Cover "Baby" (2022) by Alvin Ong at Yavuz Gallery (Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery)

Before Art SG makes its long-awaited debut in Singapore next January, co-founder Magnus Renfrew and fair director Shuyin Yang discuss what we can look forward to

The global art market made a strong recovery in 2021, with sales of art and antiques reaching an estimated US$65.1 billion—an increase of 29 per cent from 2020—according to the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2022. High-net-worth collectors also purchased more art and antiques in 2021 than they did in the previous year, as indicated in a UBS Investor Watch and Arts Economics survey.

This is good news for the organisers of Art SG, a new contemporary art fair set to launch in Singapore from January 12 to 15, 2023 (with the VIP preview on January 11) at Sands Expo & Convention Centre in Marina Bay Sands. Since it was first announced in 2018, the fair encountered a few stumbling blocks, including several postponements, but is now back on track with its vision intact.

“We saw a huge opportunity for an international-level art fair with strong participation from galleries in Southeast Asia and Asia as well as some of the best galleries in Europe and America,” says Art SG co-founder Magnus Renfrew. “It’s interesting when you look at how Southeast Asia has developed as a whole. You don’t quite realise that the region is at the same scale as Europe, and home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.”

Read also: Art SG Fair to Debut in January 2023 With Over 150 Galleries Confirmed

As a gateway to the region, “Singapore lends itself as a good location for an international art fair, which requires international attendance,” explains Renfrew. Art SG brings together more than 150 leading galleries of the world, including mega galleries such as Gagosian, Pace and White Cube—with some showing here for the first time—alongside significant local, regional and international galleries.

“These major international galleries are coming to Singapore to meet the collectors here and in the region,” says Art SG fair director Shuyin Yang. “They’re not going to other cities and meeting Southeast Asian collectors who have travelled there; they’re coming especially to have that engagement with collectors here.”

The fair is structured into four sectors to highlight both the gallery programmes and the different types of curation. The main Galleries sector features galleries with an established track record, showing artists central to their history, identity and programming. “We can expect to see some of the top names in the international art scene and the exciting discoveries they’re debuting in Asia,” says Yang.

Highlights include David Zwirner (Paris, Hong Kong, London, New York) and its significant line-up of international artists such as Colombian Oscar Murillo, American Josh Smith and German Neo Rauch, as well as Lehmann Maupin (New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, London) and its in-depth presentation of Malaysian-born artist Mandy El-Sayegh, alongside acclaimed South Korean sculptor and installation artist Lee Bul and rising Vietnamese American painter Tammy Nguyen.

The Focus sector spotlights solo or duo artist presentations. “It’s a good way for collectors to familiarise themselves more deeply with a specific artist or a small group of artists,” says Yang. Take, for example, Kukje Gallery’s (Seoul, Busan) solo showcase of new work by indigenous Australian artist Daniel Boyd, known to explore pre‑existing romanticist notions behind Australia’s colonial history.

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Meanwhile, the Futures sector, supports galleries under the age of six, with programmes that are in the emerging stage. “It shows what can come about when a young gallery works with young artists to express a sense of energy and enthusiasm to the audience,” says Yang. One highlight is Tropical Futures Institute (Cebu), whose bold and conceptually diverse presentation features Visayas-based painter Kristoffer Ardeña, German experimental artist Simon Speiser and American artist Adam de Boer.

Then there is the Reframe sector, which highlights new experimentations in digital art and works on the blockchain. “The potential of blockchain technology has unleashed a new wave of interest in work produced digitally,” says Renfrew. “We want to engage with these communities and, most importantly, take the conversation away from the speculative nature to provide context and focus on the art.”

This sector also seeks to put the works in a historical context, as galleries such as Bitforms Gallery (New York, San Francisco) and Kate Vass Galerie (Zurich) have been engaged in the digital sphere—for example, by working with artists who have been producing work algorithmically—for a long time.

Presented by founding and lead partner UBS, Art SG is organised by The Art Assembly, which is founded by art fair organisers Renfrew, Sandy Angus and Tim Etchells, who are behind major international art fairs such as Taipei Dangdai, India Art Fair and Sydney Contemporary. They will also debut the new art fair Tokyo Gendai in Japan next July.

Renfrew, the founding director of Art Basel Hong Kong (Art HK before it was acquired by MCH Group, Art Basel’s parent company) notes: “There’s a new generation of collectors coming through, what with the great transfer of wealth over the past five years or so, and this new [cohort] is plugged into the latest developments internationally in every respect, with art being one of them. We’re seeing a sea change across Asia. It may still take time, but it has the potential to transform the nature of the international art market.”

For now, “it’s an exciting moment for the art scene in Southeast Asia—and Singapore. Art SG’s gallery line-up is first-rate by international standards. It’s a real testament to the galleries’ commitment to and the potential they see in the region,” says Renfrew. “One of the most [vital] things for a hub fair is to have gravitational pull. We’re bringing a fair of this scale and quality—and that makes it a must-attend for those who have an interest in art around the region and beyond.”

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