From 18 to 20 November, the Affordable Art Fair made a much-anticipated splash of colours on Singapore's sleepy shores again after three long years in the pandemic's deadlock. Taking up two floors at its usual home at the F1 Pit Building, the arty action is back with a vengeance, offering thousands of artworks from over eighty local and international galleries, including the Art Gallery Association of Singapore (AGAS) roped in as the official cultural partner. The cafes and cocktail bars are back as well, along with activity areas bustling with fairgoers of all ages, and things are looking up once more. But perhaps what stood out most at this year's fair was the plethora of happy, peppy pieces that could not have reflected this optimistic start better, cheekily challenging our definition of fine art after a bleak period of standstill.
Artêria Gallery from Montreal is one such gallery, describing the pieces they take in as “things we would like to have in our house”, the result of which is a fun mixture of the figurative and abstract, modern and poppy. Many of their featured artists, too, have had experience in fields like illustrating children's books, thus explaining the childlike whimsy to their works. Indeed, what steals the show is their "Wall of Minis", featuring the gallery's most affordable pieces at the fair. For its name, however, this collection does not disappoint – fun, geometric sculptures that maintain the perfect quirky balance between toy-like and sophisticated, such as Vigg's Teckel Minéral, Cheval No. 5, and Cheval No. 6 – a playfully long teal dachshund and two horses in complimentary vermilion and blue respectively. Richard Hoffman's pop culture icon stamp collages featuring the likes of The Wizard of Oz and Peppa Pig. No stranger to the art scene, Arteria has exported works to major artistic cities such as New York City, London, and Hong Kong. They have also been exhibiting in Singapore for over a decade now and are more than happy to return to the Affordable Art Fair after the hiatus.
Barnes Collective catches one's attention as one of the most colourful galleries at the fair this year, in particular, artist Betsy Enzensberger's shelf of vibrant-hued, semi-melted resin popsicle sculptures. Made in every colour of the rainbow and doused in glitter and confetti-like 'sprinkles', it is of no surprise that they are extremely sought after in their native California and bring a refreshing pop of brightness to the equally sunny Singapore in their debut exhibition here. Gallerist Natasha Barnes is, herself, an artist, specialising in dreamy and otherworldly abstract canvases of colour splashes and movement. Her main inspiration and recurring motif are the lotus, believing that “beautiful things come from dark places”. Other motifs include the crocodile – a common sight in South Africa where she and the gallery call home. One of the trinkets comes with her favourite painting, Monet's Garden, which is a little personalised keepsake for the buyers, and this is yet another signature of her works which breathes a bright, unique touch of life and connection with the artist.
A little closer to home is AAD Gallery Australia, also proudly artist-run and the first female-owned gallery to find its place in The Rocks in Sydney. Though the physical gallery was established at the start of the pandemic, gallerist and artist Shazia Imran has overcome this hurdle in her bid to support women-of-colour artists who have traditionally been excluded from the art scene. Her purpose is simply to look for 'happy' artworks with 'positive energies' – a philosophy central to her South Asian background. And it shows, as such about the gallery's pieces is what caught our eye, forming the connection between artist and audience that she hopes to bridge. Filipina artist Adeline Buenaventura's collection Jungle Pop is a perfect example of this, featuring shiny pop art sculptures of animals such as rhinos and elephants. They are covered in bold and brightly coloured graphic shapes, from hearts to lips, and sit nicely on a shelf top, calling to mind the idea of being a safari of funky little pets of sorts.
The thrill doesn’t stop just there. The Affordable Art Fair would not be complete without its signature "Arty-licious" activities for fairgoers to get their creative juices flowing after all the inspiration. From art therapy sessions where proceeds go to local charities such as the Singapore Cancer Society to free craft workshops, participants of all ages had a chance to make their own works of art. We even tried our hand at one of these, and ended up with a Pierrot and Harlequin, who we’re positive would have loved the fun-filled vibes this year!
Fair director Alan Koh, like us, couldn't be happier about the outcome of the fair, claiming that the vibe was amazing and positive. The turnout of 15,000 visitors and sale of 2000 artworks proved that art lovers, galleries and artists are once again more than ready to get back in on the arty action and re-connect and engage with each other in person, sharing in – as well as contributing to – the much-needed optimism after those three long years. Aptly put, “it felt like a major reunion”. Galleries concur, admitting that despite the hesitant start to the fair, the bustle was back in full swing by the weekend.
From delicate rodent portraits and embroidered canvases, pastel manekineko, and sparkly sardines in a can to live drawing sessions and ice cream stands, "anything weird or boundary pushing, we have it,” Alan asserts, summing up this year's slew of whimsical highlights. There is certainly something exciting for everyone to look at and participate in, and maybe even take home. After all, what is the Affordable Art Fair but a place where everyone can afford to kick back, soak up the arty vibes and have fun?
The Affordable Art Fair Singapore will return in November 2023.
Affordable Art Fair Singapore: