Wrapping your head around the hotel art fair concept can be quite a different and norm-shattering experience if you have not visited one before. Traditionally, this type of event arose when artists or galleries working with emerging artists wanted to be part of the art fair scene, but were priced out of the art fair market – in which the costs of stand rental escalates into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Scurrying around with no windows to see in or out of their nooks in the world, emerging artists had no corner of the fair scene for them to perform their role in the art world – to push against the boundaries and showcase their work. That is, until creative minds – resourceful and innovative as they are – decided that renting a block of hotel rooms or even a whole hotel was a cost effective way to bring art to an audience in a cosy environment.

The hotel art fair circuit began in 1994, with the Gramercy International Art Fair at New York’s  Gramercy Hotel. Today this fair still exists, in a different format, as the internationally renowned Armory Show. The first Asian hotel art fair was introduced by AHAF in 2009 in South Korea, spawning a vibrant Hotel Art Fair scene now prevalent around Asia.

It is a distinctly different environment from a white-cube exhibition. More intimate and closer to home settings, the art has to compete with hotel furniture and decor, and limitations on space, but in return it gets the opportunity to be seen in the heart of Singapore. The expectation I have of hotel art fairs is that they are providing an ‘in’ for emerging galleries and artists with new concepts, styles, and statements to present to us.

In some ways, perhaps the hotel room is not so out of place for artwork, being a more human and setting than the white cube, but I still grimace when I see artworks propped in hotel bathrooms. The best way to understand the concept is a cross between the Art Fair, and the unrolling of blankets and trunks containing treasures, miscellany, and artwork on street pavements all around the world. It’s not an ideal space, but it’s more possible for artists to showcase work independently, and it’s better than a street corner.

Image courtesy of Bank Art Fair
Image courtesy of Bank Art Fair: Bank Art Fair 2014

The space may not be ideal, but it’s a way to connect with viewers and buyers. How can it overcome the challenging surroundings? I want to see something new, innovative, even misguided but at least boundary pushing. I want to see experimentation from artists, I need to feel the creative process and witness artwork which challenges the viewer – rightly or wrongly. Are they overcoming the difficult or unsuitable hanging spaces in a hotel room by creating jaw-dropping work? Are emerging artists benefiting from it?

Sadly, I am still waiting to be blown away. Artists and emerging galleries, please, having made it to the hotel room, unleash your real creativity in the installation or hanging of an artwork, push boundaries, and transport us out of the carpeted room and the walk in wardrobe, through to a place of magic and awe on the other side.

In Singapore there is an excitement around the chance to see something different at hotel art fairs, but still the concept is too unusual for some, who feel that art should be engulfed by a white wall or encircled in its glass case. My personal opinion is that (from a curatorial point of view) the artwork would work either in a white cube space, or a less contemporary space like a raw warehouse or abandoned house (think Displacements exhibition, Singapore, 2013).

Artwork by Kenneth Lee, Moss grown on the walls at Displacements Exhibition, 2013, held in a residential house before demolition
Artwork by Kenneth Lee: Moss grown on the walls at Displacements exhibition, 2013, held in a residential house before it’s looming demolition.


Unfortunately whether it is due to the overly-shiny nature of Singapore, or the necessary goal to attract people with money to spend, the Hotel Art Fairs all land in relatively high end hotels, somewhere in the middle. In Singapore where our shopping trips on Orchard road lead us to believe that the buying experience should be a pristine one, we forget the true lifecycle and environment of an artwork:

Born in the chaotic space inside an artist’s mind, art takes its first breath inside the artist’s studio – a dusty, paint splattered room full of half finished pieces, crumpled up balls of paper, scraps of images that have been pinned around the room haphazardly like a cloud of snatched inspirations or a rustic patchwork of ideas and old coffee cups. Next, the artwork matures while being skilfully completed in this studio which quite possibly is really a reappropriated spare room, balcony, storage space or car garage. It is then whisked off under-wraps, and finally emerges into a gallery; blinking in the sparkling white light and feeling bare under the bright spots. It is here of course that it flourishes and the true beauty of the piece can be beheld. But soon, with luck, it is purchased and finds a new home on its new owner’s wall. Here the art feels comforted and finally in its place. It reaches out to form tender connections with the other artworks around it, the view through the window, the noises from the dinning room, and the furniture in the space.

Check out the upcoming hotel-based Bank Art Fair, and the more conventional art space at Affordable Art Fair, and tell us which you prefer.