As the international art world descends on the island of Singapore this week for the inaugural edition of ART SG, a smaller but notable fair in the city-state has officially opened. Running from January 5–15, S.E.A. Focus is a local boutique art fair in its fifth edition and the second year of a partnership with behemoth Art Basel.

Initiated by STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery and the National Arts Council, S.E.A. Focus presents mostly galleries from Singapore and Southeast Asia, a region inciting a great deal of global interest at the moment.

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Emi Eu, executive director of STPI and project director of S.E.A. Focus, told ARTnews, “It is great to finally have more international dialogue on Singapore’s role in the global art market and as a hub for Southeast Asia. We hope that this will translate to stimulating the region’s art market, and in turn catapult Singapore’s standing as a global art market player.”

Hong Kong–based art dealer Pascal de Sarthe, whose gallery is exhibiting at the fair, observed that the Southeast Asian art market is still emerging and is increasingly drawing the attention of collectors globally. “For the last few years, Singapore has grown to be an even more appealing financial hub within the Asian region, to the benefit of the Southeast Asian art ecosystem,” he said.

Eu believes S.E.A. Focus will only continue to benefit from this ongoing momentum: “Especially when we are also physically located in Singapore’s up and coming arts enclave at Tanjong Pagar Distripark [alongside a historic port in the city], we are also seeing other galleries joining and growing this cluster, such as Gajah, Art Agenda, 39+ Art Space, and, more recently, Whitestone Gallery.”

Often described as a platform rather than an art fair, S.E.A. Focus originally launched in 2019 as an alternative to then-declining and now-defunct fair, Art Stage Singapore. It moved to its current location, during the pandemic and adapted a booth-less exhibition format with a curatorial theme for each edition. This year’s theme is “a world, anew.” Prior to this, it used to be held at Gillman Barracks, another visual arts enclave in Singapore, which is currently being transformed into a lifestyle destination.

An artwork of acrylic paint on bufflo hide that has been intricately cut to show two gray skeletons, one atop the other, on what appears to be a boat. Behind them is a mess of trees.
Jumaadi, Boat, and Mangroves, 2022.
Courtesy 39+ Art Space

This year’s edition is simple and straight-forward in its presentation with a contained selection of works on show, allowing visitors to cover the fair quickly. One of the standout sections at S.E.A. Focus belongs to 39+ Art Space, a first-time fair participant presenting a solo presentation of Indonesian artist Jumaadi. Titled “Almost Natural,” the works on view are intricate, detailed acrylic paintings on buffalo hide.

“The artist’s approach gave a contemporary language to the classic material that is important in many Asian cultures. Visitors have been intrigued by the historical and cultural context of the works,” said Chinese art dealer Liu Ying Mei, who opened 39+ Art Space in Singapore last year.

Dealers on the ground also reported strong interest, though both S.E.A. Focus and participating galleries do not typically share sales reports during the fair’s run.

A black-box installation showing a screen and a slab of a polished rock on a black pedestal. On the screen a similar-looking rock with inscriptions appears, floating in space against a murky sky background.
Tan Zi Hao, The Mercurial Inscription, 2022
Courtesy the artist and A+ Works of Art

According to French collector Guillaume Levy-Lambert, who runs Art Porters Gallery in Singapore, “Visitors come out of S.E.A. Focus energized by our presentation, its freshness and variety.” The gallerist reported that by Monday morning re-hanging was required as three out of four works by Malaysian artistChok Yue Zan’s works had sold in the first few days of the fair.

Interestingly, several galleries participating in S.E.A. Focus will also have at booth at ART SG this week. They view doing so as a natural choice, since “both fairs have different objectives. One is a platform focused on Southeast Asian galleries and artists; the other is a major international fair with a much broader mandate,” Levy-Lambert said.

The latest edition of the smaller fair also includes the launch of the SAM S.E.A. Focus Art Fund, a new program involving a jury selection of outstanding works at the fair which will be donated to the Singapore Art Museum’s collection with the support of couple Yenn Wong and Alan Lo, restauranteurs and arts patrons based in Hong Kong and Singapore, for a period of three years. The inaugural works acquired through the fund are a series of 13 works by Indonesian artist Agung Kurniawan presented by Jakarta-based gallery ROH Projects; and Mercurial Inscription (2022), a video work by Malaysian artist Tan Zi Hao, presented by Kuala Lumpur–based gallery A+ Works of Art.

“Singapore is asserting itself as a major influence on the regional art ecosystem, but its cultural output remains under-represented on the global art scene,” Lo said. “We see the SAM S.E.A. Focus Fund as a crucial initiative to build and expand a meaningful legacy for art from Southeast Asia.”

Eu agreed, “For every edition of S.E.A. Focus, our ultimate wish is for visitors to discover something new about Southeast Asia through its art, artists, and the dialogue around it. We hope that everyone will come away from [the fair] with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Southeast Asian contemporary art.”