The Singaporean’s Guide to Collecting Art

The Singaporean’s Guide to Collecting Art

Art collecting gets a weird rep. To the layman, the practice is dismissively associated with all manner of elitist hobbies afforded only to the crème de la crème of haute society. While such an assumption would probably have held a century or so ago, art collecting is now a lot more inclusive than it used to be, and just about anyone can get involved. If you’ll allow us, we’ll change your mind about collecting art in Singapore.

Why collect art?

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Just ask any modern interior designer — tastefully chosen art can enliven just about any drab set-up. Some even use artwork as the basis for designing an entire space, meaning that all textures and colours selected thereafter should correspond to the centrepiece in question. Art is now featured everywhere from hotel lobbies to restaurant restrooms and even airports, with good reason! Likewise, artwork can add more character to your home, bringing a new aesthetic to an otherwise blandly functional space.

Of the many reasons for collecting art, an obvious one would be investment. While the value of an art piece may seem superfluous and subjective, art investments differ from traditional securities in that their worth is independent of the stock market. This means your wealth, now crystalised in art, may be less vulnerable to fluctuations in the world economy.

Just as a venture capitalist might pour funds into a company with promise, the connoisseur art collector may consider herself contributing to the preservation of history. Beyond looking pretty, art plays a huge role in retelling stories of the past and articulating the collective imagination of the present. In the works are woven wartime testimonies (as in Picasso’s Guernica), manifestos (like in Miro’s Mujer ante el sol) and life stories (such as in Pollock’s Full Fathom Five). Today, museums all over the world occupy their walls for months on end in tributary documentary of artists, periods and styles. The act of consolidating works in this fashion is a moment of reunification that can help educate all willing spectators, informed or otherwise.

The private collector can play a similar role. In curating a themed personal collection, your efforts help to make sense of a story. The curious visitor thus becoming a student of art, such efforts also contribute in a small way to educating members of the public on art and its significance in society. Needless to say, collecting art also helps support the art industry. Especially for emerging artists, sale of artwork can provide the means to keep creating and contributing to the local and international milieu.

Well-made art makes a great heirloom, especially if the purchase is made on sentimental grounds. If you intend for the work to stay in the family, then it is important to choose pieces with personal significance. This added layer of value follows the work into new hands.

Lastly, why not? Singapore is at the heart of Southeast Asia, flanked on all sides by — including herself — strongholds of cultural and historical heritage. This position supports her enduring role as a rendez-vous for artists, collectors, curators and academics, and it is no wonder that the art trade here is flourishing. Any prospective collector will find herself spoilt for choice, from art fairs to exhibition spaces featuring emerging international artists, as we will explore later.

How to start collecting art

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To newcomers of any measure, the art world may seem like a frivolous, alienating environment. Coupling this with the cost of collecting, preparation is important before you purchase your first work.

The natural first stage is online research. If your art history foundation is patchy, Wikipedia pages and collector sites can catch you up enough for the next step: an exploratory gallery hop. Perhaps you’re wondering why we recommend understanding art history before you purchase art. The simple answer: you don’t have to, especially if you do not intend to sell. If you do, a good knowledge of art history can help you keep abreast with market trends and decide what to buy, when to buy it and later, when to sell.

Singapore is home to more than 50 museums, rebuking the age-old assumption that Singapore suffers an artistic drought. Considering that most museums feature seasonal exhibitions by themes or featured artists, this means you’ll never run out of art to see here. With your research in mind, visiting galleries can make you more aware of your own interests and preferences, and help you budget for your purchase.

While some works are sold off the walls, many are only available for auction, so visiting auction houses may also help you plan for the expense. Some auction houses host previews, giving prospective buyers a chance to view the works on sale beforehand. Here you may find starting prices for each piece, but these are unlikely to yield any guesses on the final outcome. Nonetheless, these provide clues about the anticipated popularity of certain pieces, and therefore what is likely more lucrative at any point.

If you are a new collector, an art advisor can help you get started. Such services are usually paid, since an advisor serves as a broker to your purchase. Art collectors with particular interest in trading can benefit from an art advisor, whose understanding of art valuation can go a long way in helping you make well-informed decisions.

