How one Singaporean is connecting peoples and cultures through art

Far from home in Washington, DC, Singaporean art consultant Peggy Sparks is contributing to the robust arts scene in the United States’ capital by showcasing Singaporean artists. She shares how artists can evolve with the times as the art industry goes online.

12 February 2020 / By SGN

Art is constantly evolving and for Singaporean art consultant Peggy Sparks, that means being constantly challenged to adapt to the changes in the commercial art industry in the digital age.

“Most transactions now take place online,” shares Peggy. “Adapting to changing acquisition patterns would probably be the greatest challenge for most art retailers.

Peggy shares more about how the art industry has transformed both in the capital city of the United States and beyond, as well as how more Singaporeans can develop their careers in the art industry.

Championing artists in Singapore

Peggy began her career with a fine art gallery in Singapore.

“The commercial art scene was just starting to develop, and I was lucky to be a part of it. Being such a small market, we worked with artists not only from the city but from the region – representing artists from Indonesia, Vietnam and China. It really allowed for a fascinating understanding of the various histories of the region through the arts.”

Her time in the gallery also gave her the opportunity to meet many artists.

“I cherished the relationships I was able to build with artists, both local and regional – to learn their stories and support their work. Being an artist is not for the faint-hearted – especially for Singaporeans – so when a gallery is able to champion an artist, it often changes the trajectory of their careers.”

Setting up shop in DC

Peggy moved to Washington, DC in 2012, where she opened Artist’s Proof, a fine art gallery in Georgetown and has not looked back. Though the art industry is quickly evolving all over the world, being based in DC does have additional advantages.

Peggy points out that DC is home to some of several renowned museums, including the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Freer and Sackler galleries.

“DC’s art scene is very robust. On a city level, it is definitely experiencing a resurgence because the DC government has started to invest in the local arts.”

“Peggy Sparks at her gallery, Artist’s Proof”

In fact, Peggy reveals that there are many opportunities in Washington, DC, for Singaporeans looking to join the art industry in some form.

“The museums here offer internships and curatorial positions while many institutions of higher education in the city have great art programs. With so many embassies in DC, you can find several international exchange programs and even cross-cultural opportunities with artists’ residencies.”

A different art industry in the digital age

According to Peggy, a shift towards an online experience has led to a broader supply of art, one that is not restricted by a limited number of gatekeepers.

“It used to be that galleries select artists that they show based on careful curation by experts in their field. With the ability to purchase online, artists who have previously not been able to find representation with galleries now are able to show their works – which is of course a wonderful thing because very often the choices made by galleries can be opaque.”

Her joy comes from running a gallery that makes art interactive and accessible

This has led to many new artists being discovered by a broader audience, often bypassing the galleries altogether.

“Many successful artists now are those who are better able to capitalise on new technology and by marketing themselves on social media. Think about Yayoi Kusama and her infinity mirror rooms. Instagram has made this artist a household name.”

The challenge for Peggy as a gallery owner in this digital world, therefore, is to play a role that brings value to both artists as well as her clients.

“Collectors are unable to know the quality of art they are purchasing online because the curation process is non-existent. I often advise clients to be careful in acquiring works. We often study the market, check the auctions and compare prices around the globe.”

Peggy takes great pride in sharing an artist’s story with prospective clients

In her years as an art consultant, Peggy has worked hard to advocate for artists to prospective clients by revealing the compelling story behind the artwork.

“A great work of art tells you many stories; stories about the artist, stories about the time it was created, stories about why a certain type of paint was used, stories about why he chose to paint in that particular light, stories about why he chose to have just that tiny hint of a smile.”

Connecting people through art

Peggy sees art as the perfect medium to communicate and connect peoples of different backgrounds.

“When you look at a painting, you are seeing the world through the artist’s eyes. You are seeing a different story unfold, one that is probably not your reality. Once you are forced to take a different perspective, you cannot help but empathise and that creates an intangible connection to someone else’s reality.”

Peggy’s work also takes her outside the gallery, like this art exhibit with celebrated pop artist John Stango

As a Singaporean, one of Peggy’s goals is to showcase artists from her home country to a broader audience.

“An artist that I have worked with for a few years is Singaporean painter, Quek Kiat Sing. She does various style of contemporary ink paintings. The series that I appreciate the most is her Arrangement Fantastique series where she translates classical images, such as many iconic French Impressionist compositions, through her preferred medium, rice paper.

“She appropriates Western imagery and reconstructs it on her own stylistic foundations and relishes in how Impressionism, once regarded as crude and unfinished, could be further minimized by Chinese impressionistic ink strokes. Quek likens the process to re-arranging a piece of classical music by infusing an Asian twist.”

When asked what aspiring Singaporeans looking for a career as an art consultant should have, Peggy named two things – experience and passion.

“As with any other careers, having experience and/or a supporting academic background would be vital. It would be helpful to work in galleries or art institutions that can give you client-facing and project management experience. But honestly, I think more vital is the passion to support the arts and artists that you love.”

Want to read more about Singaporeans making a name in the world of the arts? Check out our profile of dancer Adelene Stanley.