dip into the art space is to buy what they love. This is because unlike stocks and other assets, one interacts with the art piece daily so it makes sense to acquire a piece that you enjoy looking at every day.

Likewise, this philosophy applies to how he engages with newcomers and seasoned buyers, “Perhaps that is what primarily sets us apart from other companies. We want to appeal to the art lover in you first, before the investor. Of course, we recognise there is a commercial aspect to this business. Hence, we always do our best to discover and partner with artists for both their artistic and commercial potential.”

Only after establishing a genuine relationship with the artists will Jon consider working with them. Currently, the profile of artists that he represents comprises different nationalities such as British, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian, Brazilian, Dutch, Russian and more. Aside from boasting a team of international artists, Jon also has a global fan base. The gallery had sent artworks to countries like Indonesia, China, South Korea and even Canada.

While there is a preference for Western artworks, Jon takes an objective approach when assessing which artist to promote. “From my experience, the art scene is now a global marketplace and there is no distinct barrier setting the West apart from Asia. I believe most artworks are assessed quite fairly based on pillars like aesthetics, story-telling qualities, price/size, overall presented effect and other quite quantifiable notes. The origin of the artists and their artwork adds the additional layer of ‘colour’ and perhaps gives the collectors an idea of the influences and techniques used by the artist.”

Image: Royston Neo

When mentioning art collecting and buying, NFT is an adjacent topic that often comes to mind and Jon is no stranger to this topic as many customers have also asked about it. For Jon, “NFT is another vertical of art”. Instead of looking at NFT from a zero-sum approach, it should be a win-win because art in the physical world can still stand to gain from the emergence of this digital asset and many within the industry agree that the digital asset is “just another avenue for the artist to explore and apply their ideas”. Instead of taking the perspective that NFTs will one day replace traditional art, it would be better to consider them complementary — a natural extension to the physical art scene.

Right now, Jon is still doing more research into how he can incorporate both elements into the gallery. A thought that sprang to mind for Jon was using NFTs as a digital authentication tool, where customers can authenticate their purchases. This is just one of several expansion areas Jon has for the gallery.

Broadly speaking, the NFT market has not been performing well and its prices have plunged in tandem with cryptocurrency prices. The volatility of NFTs as an asset class makes it difficult for investors to fully grasp its potential. However, Jon thinks that we should not peg the “value” of an NFT to crypto prices. “I don’t think there is a direct correlation between weak crypto prices and an NFT’s worth. The currency’s strength shouldn’t determine how good or bad an artwork is.”

Whether is it for pleasure or for its investment potential, artworks are valuable assets that can definitely enrich one’s living space. For Jon, All About Art is a progression from a “featured art space” to a business that will include other verticals of art like shows, art residency and logistics. Essential, All About Art hopes to cover every aspect of the art collection journey.

All About Art is hosting an art show and the details are as follows below:

To learn more about All About Art, follow its Instagram: @allaboutart_gallery. To visit All About Art website, click here.

For more art reads, click here.

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