The art collector discusses how the inaugural edition of international art fair Art SG, opening this week, could mark the beginning of a sea change in the local art scene

Alan Lo grew up surrounded by art, specifically the 20th‑century Chinese ink on paper works his father collected since the late 1970s. His understanding of the visual language grew when he studied abroad, having had the opportunity to see world‑class museum exhibitions.

Today, he is one of Hong Kong’s most enthusiastic supporters of the arts, and has served on the boards of numerous cultural institutions, including the grant funding platform Design Trust and independent non‑profit art space Para Site, as well as Art Basel’s Global Patrons Council and the Tate Asia‑Pacific Acquisitions Committee, among others.

So when cultural entrepreneur Magnus Renfrew founded Art HK: Hong Kong International Art Fair in 2007, he naturally invited Lo to serve on the advisory board.

“It was an eye‑opener for me because it was [my] first opportunity to see such a global programming of art coming [to Hong Kong],” says the restaurateur and property investor. “In the past, you would have had to travel across the world to art fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze. It was a huge difference to see the kind of museum‑quality art coming right to our doorstep.” (Art HK has since been rebranded as Art Basel Hong Kong, after it was acquired by MCH Group, the parent company of Art Basel, in 2011.)

Read more: Art SG: Why Southeast Asia Deserves an International Art Fair To Call Its Own

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Above One of the works in Lo's art collection includes "Crowd #6 (Hazelwood)" (2013) by Alex Prager (Photo: Alan Lo)

Renfrew will launch his newest international art fair, Art SG, this month, set to take place from January 12 to 15 (with the VIP preview on January 11) at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands, and Lo has been called upon to be part of the advisory group. “It’s long overdue for an international art fair to return to Singapore. I think there’ll be interest from across Southeast Asia, such as from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. There’s huge opportunity in Asia’s [art market]—and Singapore has a role to play, not just for those based here, but also [those] in the region,” says Lo.

With its vision to be a meeting point in Southeast Asia, Art SG features a strong line‑up of more than 150 international, regional and local galleries, including mega galleries Gagosian and White Cube. Joining Lo in the advisory group is his wife, Singapore‑born hospitality entrepreneur Yenn Wong of Hong Kong‑based Jia Group, alongside other names from Singapore and across the region, including The Hour Glass’s Michael Tay, The Lo and Behold Group’s Wee Teng Wen, and art collector Kim Camacho. These prominent collectors or leaders in their respective industries will assist the fair organisers to reach out to their individual networks and circles.

“The members of the Art SG advisory group are excited about what it means to launch a brand‑new platform in the post‑pandemic era. Collectors from the region are once again actively travelling to art fairs and biennales. We’re definitely seeing a lot more of young, first‑time collectors coming into the scene. Art SG is a great place for them to explore, to speak to some of the best galleries in the world and check out their programmes,” says Lo.

Don't miss: Art World Figures Celebrate Art SG’s Upcoming Launch in January 2023

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Above "Untitled" (1968) by Tadaaki Kuwayama (Photo: Alan Lo)
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Above "Wishbone" (2014) by Danh Vo (Photo: Alan Lo)

Despite the disruptions due to Covid‑19 as well as the volatility of the financial market, Lo says that the art market has continued to show strength and robustness. “There is demand to allocate capital into alternative assets, with art being one of them. With the influx of fresh capital into Singapore in the past few years, with family offices [being set up here], or just the growth of the wealth management space, the next five to 10 years will be interesting,” he says.

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.

So what is it that guides Lo’s collecting? “The great thing about the contemporary art world is you basically have access to artists from all over the world and various art practices. Contrary to our family collection, which is more disciplined with only Chinese ink on paper works, I think my collecting is a lot more impromptu,” he shares. “It’s thoughtful in the sense that I still like to deep dive into the artists’ practices to understand their backgrounds and what inspires them. You can see it’s cross‑disciplinary and global.”

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

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Above One of Lo’s recent art acquisitions includes "Secret in Scars" (2021) by Nigerian artist Wahab Saeed (Photo: Alan Lo)

His recent acquisitions include Nigerian artist Wahab Saheed’s Secret in Scars (2021) and French artist Rebecca Brodskis’ Les indécises (2020). And he has his eye on American painter Matt Bollinger: “His subject matter is often an ordinary day in middle America, whether it’s at a local gas station, or a convenience store in the suburbs—and I just love the poetry.”

Lo’s advice to aspiring young collectors who are just getting started: “See as much as you can. Talk to people such as the curators, and find yourself a good adviser. It’s good to work closely with art advisers to build a collection. They’re the professionals, they’re on top of what’s happening in the scene and would be able to advise on which artist, or direction, you would want to collect.”

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