Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The bucks stop here

The dramatic decision and equally dramatic undecision to support participation in the new Singapore Art fair, Art Stage 1 in January 12-16 2011, brings up the question of the potential of Asia as a market for NZ art.

It is very hard to find out what has already been sold in Asian Art Fairs by the NZ dealers who have participated in them. We understand that a large work by John Reynolds was sold at one fair but that it came back home to a New Zealand buyer. This practice of New Zealanders purchasing work at international fairs to ship back home is not uncommon.

Director and chief promoter of Art Stage Singapore, Lorenzo Rudolf, has no doubt who is going to buy the fair's wares, “Hong Kong and Singapore are the two big financial places in Asia. But if you analyse a bit closer, you realise Hong Kong is the place of trading, of investment banking while Singapore is the place of private banking. In an art market, private wealth is what goes into the art.”

If Rudolf is right and the art world is going to follow the money as it did from Paris to New York to Asia (most probably China), think about what happens when the centre shifts. One key effect is that the art made at the centre wins. That was true in Paris (where not even British art just across the channel got a look in) and it was true in New York where the fame and value of American art eclipsed that of Europe and everyone else. Based on this idea then, we can probably expect the Asian art market and Asian Art Fairs to become increasingly devoted to Asian art. We suspect there won't be a clamour for work in the Western tradition from New Zealand.

The likely outcome is multiple art centres but with increasing independence from both Europe and North America shown in Asia. Globalisation hasn't turned out quite the way we expected in economics or politics, so would it in art? The dream of a connected world is turning out in the 21st century to be a reality with more restrictions on borders and fewer opportunities to live in a country you weren't born in. With the local in Asia growing in vitality and confidence, maybe our arts industries need to figure out how realistic it is to believe that NZ will have a competitive advantage automatically succeed in that arena. There's geography and then, there's culture.
Image: Merlin Carpenter's painting Die Collector Scum hanging at an art fair