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Art Stage S’pore: A self-assured 2014 edition?

SINGAPORE — Near the entrance, there’s a work comprising a stuffed ox that stands triumphant on a couple of overturned jackpot machines, coins scattered all over the floor. It’s by Norwegian street artist Dolk and it’s titled Goldrush.

SINGAPORE — Near the entrance, there’s a work comprising a stuffed ox that stands triumphant on a couple of overturned jackpot machines, coins scattered all over the floor. It’s by Norwegian street artist Dolk and it’s titled Goldrush.

In the context of the fair (which is, of course, held in casinoland), it was tempting to kick off with a snide remark about the nature of the regional art market (elsewhere, there’s a small piece by Aussie artist Kristin McIver called Is This Love, which is basically the word SOLD.)

But it didn’t feel that way to me during Wednesday afternoon’s preview. Could it be that fourth time’s a charm for Art Stage? After all the previous hiccups in past years, my first impression was that this year’s edition, with 158 galleries, felt rather self-assured and quite chill. Perhaps I missed them, but there didn’t seem to be any “big” works, the ones that shout and stand out in a bad way (give or take the odd inflatable winged pig or two). It didn’t feel like an “insecure” art fair that needed to prove anything, if you know what I mean.

As for the controversial South-east Asian Platform (one of the eight that includes, among others, Japan — which people have been saying is good), it was a pleasant surprise for me. I know it was big, but I still had that niggling thought that it would turn out to be a ghetto section, stuffing all SEA countries in one part of the fair. But I quite liked it; the spaces seemed respectful to the galleries in it (yes, it’s by galleries but it’s “curated”) and the works are interesting. A quick rundown of artists includes Thailand’s Manit Kantasak (a nice installation of pieces of wood with its bark manipulated), Malaysia’s Anurenda Jegadeva and Justin Lim (one of my favourites here, with a selection of flower-infused pieces that include a bathtub with a video projection of a person in it), Indonesia’s FX Harsono and Entang Wiharso, the Philippines’ Nikki Luna, Mark Justiniani, Maria Taniguchi, among others (not to mention a few from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar).

And, of course, Singapore. You had familiar faces and works — Donna Ong, Jane Lee, Robert Zhao Renhui’s PYT piece, Jeremy Sharma’s SB piece, Chua Chye Teck, Jolene Lai and Sarah Choo’s joint room installation, and my two fave works here from Michael Lee (loved the shadows created by his hanging frame sculpture) and Chun Kai Feng’s deadpan sculptures taking off or made from everyday objects (cigarette butts, old bus stop seats, a pair of slippers).

The Singapore presence is subtly felt throughout the space. The homegrown artists are everywhere. Walk into a gallery and — boom — another one.

Top of my head, there’s Ian Woo at Tomio Koyama, Ng Joon Kiat and Tan Guo Liang at Space Cottonseed, Ruben Pang at Chan Hampe Gallery, David Chan, Justin Lee and PHUNK at Art Seasons, and Grace Tan at The Substation booth (now moved beside LASALLE’s booth. Where’s NAFA ah?).

And it all feels like they *belong* here, jostling for attention with the rest. No institutional spoon-feeding and babysitting, they’re slugging it out with the best.

Seniors/vets are also represented: Milenko Prvacki gets the entire iPreciation booth, Ode To Art’s got Lim Tze Peng, STPI’s got Chua Ek Kay, Goh Beng Kwan and Han Sai Por (lovely piece that links to her ongoing solo at the gallery’s main HQ).

Of course, you’ve also got to expect groan-worthy works (which fair doesn’t have these?) but this Art Stage had good vibes (overall, video and photography seem to be the winners). Ikkan Art Gallery’s all-video showcase looks so seductive (they’ve got Naoko Tosa and TeamLab) and over at Equator Art Projects, Indonesian artist Awiki’s got his own section where he’s going to do portraits for people.

All these, of course, are initial impressions and I’m definitely dropping by a couple more times.

The biggest test is yet to come. I’ve yet to try the coffee this year.

Art Stage Singapore is from Jan 16 to 19 at Marina Bay Sands. For more information, visit www.artstagesingapore.com.

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