Located at 129 Jalan Besar, Flaneur Gallery may be a young art space at, but owners Mike Tay, 44, and Vincent Chow, 38, are passionate about using art as a platform to give back to society.
Flaneur Gallery is a partnership between collector and artist. How did that relationship begin?
Mike Tay [MT]: I started collecting are a few years back and I came across Vincent’s work on Facebook. He’d share the paintings he did there and it made me want to see his work and visit him at his studio. Eventually, I bought my first piece from him and that’s how the friendship started.
What made you decide to take the plunge and open Flaneur Gallery?
MT: I’m the kind of person who’d let things flow organically and had a fortune tell predicted that I would be a gallerist today, I’d have thought that he was siao (crazy) for saying that. Vincent is someone I felt that I could trust because of the way he’s lived his life (giving up a comfortable job as an engineering to pursue his passion in art). He had been running ‘minimART’ with a space at the Substation, where he’d offer artists a chance to have their own art shows for a nominal $30. It had been something he did single-handedly. And many artists have actually benefitted from sowing those seeds and they’d eventually go from that first opportunity to establish themselves and get represented by other galleries.
I found that very meaningful and very pure. Also, being 44 made me think about doing something for myself, to do something meaningful that will help benefit young artists. I had shared this with Vincent, he agreed, and the gallery started out from there.
So what inspired the name, Flaneur Gallery?
MT: I had been on the train with a friend and we talked about enjoying that free-and-easy approach to travelling, like walking around leisurely and seeing things I want to see, and taking things more leisurely when I’m tired. And to that, my friend said that it was a very ‘Flaneur’, an unhurried way of seeing the world and appreciating the present moment. And in our location, it’s like calm space in the middle of Jalan Besar’s hustle and bustle.
How do you decide which artists to work with and the kind of art to feature?
Vincent Chow (VC): Firstly, the work has to excite us and make us want to share it with more people. It also depends on the artists whom we work with. With time, we’d know if we’d want to work with an artist on a longer term or if there are any differences in the way we approach things. Only time can tell how we work together. What really matters is that the artists are sincere and are easy to work with.
MT: We’ll attend museum and graduation shows. That’s one way we start sourcing artists. The artist’s choices of subject and colours will also matter. We’re looking for artists with stories to tell: things like social commentary, stories about their personal journeys, and how they react to our changing landscapes—stories that we are concerned about and how they’re translated in art. Integrity is also something very important. We work at a very fast pace here, with new shows almost every fortnight. So if we’re trying to change the perception of buyers, to look beyond collecting second-generation Singaporean artists and at the younger, emerging talents, we’d need good partners who are motivated, passionate and dedicated to the cause. If it was about money, then this wouldn’t be the best way to get it.
Tell us more about your focus on local artists and art.
VC: We believe that there are a lot of talented artists out there with not enough platforms for them. But as we progress, we’d probably be able to work with foreign artists as well.
MT: We hope, in our own way, to play a little part in Singapore’s culture. We’re well-schooled in hard disciplines, while we’re weaker in the softer cultural areas. I would like to see this part of Singapore grow, and give young artists have a chance to bloom. By giving them the opportunity to share their stores, it’ll help cultivate culture beyond just digits and numbers. And we’ve managed to help quite a number of young artists ‘break out’ with a number of firsts. This is something we’d definitely want to keep on doing.
As a young gallery, what are your biggest challenges in Singapore’s competitive art scene?
MT: One of the main challenges is that we’re short of art collectors, and we’re still very young, with just five months of operations. So we have yet to let more people know about who Flaneur is, and who are the artists we carry.
Things are improving and we’re getting support from contacts in our own personal networks, like architects and designers. But we’ve also got support from individuals who have an exposure in arts, and they’ve also bought from us. We’ve also had friends telling us that people are watching our space, that the artists who are coming in to exhibit with us. The works we carry are quite varied and bold, which is good.
Do you think that there might be too many galleries and too little buyers?
VC: I think that it’s not yet common to collect the works from young local artists. This area is still quite new and people are not sure whether the works are worth collecting and investing in. They’d be more inclined then, to go for more established artists. They might be keen, just not sure, so we’d probably need time to nurture this group of collectors.
How would you describe the accessibility of the work here at Flaneur?
MT: I would think its affordable because for this exhibition here, the smallest piece here starts from $350, and the biggest ones is in the range of $2,000. Bearing in mind, these are actually trained practising artists and not one-offs. To us, art is something that you must like and enjoy, more than an investment that will appreciate in five to ten years.
How do you manage the commercial interests of the gallery and the aims of developing an artist?
MT: It is very difficult to say if art can be sold. We may like it, but it might not sale. So it’s difficult to project public interest, so what we can do, is rely on what we’re good at, which is discovering artists, and then let the public decide whether or not they like what they see.
We’ve also got a design space downstairs where we work with designers and retail their products. This would allow them to get to know the art part of what we do, and help each other and create an ecosystem for art and design.
So what’s on the cards for you this year?
MT: We’re thinking about promoting specific artists more serious beyond just the exhibitions we’ve run. We’ve got some in our shortlist, but we’re still firming up the details and explore how we can better hep them. We’re also working with the Majestic Hotel to promote our young artists to the hotel’s international guests. They had approached us about showing a slice of Singapore through art, and every month, we’d showcase two to three local artists at the hotel.
This story was first published in Vol 5 of Gallery & Studio.