Catching Up with Richard Koh

On the new gallery space in Gillman Barracks and exhibiting his private collection
By Ian Tee

Haffendi Anuar, 'Monument to Integrity XII' (detail), 2019, jesmonite casts, washers, nuts, bolts and stainless steel, 210 x 85 x 85cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Haffendi Anuar, 'Monument to Integrity XII' (detail), 2019, jesmonite casts, washers, nuts, bolts and stainless steel, 210 x 85 x 85cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

2019 began with a busy January for Richard Koh, founder of Richard Koh Fine Art (RKFA). The gallery is participating in two art fairs, with a group presentation at the inaugural Taipei Dangdai and a solo exhibition by emerging Singaporean artist Faris Nakamura at S.E.A Focus. In addition, he is also opening a new space in Gillman Barracks and an exhibition of works from his collection ‘Of Dreams and Contemplation’ at The Private Museum. We catch up with him to find out about these new developments and to hear his perspective on being both a gallerist and collector.

Haffendi Anuar, 'Monument to Integrity IV', 2019, jesmonite casts, washers, nuts, bolts and painted steel, 113 x 28 x 28cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Haffendi Anuar, 'Monument to Integrity IV', 2019, jesmonite casts, washers, nuts, bolts and painted steel, 113 x 28 x 28cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

After closing its location at Artspace @ Helutrans in 2015, RKFA has continued to maintain a presence in Singapore through showing at the Singapore Freeport and in pop-up installations. "We have not left Singapore," said Koh, "Gillman Barracks was on the table but we were too busy so it took almost three years to finally open." The space will open with Haffendi Anuar's first solo exhibition in Singapore. Entitled 'Midday Stanza', Haffendi presents an installation consisting wall sculpture to floor pieces that resemble architectural fragments from his capital city, Kuala Lumpur. The show is an extension of the artist's three-month residency at Acme Studios, London.

In light of the sudden cancellation of Art Stage Singapore 2019, RKFA will also be presenting works by Southeast Asian artists meant for the fair at its Singapore gallery.

Trong Gia Nguyen, 'The Last State', 2018, exhibition installation view at RKProjects in Bangkok. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art.

Trong Gia Nguyen, 'The Last State', 2018, exhibition installation view at RKProjects in Bangkok. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art.

Speaking to the different programmes across his spaces in three cities, Koh says, "The Singapore programme has always been more regional in its outlook while we show more local young artists in Kuala Lumpur." There is also a third space in Bangkok (RKProjects), a nonprofit pop-up gallery which will be in operation for two years. It aims to reflect innovative developments in the Southeast Asian scene by presenting ignored emerging practices. Its most recent exhibition in December 2018 featured Trong Gia Nguyen's installation 'The Last State' which was originally exhibited as part of the seminal 2012 exhibition 'The Sixth Borough' in New York.

'Of Dreams and Contemplation: Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh', 2019, exhibition installation view. Image courtesy of The Private Museum. Photo by Daniel Swee.

'Of Dreams and Contemplation: Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh', 2019, exhibition installation view. Image courtesy of The Private Museum. Photo by Daniel Swee.

His exhibition at The Private Museum will showcase 33 artworks from the gallerist’s collection spanning more than 20 years which map his journeys and interests. He says, "These works are almost like a time capsule and evoke specific memories from moments in my life.” When asked about works by artists he represents and would like to own, Koh mentions that his collectors always come first, adding "one of the best feelings from being a gallerist is when a good work gets placed in a home that truly appreciates and enjoys it."

'Of Dreams and Contemplation: Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh', 2019, exhibition installation view. Image courtesy of The Private Museum. Photo by Daniel Swee.

'Of Dreams and Contemplation: Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh', 2019, exhibition installation view. Image courtesy of The Private Museum. Photo by Daniel Swee.

Looking ahead, Koh holds the sentiment that more can be done to promote Southeast Asian art, especially by galleries and artists. This can be achieved through more collaborations among regional galleries, however it is also necessary to keep commercialism in check. "One main problem occurs when galleries prioritise profit at the expense of the artist's career," he explains. "Many artists also view sell-out shows as a sign of success which sometimes works against them. They end up overproducing and lose track of what being an artist is all about."

’Midday Stanza’ is on view from 23 January to 16 February 2019 at RKFA Singapore, while ‘Of Dreams and Contemplation: Selections from the Collection of Richard Koh’ runs from 23 January to 3 March 2019 at The Private Museum.