Art exhibitions and events in Singapore: Interview with Art Stage 2017 founders, Maria Elena Rudolph and daughter Coco
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Art Stage 2017: A Family Affair

Nowhere does art have such a deep-rooted foundation than in the veins of the Rudolf household; just ask Maria-Elena, Vice President of Art Stage, and her daughter Coco, whom we captured amid the thought-provoking offerings at the contemporary art fair’s seventh instalment
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When you're a kid, being ushered from museum to museum, art gallery to art gallery would probably not be your idea of fun. And that was the case with Coco Rudolph, the youngest child of Lorenzo and Maria Elena Rudolph, the husband and wife team behind Art Stage Singapore, which held its seventh edition in February this year. “I was always dragged, let’s say, to museums and exhibitions,” says Coco, smiling as she reminisces about her childhood. “To be honest, it made me a little distanced from art at the beginning because, you know, you’re a little child and you don’t always want to see everything. But looking back, it was such an enriching experience. Every new city we went, we would visit the museums and learn about the history of the place. My dad loves the history of everything, and he loves going back to the origins of things to see how they developed. So I picked up that way of thinking, and I’m very thankful for that.”

Likewise, Coco’s siblings Pablo and Carolina were similarly impacted. “My brother left a very good job in Washington to come to Singapore to work. He was very interested in art and he really wanted to make a difference through art. My sister was a young mother, so maybe she couldn’t pursue her passion in art, but now she is going to do a course in art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, so I think she really wants to get into it,” reveals Coco, who is multilingual (she speaks English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and Swiss German), used to do PR in Switzerland for a luxury brand, and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in International Business in London.

Maria Elena, a vivacious native of Ecuador, takes great pride in the fact that her children have been so influenced by art, but readily acknowledges the toll it took on them when they were young. “I know it wasn’t easy for them as children to be brought around to museums and exhibitions, and they might not have been comfortable with that life,” she admits. “But I realise how important it was to surround them with art all of the time, because you see the results now that they are adults and they appreciate art.”

As the fair’s Vice President, Maria Elena plays a key role in fostering relationships with and between artists, curators and galleries. “It is intense work that happens on a daily basis,” she says. “It means having to travel a lot as we have to visit collectors, match-make them [with artists and galleries] and be in contact with them. It’s an ongoing duty that cannot only be done just before the fair – it has to happen throughout the entire year.”

“Artists put into their work all the manifestations of society, what’s happening now – something that society thinks about collectively but cannot express. Art is the only language that is global.” Maria Elena Rudolph

We chat with Maria Elena and Coco about Art Stage, growing up with art, and personal style.

What’s the biggest challenge of keeping Art Stage going?

Maria Elena (ME): I wouldn’t say that there is one big challenge. Every fair is different and each edition evolves to remain relevant. We need to always present innovative content and, against the uncertain global economic and political backdrop today, Art Stage Singapore 2017 set its course in a new direction with in-depth content offerings through the Southeast Asian Forum exhibition and lecture series, and the Collectors’ Stage exhibition. This positioned the Fair beyond a market platform. Art Stage Singapore also understands the importance of developing a cohesive Southeast Asian art market to enable the region to be more competitive vis-à-vis the other more developed global art markets in the West and China.

Were you exposed to a lot of art as a child?

ME: Yes! In South America, we are used to growing up with art, especially street art, costume art and art in the church, museums and schools, so for us, art is a part of life! Last Christmas, when we returned to Ecuador, we saw so many manifestations of costumes on the streets every day – art is such a huge part of our history. I have a great passion for the arts – theatre, singing, music. I always wanted to be a professional theatre practitioner – I studied theatre for three years at university. Theatre was a huge influence in my life. I wanted to be an actress, but ended up with a degree in Sociology instead! (laughs)

Coco, do you see yourself pursuing a career in art?

Coco (C): I’m interested in everything that’s artistic – be it theatre, music, the culinary arts, luxury lifestyle, fashion or art. So, there’s definitely something there that interests me, not necessarily just visual art. 

Why is art so important?

ME: Artists put into their work all the manifestations of society, what’s happening now – something that society thinks about collectively but cannot express. In that way, they influence us to recognise and appreciate what society is about now – politically, economically, all aspects – because they have the freedom and authority to do so. Art is the only language that is global. 

C: It’s an expression of how an individual feels being part of a certain society, which is why it is so important for them to have that freedom of expression. Through art, we can see what a certain civilisation has been through, wants and expects from a government or a certain political leader. And then, it’s also aesthetically pleasing, something beautiful to adorn your home with in a more intellectual way.

Where would you consider home?

ME: I feel at home wherever I am! It all depends on you, how you treat the environment. Home is where you are.

C: For me, probably Lugano – that’s where I went to high school and spent my formative years, a time when you have your first experiences, your first boyfriend, your first serious friends. But Singapore too is home because it’s where my parents live, and I can come home and have a good meal!

What’s your personal style?

C: I like everything really, it depends on the mood and occasion. The constant factor is that I’m drawn to things that are elegant, so much so that when I was 16 or 17, I remember my mum saying, “You’re dressing like an old woman! Can you please wear a short skirt or show more cleavage!” But my mum and I both like things that are flamboyant too.

ME: I’m the same, but maybe... less conservative. (laughs) And I love it! It’s just part of my personality. The most important thing in the world is to be you, and to make people respect you for who you are, and you respect them in return. I grew up in very conservative religious schools and went to a Catholic university. When you grow up in that way, you feel that you’ve lost something of your personality. Freedom is the most important thing, which leads me back to the freedom of expression in art. As a sociologist, I notice that that is lacking in many countries – many people would love to be different but they can’t. That makes me very sad.

What do you do in your free time?

ME: I love walking! I walk to the Singapore Botanic Gardens from my home at Cairnhill Road with my friends at 6am and then we go for a local breakfast. That’s the best way for me to relax and keep in contact with nature, and to be energised. 

C: Probably my favourite thing to do is spending time with my family because I don’t live with them – I’m based in London. Since I was 17, I haven’t seen them a lot, so whenever I can, I get on a plane and go see my sister and my wonderful niece who live in Zurich, for example. I also enjoy working out – that’s a new hobby. I have a personal trainer in London; he kills me, but he’s amazing!

 

Photography: Joel Low

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