SINGAPORE — What do you get when a successful Singaporean contemporary artist and two serial entrepreneurs with a passion for art collaborate? You get Void Deck, an art and culture space dedicated to making art fun, casual and more inclusive and affordable.
“Before Void Deck, there wasn’t any space where you can comfortably interact with fine art or have a cultural experience, and not feel like you have to spend money,” explained co-founder Jazz Li.
According to the cultural entrepreneur, there is a gap in the market for spaces like this in Singapore and that is what Void Deck aims to fill. He also believes that being a cultural platform where people can integrate and experience cultural elevation and be exposed to all kinds of art is just the beginning as this can branch out to other opportunities in the field.
When Void Deck opened its doors in December 2021, they also wanted to dispel the misconception that art is formal, intimidating and only for the rich. “We travel a lot and we all feel there’s a certain disconnect between art and life in Singapore. We are trying to bridge and connect different tribes through art,” said Jahan Loh, one of the co-founders.
And he should know — Loh is one of Singapore’s most iconic contemporary artists who is also widely known across Asia. One of his most recognised works is ‘Pork Luncheon’, his pop art rendition of the Ma Ling luncheon meat can. Having exhibited his works both locally and internationally, he is someone who knows the ins and outs of the art scene.
Li and Loh are joined by serial entrepreneur Cheo Ming Shen who brings his expertise in business, investment and strategy into the fold. Cheo has had his fair share of pursuits having pioneered the social media influencer marketing scene way back in 2006 and dabbling in various businesses in different sectors as an investor.
Li shared that they invested “a low six figures” into the business with majority of it going into renovation and inventory in the initial stages. And when they partner with top artists from around the world, a significant portion of the revenue is split between the brand and creative agency or the artist they work with.
Making art more accessible
The trio is serious about making Void Deck a welcoming space for all, above everything else. Part of their strategy in making art more accessible to a wider audience is through art merchandise like art prints and collectibles, instead of originals.
“Our margins range from five to 50 per cent. We have chosen to offer certain collectibles and artworks at comfortable, accessible pricing. This comes at the expense of us not earning much from these items but we think that it is important to foster a relationship with our target audience,” Li explained.
Cheo, who is also an avid contemporary art collector, concurred, “Passion is what drives this project forward. The fundamentals of the business are there as well, but it is my personal interest in the space that motivates me.”
The partners share more insight into Void Deck’s journey with Yahoo Finance Singapore.
Why the name 'Void Deck'?
Li: When non-Singaporeans think of ‘void', they might think of a wide-open space where there’s freedom to do anything. When they think of ‘deck’, they think of a kind of platform. Void Deck is just that, an open to people and ideas, and it brings people together. It is also close to home.
Cheo: Singaporeans are familiar with it — it’s a space where they can congregate for events big and small.
What were the biggest difficulties and challenges since the launch?
Li: Manpower and time-training have been challenging. We can’t foresee the returns yet but we hope that the investments we put in the human capital will flourish in the long run and we will grow more talent.
Cheo: The biggest difficulty is managing our time. All three of us are engaged in multiple projects. On top of that, Void Deck exhibitions can be high intensity.
What makes Void Deck stand out from the other art spaces in Singapore?
Li: We do programmes with the biggest names in the world who only work with the top international art dealers or institutions. We want to present these exhibitions in a casual and inviting manner.
Cheo: I think it’s the genre of contemporary art, we feel it is more relatable to a wider base of people.
What do you hope to achieve with Void Deck?
Li: We hope that we’ll be able to get regular people — who have never thought of buying art — into art and make art a part of their lives. We want to make them feel that art is not alienating but is for everybody.
Who or what are you most inspired by?
Li: James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson, and Andy Warhol. Their oeuvre has transformed social consciousness and elevated how people think about their lives and the world around them.
Loh: I think my art reflects life. I am inspired by real-life, TV, animation, people, and places. But the artist who inspired me to create art is Osamu Tezuka, more specifically, his Astro Boy manga. I always wanted to be a cyborg with a human soul.
Cheo: My business partner, artist Jahan inspires me. As a local artist, I think he has the chops to go global. I love the aesthetics of his art pieces, and my favourite is a ‘Genesis’ maquette by him, which started my foray into the space.
What’s in the pipeline?
Cheo: We might want to mix it up a little after three art shows. You will have to wait and see.