‘It helps Hong Kong if other Asian cities do well’: Chinese gallerist Kevin Poon discusses his new Singapore gallery

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Connections between Singapore and Hong Kong run deep, says the cultural entrepreneur Kevin Poon ahead of launching the first space of his WOAW gallery in the Southeast Asian city to coincide with the launch of Art SG Singapore fair.

Since 2019, Poon, a Hongkonger, has maintained two spaces in his home city, one in Central and Wanchai, plus a location in Beijing’s duty free Blanc Art Space. “There is this narrative of whether Seoul or Singapore or whatever is the ‘new Hong Kong’, and people always ask the same questions,” Poon says. “To which I respond, ‘No!’ It is actually a collaboration, it helps Hong Kong if other Asian cities do well.”

Facade of WOAW gallery in Singapore

Courtesy of WOAW gallery

Poon, a DJ and social media influencer who has founded fashion brands and music festivals, moves fast: he decided to open in Singapore nine months ago, and found the 120 sq m location in a traditional Chinatown shophouse at 4 Ang Siang Hill only half a year back. “Singapore is the new hot spot, people are moving out here, and it’s a centre for Southeast Asia, which I have a big affinity for,” he says. “I read that a lot of Hongkongers are moving here, but I also know of a lot of people who go back and forth between the two. There is potential for new clients here, and a lot of wealth: once people have a lot of cars and watches, they ask what next?”

“All the real big shots, we already have five or ten common friends, the world is a local place now.”

While a young collector can be hard to define, Poon describes the quintessential one someone around 30 years old, who loves to learn, and who maybe has young children. Among his clients are one who founded a video gaming company in China, and the daughter of a foundation owner. “It is hard to put people in a box,” he says. But regardless of what age they are, or where they come from, Poon says he is likely to know them. “All the real big shots, we already have five or ten common friends, the world is a local place now.”

Despite the two cities’ ties—both are former British colonies with majority Han Chinese populations, and hotbeds of commerce and culture—Poon is the only Hong Kong gallerist to have an outpost in Singapore following the closure of Pearl Lam Gallery’s Gillman Barracks space in 2019. But Singapore is a magnet for Asian-Pacific international galleries, including Shanghai’s ShanghArt, Tokyo’s Ota Fine Arts, Whitestone and Mizuma, Malaysia’s Richard Koh, Sundaram Tagore, which is headquartered in New York, and The Columns Gallery, which has its primary space in Seoul. Australia’s Sullivan+Strumf has downsized in Singapore from a full gallery to an office. However, it has not attracted the concentration of outposts by Western galleries found in East Asian cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and increasingly Seoul. Poon surmises the primary reason is simply the geographic deterrence of flight times from North America.

Singapore’s global remoteness also in part drove Poon to opt for a downtown location over the traditional Singapore gallery complex Gillman Barracks. “Chinatown is an up-and-coming area, and I just wanted a shophouse,” he says. “People from New York can’t readily come out here, it’s so far, so it’s important to show them the image of Singapore, and for that you need a shophouse. Also, Singaporeans don’t like to travel even within the city, if something is more than 15 minutes away they are reluctant.”

Soimadou Ibrahim’s Patrick m’a locké (2022) will feature in the exhibition As Friends & Partners (until 4 March) at Woaw gallery Singapore

Courtesy of WOAW gallery

From fashion to music and marketing, Poon began his foray into the arts in 2013 with his concept store WOAW!, which stands for World of Amazing Wonders, and which sells limited edition accessories and lifestyle products. He also has dealt in art toys and editions, a popular but complicated category in Asia that now appears to be slowing after a boom. “Before, it was an entry way for young collectors, and when people started they were making like 100 editions every few months. Now every week there is a new release, but collectors would rather save up to buy an emerging artist’s work instead.”

WOAW opens on 12 January with a group show of 11 young artists including Soimadou Ibrahim, Cheung Tsz Hin and Charlie Roberts. As Friends & Partners (until 4 March) highlights urban ties as well as the gallery’s own community of artists, collectors and supporters.

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