Dylan, Hirst, Masriadi Woo Asian Billionaire Art Buyers

Singapore’s Art Stage is luring the growing pool of wealthy Southeast Asian collectors with Damien Hirst’s butterflies, canvases by Indonesian artist Nyoman Masriadi and paintings by singer Bob Dylan.

More than 1,000 champagne-sipping VIPs got a preview of the fair before it opened yesterday. They included chef Daniel Boulud, New York Asia Society Museum director Melissa Chiu, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and Indonesian tobacco tycoon Oei Hong Djien.

Compared with last year, when many galleries grumbled about a lack of deep-pocketed collectors, the event is off to a stronger start, said dealers.

“With the Dow at a four-year high, a lot of people have loosened their purse strings,” said Jasdeep Sandhu, whose Singapore-based Gajah Gallery sold two Masriadis for $350,000 and $200,000. Global stocks have been recovering in recent weeks. On Jan. 24, the S&P 500 topped 1,500 for the first time since 2007.

“There’s more of a buzz this year,” said Graham Steele, director of White Cube Hong Kong, who has sold several works by Antony Gormley and received “serious interest” in Hirst’s butterflies.

Disgruntled Gallerists

Not everyone is happy, however. Art Stage’s Swiss founder Lorenzo Rudolf has set up his own Indonesian pavilion, angering many galleries that represent artists from that country.

“There is a conflict,” said Meli Angkapripta, whose husband owns Jakarta-based Nadi Gallery which is selling Indonesian artist Handiwirman Saputra. “The gallery shows his work and Art Stage invites him to the pavilion too. It would be better if he brings artists not already represented.”

In an interview, Rudolf said the pavilion was necessary because of the lack of a proper Indonesian art infrastructure and to “give the galleries a kick to go into the international level.”

Last year, many galleries complained when Rudolf organized a trip to Indonesia for important collectors in the middle of the fair, leaving them with fewer potential customers.

Rudolf started Art Basel Miami during his 1991-2000 stint as director of Art Basel, the world’s biggest contemporary art fair. While Art Basel Hong Kong has established itself as the most important international art fair in Asia, Art Stage has increasingly focused on becoming a Southeast Asian art hub.

Asian Wealth

This year, more than 70 percent of the 130 participating galleries are Asian, many drawn to Art Stage because of the growing wealth in Southeast Asia.

Asia-Pacific millionaires outnumbered those in North America for the first time, according to a report in June last year by Cap Gemini SA and RBC Wealth Management.

Singapore has 91,200 U.S. dollar millionaires, more than regional rival Hong Kong, with 83,600. It also has the highest ratio per capita -- almost one in six -- of any country in the study, the report said.

Helga Edwards, who represents London-based Halcyon Gallery, is exhibiting at Art Stage for the first time with paintings by Dylan based on earlier sketches he did while touring.

The most expensive canvas, done in 2007, carries a 395,000 pound ($624,000) price tag.

Tokyo-based Gallery Koyanagi is also making its Art Stage debut with black-and-white photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Art Stage Singapore is at the convention center of the Marina Bay Sands through Jan. 27. Information: +65-6224-4975 or http://www.artstagesingapore.com.

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Lewis Lapham on history.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.