Magnus Renfrew on establishing Art SG as a global meeting point for galleries

Poised as Asia-Pacific’s largest ever art fair in the decade, ART SG welcomes 160 leading galleries from 35 countries. Co-Founder of Art SG’s Magnus has global ambitions matched by the strength of his partners, such as Founding and Lead Partner, UBS and organizing partner The Art Assembly. Additionally, Singapore Tourism Board, has been introduced this year as a key partner in support of the platform to elevate Singapore’s standing in the visual arts scene across Southeast Asia.

Aside from international giants such as Gaogosian and David Zwirner, the fair will also be presenting respected Southeast Asian Galleries such as Yavuz Gallery, YEO Workshop and Ota Fine Arts to a mix of new collectors, art aficionados or the curious public to Marina Bay Sands. David Zwirner shared strong sales results on the first day, with half of the paintings at its booth sold within hours of opening, including two large scale paintings by Katherine Bernhardt, as well as works by Neo Rauch, Carol Bove, Marcel Dzama, Oscar Murillo, Thomas Ruff and Wolfgang Tillmans among others with a value totaling more than USD$2.5million.

The selection committee this year, with international connoisseurs such as Richard Koh, Shelly Wu, Ursula Sullivan and Simon Kirby, have carefully reviewed applications in deciding which galleries to accept to the fair, and was evaluated on the program, calibre of artists and strength of proposal.

Yunyi had the opportunity to field Magnus some hotly discussed topics in the lead up to this massive fair.

Popspoken: It would seem fair to say that ART SG has been a long time coming, having been postponed four times since the first announcement in 2019. How does it feel to finally see it become a reality in 2023 and have the past three years changed your vision for the art fair? If so, how?

Magnus: This has indeed been a long-awaited launch, and I am definitely very excited to see all our preparation efforts come to fruition in this inaugural opening of the fair. This will be Southeast Asia’s largest ever art fair; a critical meeting point for international galleries and collectors during Singapore Art Week 2023 and an amazing opportunity for Singapore to showcase what it has to offer to the local and international audience post-pandemic.

We are also thrilled to bring together over 160 leading galleries both regional and international to the hub of Singapore to highlight our local artists and galleries alongside globally renowned names. The robust exhibitor list demonstrates a strong commitment and shared belief in the importance of the art market in the region.

Our vision for the fair remains the same since when we first started, which is to create a hub fair for Southeast Asia that could serve the rapidly growing audience of contemporary art in the region.

Popspoken: Apart from the main Galleries sector, ART SG will also present FOCUS, FUTURES and REFRAME sectors that highlight some younger and more experimental artists, some with thematic presentations. Could you share more about how the team came to select these curatorial themes?

Magnus: We wanted to create an art fair that would offer something for everyone, and we figured that having these different sectors would avail valuable platforms that everyone can find/develop their interest in.

The FOCUS, FUTURES and REFRAME sectors keep the pulse on the latest developments in the international art scene, introducing new ideas, formats and industry players for collectors, curators, and the public to encounter.

FOCUS features galleries presenting in-depth solo or duo artist programmes, or curated thematic presentations, with an emphasis on Southeast Asian and Asian artists, as well as emerging to mid- career international names. Highlights include Kukje Gallery’s solo presentation of indigenous Australian artist Daniel Boyd, and MadeIn’s two-artist show, ”Reality Mining” featuring Xu Zhen and Ding Li.

Daniel Boyd  “Untitled (YMKSMRWAKP)”, Image Courtesy of Kukje Gallery

FUTURES is a sector dedicated to supporting young galleries under the age of six years, presenting specially created presentations for ART SG. This sector will present some of the most exciting rising talents in the global art scene, presented by innovative, cutting-edge galleries, including Capsule Shanghai, Tropical Futures Institute, Tabula Rasa, Warin Lab and LINSEED.

REFRAME is a sector for galleries presenting art that is engaged with, made or presented using digital technology, including digital painting, animation, immersive installations, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Pioneers of the digital art movement such as bitforms gallery and Kate Vass Galerie will be present, alongside respected contemporary names such as Vanguard Gallery.

These complement offerings from established vanguards of the local, regional and international art market that are participating in the GALLERIES sector.

Popspoken: During the pandemic, many of the commercial art institutions managed to pivot very successfully into the digital world to continue to make sales. That being the case, one could argue that there may be no need for a physical art fair. In light of this, do you think this has changed the role of the art fair today, or have there been any changes to the format of an art fair?

Magnus: Art fairs will continue to play an important role in the art market. According to respected reports, sales at art fairs totaled an estimated $16.6 billion in 2019, nearly 45% of total value sales that year.

While COVID-19 has by no doubt affected large-scale events in 2020-2021, we regularly receive feedback about the importance of physical connections and an eagerness for in-person events to return. Galleries have been expressing their strong desire to return to fairs as an important way of engaging buyers and meeting novice collectors, thus creating a new sales pipeline. We have received exceptional continued support for ART SG from galleries around the world that reflects this, which is reflected in our robust gallery list for the inaugural edition.

In addition to their transactional nature, art fairs are also meeting points for the art world and play a key role as an incubator for new connections, collaborations and projects. Nothing can replace the serendipity of standing next to someone at an art fair who introduces you to someone they think you should meet.

Popspoken: With the rapid changes we’ve seen in the art world in recent years, what kind of trajectory do you envision for the art world in Asia in the next five years?

Magnus: As Southeast Asia’s most selective and largest art fair to date, the launch of ART SG will create a defining moment in Asia’s cultural landscape and shine a spotlight on Singapore.

We hope that through this year’s fair, collectors, galleries, and art leaders will be inspired by the rich diversity of art that Singapore and the region have to offer. ART SG will thus be viewed as a key platform with global significance in the region’s cultural landscape, bringing the international community to Singapore each January to experience the best of contemporary art from Southeast Asia and around the world.

Art SG runs from 12 – 15 January 2022 at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are priced at SGD 30 (concession) and SGD 35 (adult) onwards.


Explore latest trends in contemporary culture


Explore latest trends in contemporary culture