A final preparatory step for purchasing art is to arrange for a space to store your collection. The climatic conditions your collection can tolerate may vary, so check with your art dealer how best to keep each work in mint condition. In general, paintings can fade from overexposure to any light, so it is advisable to keep light levels low. Meanwhile, paintings on canvas and wool are best kept at stable relative humidity levels between 40% and 60%, much lower than with Singapore’s natural climate. Excessive humidity encourages mould growth, while causing canvas to shrink and frames to expand, leading to cracks in the paint. Storing paintings in carefully measured, air-conditioned spaces can help prevent this. Since other types of work (such as sculptures and installations) are more likely composed of other, diverse materials, enquire about environmental conditions for best preservation from your dealer if you intend to purchase these.

Maintaining your art collection ensures that its value lasts generations in time to come, so each piece retains its splendour. But art is not the only thing you should be looking to preserve. Leave a meaningful legacy for your loved ones, so the fruits of your labour carry well into the future and the memories imbued in each piece of art, last longer than a lifetime. Find out more about our Premier legacy planning insurance solutions here.

Where to find affordable art in Singapore

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Collecting art is now much more accessible than it used to be. Today, Singapore plays host to a wide variety of exhibitions and events geared towards art appreciation or acquisition, and open to everyone. Here are just some places you can go to get your personal collection started.

#1 Affordable Art Fair

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This annual week-long event typically falls late in the year, after the Formula One crews have emptied the Marina Bay area. Here you’ll find a wide selection of work by emerging international artists, with price tags that keep the event true to its name — many individual pieces sell for less than S$1,000, a bargain compared to gallery prices. But far from being a classy handicrafts market, the event’s featured works are carefully selected with quality in mind. The fair welcomes both seasoned and new collectors and enthusiasts, and features a full programme of workshops, lectures and tours. Interior designers and enthusiasts will be thrilled by the wide selection of modern works that promise a new lease of life for any space.

#2 The Gillman Barracks

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Once colonial quarters, the Gillman Barracks live again as an art cluster that now houses internationally established galleries, restaurants and the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Here, you will find artist showcases and exhibitions by historical themes significant to the Singaporean and Southeast Asian memory.

In institutional collections, works of Old Masters are often curated as a journey through the artist’s life and exploratory phases. The galleries at the Gillman Barracks often engage a similar approach with emerging artists, giving collectors and general audiences a glimpse into the artist’s story. This very personal approach to exhibition helps introduce viewers to an artist and her oeuvre, which can inform purchase decisions. As a move to support artists, prices are displayed for all works on sale.

#3 ARTO

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Too lazy to visit a physical gallery, or perhaps looking to kill time between engagements? Download ARTO, an art shopping mobile application that, much like a dating application, functions on swipes. The in-built algorithm helps shortlist pieces that you may like based on your displayed preferences, which can help you find pieces in exactly the style you are looking for.

#4 Art Stage

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Art Stage, an annual event held in Singapore, is one of the largest contemporary art fairs in Asia, focused on connecting the art of Asia with the rest of the world. Here you will find everything from traditional styles like painting, to multisensory found objects installations. With an emphasis on accessibility, the fair includes affordable options and typically features interactive exhibits that dispense free or reasonably priced memorabilia.

Knowing the risks

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In 2017, a painting of Christ, bought at £45 and believed to be the work of a follower of Leonardo da Vinci, fetched £341m at a Christie’s auction after it was revealed to be by the Old Master himself. But don’t bank on the same luck when it comes to art investing, the downsides of which very often outweigh the upsides. Foreclosing the assumption than investing primarily in art can protect one’s portfolio from turbulence in public markets, art should be and is indeed used by the wealthy as a diversification measure to other traditional securities. The whims of the art world can quickly render certain artists, styles, time periods and even particular pieces fashionable or otherwise, which means one should practice caution when looking to purchase. Prospective collectors should also recognise that appreciation in value of artwork is never guaranteed.

An artful legacy

“Live your life as a work of art,” an anonymous quote that echoes a universal ambition. Just as an artist is masterful with her media, so can you be with your life choices. Curate your legacy so your loved ones inherit not just your assets but your memories too. Find out how you can leave something worthwhile with Etiqa here.

All information provided is true at the time of publishing, 27 September 2019 and conditions may have changed since.

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