Southeast Asia is marking its territory as a destination art region, and no one knows this better than Lorenzo Rudolf, founder Art Stage Singapore, the region’s premier fair that just wrapped its fifth successful edition. Here, he tells us the wheres and the whys of the global art market’s rising stars.
Why did you start Art Stage Singapore?
Right now, there’s so much momentum in Southeast Asia, and we somehow have to bring the world down here to see what’s happening. Contemporary art is a global language, and what we need is to start a dialogue. That’s what I’m trying to do with Art Stage Singapore.
How would you describe the Southeast Asian art scene?
The thing about Southeast Asia is that it isn’t one collective scene yet. If you go to the Philippines, to Manila, the scene is so young, so vibrant, but also so influenced by the past. You see all the Catholic symbols and thinking as well as the Spanish inspirations—El Dorado, Latin America. Singapore is very intellectual, never political, while in Malaysia, it’s all about Islam, and often artists like to see how far they can push things. Indonesia is also Muslim, but you rarely see it expressed. In my opinion, Indonesia is strongest Southeast Asian country for contemporary art.
How did you discover Indonesia as an art hub?
The first time I came to Indonesia was in 2008, and never in my life have I had such an experience. I was invited by Deddy Kusama, one of the country’s foremost collectors, who wanted to have a small reception for me. My plane landed at 6 p.m., and without even taking out my passport for immigration, I was whisked outside to a big police-escorted limousine, and 40 minutes later, I was in South Jakarta. Turned out that the small reception was for 800 people, and everyone was there, even the minister of culture. It was then that I realized what Indonesia’s contemporary art scene really is. Artists have such a high ranking in society and enormous support from the middle and upper classes.
Where in Indonesia do you go to find the best art?
I absolutely love being in Jogjakarta. It has magic. There are so many artists there, and yet there’s no competition. Everyone helps everyone—it’s beautiful. Go in June for Art Fair Jogja, when you have the crème de la crème of Indonesian artists opening their houses and studios for people to just wander in and out.
What about outside of Southeast Asia?
Berlin. It was the only city for hundreds of years where two parts had to come together into one new entity. It’s still not too expensive, so creative people can afford it, and you really see all parts of society interacting together. It’s not a city that puts you in drawers.
Do you have any hopes for Southeast Asia as an art region?
Ten years ago, the international art world was driven by the academies—academics, critics, museums. Today, it’s the market that brings the art. What’s good is what’s at the biggest auctions, fairs, galleries, and sold at the highest prices. We can’t turn this back, we can’t be naïve. But here in Southeast Asia, where the market is still emerging, we have the chance to balance the commercial and non-commercial art worlds and be a model for the West.
What’s in your own art collection?
Certainly works from all around Asia, but I don’t consider myself a collector. A collector is someone with a vision, a concept. I buy much more with my emotions. I have to see something that challenges me, that makes me curious, and then maybe I’ll buy it. Mostly, I just want to see something new, which is often from younger artists rather than big names. Buy with your eyes, not your ears.
Do you think art has the power to change Southeast Asia in any way?
You know, I must admit that I’m often a bit shocked by how little many people from outside of Southeast Asia know about the region. Sure, they know Bali, or Angkor Wat, but they’ll have no idea that Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. I think we have an opportunity with contemporary art to educate other parts of the world about Southeast Asia and to get them to travel here.
Lorenzo’s picks of the best art-viewing spots in three cities
Gallery Rachel “The owner, Junior Tirtadji, travels extensively and has built up art networks all around the world. This is Indonesia’s gallery of the future.”