How did a biologist and corporate lawyer end up with careers as art dealers in one of Singapore’s youngest and most ambitious contemporary European art galleries? Barnadas Huang’s gallery director and art consultant Weiren Loh and Rachel Chin discuss their love for art, the idiosyncrasies of the industry and the future of art in Singapore.
It was mostly by good fortune that Weiren Loh and Rachel Chin stumbled into one of the most fickle and demanding industries in Asia today – art dealing. At that time, Benjamin Ng and Abigail Wong, founders of contemporary European fine art gallery Barnadas Huang, were looking for the perfect team to establish and grow a Singapore-based fine art gallery with a distinctively international outlook.
“I’ve always appreciated art, but never saw myself becoming professionally involved in the industry. When I left law, I was looking to do something more imaginative and exciting. I jumped at the opportunity when Abigail and Benjamin approached me,” explains Rachel, who studied law in England and worked as a corporate lawyer in one of Singapore’s top law firms before joining Barnadas Huang.
For Weiren, a Biology student who left the sciences to pursue a career in the arts, the decision to join the fledgling gallery was a clear one: “My gut told me to join the team.”
Their instincts were right. In late 2014 – just 1 year after its inauguration – Barnadas Huang was cited by The Culture Trip magazine as one of the top 10 contemporary art galleries in Singapore.
Further cementing its position as a contemporary art gallery to be reckoned with, Barnadas Huang was the youngest gallery to be featured in Art Central Hong Kong 2015, a world-class satellite art fair to Art Basel. With sold-out showings in Singapore and Hong Kong under its belt, the gallery is now gearing up to participate in up to 8 art fairs a year in the Asia-Pacific region.
Little did they expect their foray into the art industry to be such an adventure. Weiren learnt to juggle multiple portfolios simultaneously, from sales to accounting to logistics. There were also relationships to build: dealing with artists who did not speak a common language and negotiating with fellow dealers to secure exhibitions was a completely new challenge.
Despite the herculean effort, he found fulfilment as a gallery director finding his place in the industry from his deep passion and unwavering interest for art. His favourite part of the job is when he fosters the connection between a collector and an art piece.
“I believe that every piece is unique intrinsically. What I try to bring out is how special and incredible the effort, time and thought that goes into the creation of each piece is. When the artwork manages to evoke emotion – happiness, sadness, sometimes a deep sense of nostalgia – in a collector, I feel like I have done the art justice,” says Weiren.
Rachel, with a keen eye and understanding for contemporary art, is the resident art consultant at Barnadas Huang. She curates works for exhibitions and international art fairs that Barnadas Huang participates in. The gallery’s top clients also rely on her to acquire the best artworks to build a strong and cohesive private collection.
“The partnership between the gallery and client is very fulfilling. There is a lot of trust involved, and my job as a gallerist is to assist my client in obtaining the right piece. Sometimes, a client is just looking for something for their child’s bedroom. But other times, they are seeking something more abstract: they want a piece that reminds them of a close or personal memory, for example.”
Given the reputation of the art industry as a difficult one, replete with rich and famous clients, what was the most difficulty they had faced in assisting a client?
For them, it was when a client wanted to commission a custom piece for his living room at a time that the artist was facing some artistic difficulties.
“At the time, because of the artist’s personal circumstances, she had difficulty finding the right inspiration for the piece. It took several months just to get the draft right, and many more months to complete it. The entire process took close to 10 months, and I was in constant contact with the artist and the client to facilitate the process. To his credit, the client was incredibly patient and it paid off: he loved the final piece very much.”
As young professionals building their careers in the art industry, both exclaimed their pleasure with the evolution of art collecting in Singaporean over the last five years.
“It is astounding to see how the public reception towards art here has developed in such a short time. With the National Gallery slated to open this year, Singapore is unquestionably the South East Asian hub for contemporary and international art,” muses Rachel.
Weiren chimes in, “Singapore is a society with increasingly sophisticated collectors. I find that Singapore art buyers have strong identities and discerning tastes. A good collection is a result of the collector’s taste and preference. If you know how each work fits into your collection from a larger perspective, I think the collection will naturally be respectable and enviable.”
Current Exhibition: A Universal Truth by Mónica Dixon
Dates: Till 10 June 2015
Address: Barnadas Huang, 61 Duxton Road, Singapore 089525
Hours: Tue – Fri 12noon – 7pm, Sat 11am – 7pm, Sun 11am – 6pm