After multiple delays due to Covid-19, Art SG, Southeast Asia’s largest ever art fair, the most sizeable art fair launch in the Asia-Pacific region in a decade and among the most important art fair debuts anywhere on the globe ever, finally gets underway. Singapore is definitely having its moment with Art SG having attracted blue-chip art galleries from around the world as well as strong local and regional players. The atmosphere at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre is positively buzzing and art collectors are out and about. I sit down with art fair veteran and Art SG co-founder, Magnus Renfrew, to discuss the genesis of Art SG and his hopes for the fair.
How did the idea to create Art SG first come about? Why did you choose Singapore for the launch of the first fair of such scale and international significance in the region?
Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus had been exploring the possibility of launching a fair in Singapore for over a decade. I was brought on board as co-founder in 2018. Together, we formed the strategy and direction of the fair. We wanted to create a hub fair for Southeast Asia that could serve the rapidly growing audience for contemporary art in the region. Singapore is the natural hub for the region, with exceptional infrastructure, hotels and restaurants. Both English and Mandarin are commonly spoken, it is the financial hub and wealth management hub for the region, it is regarded as “neutral territory” and there is probably nowhere in the world where everyone feels so equally at home.
What is the fair’s premise and what impact do you hope to have on the Singaporean art scene?
The premise of the fair is to foster greater connectivity between galleries, artists, collectors and curators from the region with their counterparts elsewhere in Asia and around the world. The natural catchment area for Singapore is Southeast Asia, a little bit of Australia, a little bit of India. Art SG is how we can bring these communities together in Singapore and provide the opportunity to connect them with each other and the rest of Asia.
What are some of the highlights of Art SG?
It is difficult to pick favorites! The strength and scale of our gallery list will be the most significant draw. It is the biggest art fair launch in Asia in a decade and one of the biggest art fair launches anywhere ever.
Why did you decide to focus on digital art and works on the blockchain?
We have the Reframe sector dedicated to art produced in digital media. A lot of the conversations over the past 18 months surrounding NFTs have been focused on investment and speculation. We wanted to contextualize work within the greater context of digital art production over the past decades and to have a meaningful discussion. Singapore is acknowledged as a major hub for the tech industry and has a strong blockchain community. We are excited to be able to foster more conversations between the worlds of art and tech.
What can we expect from the public art programs of large-scale, site-specific installations?
We will have several large scale installations at the fair to help showcase art beyond the bounds of the traditional art fair booth.
What goes into the curation of the galleries and artists at Art SG? What are your selection criteria?
We have a selection committee of gallerists whose role it is to review all applications and to decide which galleries to accept. Applications are evaluated on the strength of the galleries’ exhibition program, the caliber of artists that the gallery represents and the strength of the specific proposal submitted for what they will show at the fair.
How is Art SG differentiating itself from other art fairs? How will you give Art SG a Singaporean touch, tailoring it to the local and regional markets?
Art SG is the largest art fair in Southeast Asia and the biggest art fair in Asia since the pandemic. It differs from other art fairs in the region through its scale, quality and internationalism. International visitors will be interested to discover the city when traveling in for Art SG. We have put together a VIP program of events, gallery openings, museum shows and studio visits to allow visitors to discover the best that Singapore has to offer.
How are you working jointly with Sandy Angus and Tim Etchells on Art SG, pooling decades’ worth of experience, expertise and extensive global networks?
It is our diversity of experience and expertise that has meant that we have been able to successfully launch art fairs such as Art HK and Taipei Dangdai. Galleries from around the world know us and trust our vision given our track record of delivery.
What lessons did you learn from Art HK, Taipei Dangdai and India Art Fair that you’ll apply to Art SG?
To build local and regional support, to maintain rigorous standards of selectivity and to focus on developing new audiences.
What is the potential for development of Southeast Asian contemporary art and its rising stars?
There is huge potential for the development of Southeast Asian contemporary art. Exceptional work is being produced by artists across the region, which deserves a wider audience. It is our aspiration that we can play a major role in this.
What are the projected Art SG attendance numbers, and how much sales is the fair expected to generate?
We anticipate an attendance of around 40,000 people. Sales are private transactions between galleries and collectors and so we do not have access to these figures.
Who are the biggest buyers of Southeast Asian contemporary art today, and what kinds of collectors are you targeting in particular at Art SG?
Artists from Southeast Asia are gaining ever wider attention and their work is being collected by major international institutions as well as private collectors. It is important to emphasize that Art SG is truly global in scope and we will have 150 plus leading galleries from 30 countries participating from across the world.
What have been the main challenges of putting together the fair thus far?
The pandemic was incredibly challenging and meant that the launch edition had to be postponed. However, we prevailed stronger and have assembled one of the most significant exhibitor rosters that compares favorably with any art fair in the world.
What are your plans for future editions of Art SG? Where do you hope to take the fair in five to 10 years’ time?
We aspire to make Singapore an essential stop on the art world calendar and to forge long-term and meaningful relationships between Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.