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Asian affluence attracts art

Asian affluence attracts art
The Straits Times - September 18, 2012
By: Deepika Shetty
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Asian affluence attracts art ST PHOTOS: RAJ NADARAJAN

As a globe-trotting banker, Lord Mervyn Davies spent much of the 1990s in Asia. Based in Hong Kong and Singapore during that time, the former chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Bank has seen Asia change.

In town last week for the opening of Encounter: The Royal Academy In Asia at the Lasalle College of the Arts, he told Life!: "I have spent a huge part of my career in Asia and I have seen the Asian art market grow.

"I first visited Singapore in the 1970s. It is a remarkable story. I think in the next 10 years, Singapore will become even more attractive as a hub."

His observations of the Asian story were key in bringing this East-meets- West contemporary arts exhibition, incorporating big names from Britain's famous Royal Academy of Arts and Asian shining lights, to Singapore.

The 59-year-old chairman of the Royal Academy Trust said Singapore was an "obvious choice" to host such a show. "The world has changed, Asia has changed. It is a lot more important and affluent. There is greater attention to the arts now. Singapore has a clear vision, good execution and an understanding that growth is not just about business."

Lord Davies was Britain's trade minister in former prime minister Gordon Brown's cabinet and is now vice- chairman of Corsair Capital, a US private equity firm that targets the financial- services industry.

As the Royal Academy Trust's chairman, he is looking at ways of "engaging" with countries in Asia. The importance the academy accords to Singapore was evident in the large contingent which accompanied him for the exhibition's opening.

Usually when the academy has an event overseas, it sends one or two representatives to fly its flag.

In the case of Encounter, seen in Singapore for the opening were Mr Paul Huxley, the academy's treasurer; Mr Charles Saumarez Smith, chief executive and secretary; Mr Christopher Le Brun, president, Ms Jane Marriott, director of development; and Royal Academician Chris Wilkinson, who is the architect of Gardens by the Bay.

This is the first time that the academy has sent out such a large team anywhere and Lord Davies said it signals to "more collaborations and partnerships in Asia" as it embraces the world.

The academy has done smaller projects in Japan, but nothing of this scale and with so many artists.

The discussions for the project started when Ms Mary Dinaburg and Mr Howard Rutkowski of curatorial and art advisory firm Fortune Cookie Projects approached the academy almost two years ago.

The affable Lord Davies added: "The idea was to present not just a cross- section of contemporary art. It was also to encourage dialogue through art. To see how artists in different countries and continents create paintings and sculptures and the issues their art addresses."

The idea of translating the academy's successful annual Summer Exhibition into a travelling show has resulted in Encounter. On till Oct 21, it features about 90 works worth US$10 million (S$12.3 million) by 50 artists, many of which are for sale.

"The title Encounter is fitting as it is an encounter between artists, artworks and the people who get to see it," he said.

Asia's increasing sophistication and affluence, as well as Singapore's appreciation of the arts, was one of the reasons the academy picked several Western stars, including prominent sculptors Antony Gormley and Richard Deacon, and presented them alongside a selection of important Asian artists such as eminent Indonesian contemporary art pioneer and art activist FX Harsono, China painter Liu Xiadong and home-grown artist and Singapore film-maker Ho Tzu Nyen.

Pointing to the receptive crowd on opening night, Lord Davies said: "I am encouraged by this. You can tell by the reaction and the way people are looking at the art that this is working."

Singapore is the first of stops in seven cities over two years. The show will travel to Doha next, with a Middle-Eastern component replacing the Asian one, but other destinations are still being finalised.

He said: "Art is about risk taking. The academy has always been a risk-taker. I would like the academy to be more international, to engage with more countries and cultures of the world. This is a start."

View it

ENCOUNTER: THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN ASIA

Where: Institute of Contemporary Art, Lasalle College of the Arts

When: Till Oct 21, 11am to 6pm daily

Admission: Free

Info: Call 9382-1700

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