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Verve People
August 09, 2014

Global Hues

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

Stephanie Fong believes in promoting contemporary art in an innovative fashion. Verve speaks to the lawyer turned gallery owner about her artistic canvas

  • Stephanie Fong, Fost Gallery
  • Stephanie Fong, Fost Gallery
  • Stephanie Fong, Fost Gallery
  • Stephanie Fong, Fost Gallery

Hailing from a family of businessmen, Stephanie Fong initially studied to be a lawyer. Ethnically Chinese, but essentially South-East Asian, the Singapore-based gallery owner of Fost Gallery decided to turn her passion for art into a fulltime career. Founding the Fost Gallery in 2006, she began to show works by artists who were at the forefront of contemporary art. Her stable includes names like Adeel uz Zafar (Pakistan), Song-Ming Ang (Singapore/Berlin), Sookoon Ang (Singapore/France), Chun Kaifeng (Singapore), Vincent Olinet (France), Rodney Smith (USA) and more – and her artists have been included in international biennales and institutional exhibitions. Driven by Fong’s creative vision, the gallery is now one of Singapore’s leading art galleries, evolving from the time it started in its first premises in a historic shophouse. Fost Gallery is now located at Gillman Barracks, the contemporary art precinct in Singapore.

What made you follow a career in art?
The decision was the culmination of many factors. My mother, an art teacher, initiated me into the joys of drawing. Though I knew I did not want to be an artist, whenever I wanted to entertain myself, I was always drawing. What my mother directly or indirectly taught me remained in my DNA – she didn’t just show me the beauty of visual art, but she also took me to various performances.

What was your creative vision?
During my stint in London, I had the time and opportunity to visit many art galleries. When I started out, I first wanted to replicate what I had seen in London, here in Singapore. But, over the years along the way I evolved and formed my own vision and I did what I really wanted to do. I am very interested in how a young contemporary artist looks at and reinterprets a very traditional medium, so artists like Phi Phi interest me. With Palimpsest, Phi Phi pushes the boundaries of Vietnamese lacquer painting.

How do you select your artists?
I travel a lot and find a few interesting artists on my journeys. I chanced upon Phi Phi, who is a Vietnamese, on the Internet and then connected with her after I had done my research. I met her in 2009 and we’ve been in contact since. To select the right artist, I feel it is important to talk to and interact with the artist. On the other hand, if I were a collector, I would train my eye to see what I like. I would read a lot, go to galleries, museums, talk to dealers and make friends with art gallery owners. Art is an unregulated market – you can get a lot of information by forming relationships with gallerists. But, saying that, if we all knew what the secret formula for picking the right art is all of us would be really rich now!

What is the contemporary art scene in Singapore like?
We are in a bit of a transition now. When I launched my gallery, there were not that many galleries that sold contemporary art. The few that were there were more like retail shops. There was a lacuna that could be filled by presenting contemporary art in a professional way.

In Singapore, how great is the interest in art?
The interest in art is growing. It is both an interest for art’s sake and is also a desire to invest in something whose value may increase. Since we are Asian, the investment element is always prevalent when you look at art, but the younger collectors fall in the first category –they believe in art for art’s sake. Personally, I would like people to really collect art for its aesthetic appeal and not as something you could flip at an auction.

How popular are Indian artists here?
Certain galleries do focus on Indian artists. I want to pursue the Indian diaspora. I am aware of the Indian Art Summit and other major art events in the country. I know that modern Indian art is holding its prices well.

Which has been your most memorable show till now?
I would pick Kaifeng Chun’s first solo – Not A Lot To Do Here. From doing small models, he took a quantum leap into making large three-dimensional sculptures in metal.

What kind of art would you bring to india?
I would show a selection of Singaporean artists not just because I am a Singaporean but because I feel that there is a lot of talent in Singapore that has not really been promoted in India. I would bring Tang Da Wu, the father of  contemporary art in Singapore; I would also bring Heman Chong, Chun Kaifeng, Ang Song Ming and Win Lin Than. With this basket you would get an overview of what art in Singapore is like.

Which Indian artists are you familiar with?
I have heard of many names but the one I would pick is predictable – MF Husain. He is an important figure in art history – he has straddled the modern, the contemporary and the traditional. I remember reading about his work that was sold at an auction around three years ago – it was a cubist figurative horse painting.

What’s your personal taste in art like?
I love creations in black and white hues – they could be Chinese ink on paper, charcoal drawings or simple black and white photographs. My husband, Gary, complains that we need some colour in our house.

What next?
After Art Basel, Hong Kong, the next major show is for the established Singaporean artist Jimmy Wong who turns 50 this year. He’s known for his chapel drawings. We are showing his works and are accompanying that with a publication.

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