ART SG fair goes ahead with new backer

One year before the debut of new art fair ART SG, one of the three partners in the venture, MCH Group, parent company of the famous Art Basel brand of art fairs, has exited the partnership.

Taking its place is art-fair doyen Magnus Renfrew, co-owner and director of the new Taipei Dangdai fair in January. He and the two ART SG co-founders Tim Etchells and Angus Montgomery Arts had worked together for over a decade on the ART HK fair, which was later acquired by MCH Group and rebranded Art Basel Hong Kong.

Mr Etchells and Angus Montgomery chairman Sandy Angus are also behind the upcoming Taipei Dangdai, as well as the Art Central contemporary art fair in Hong Kong, held every March since 2015.

Art Central's fair director, Singapore-born Shuyin Yang, has been named fair director of Art SG, slated to run from Nov 1 to 3 next year at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Over the telephone, Mr Renfrew, 43, dismisses the idea of competition between ART SG and the fairs in Hong Kong and Taipei. For starters, Taipei Dangdai is aimed at domestic collectors, he says.

He also compares the South-east Asian countries with a population of 650 million to Europe, total population 740 million. "We have many different art fairs of significant quality across Europe. There's opportunity in Asia to have a number of different events," he says.

He says Singapore will be a "touch point" to engage "a substantial and affluent base of potential collectors around South-east Asia".

"I think the fairs elsewhere in the region are performing less well than (expected)," he adds, declining to name names.

Singapore's flagship international art fair, the eight-year-old Art Stage Singapore, has reported falling exhibitor and visitor numbers since 2016. This January's edition had 84 exhibitors, compared with 131 last year and 170 in 2016.

Despite this, MCH Group had seemed confident of engaging South-east Asian collectors over the long term.

Since July however, the company, known for its art and luxury fairs around Europe, has faced financial setbacks as watch company Swatch pulled out of MCH Group's 2019 trade fair Baselworld.

Last Friday, the group announced cost-savings measures, including selling shares in India Art Fair and pulling out of ART SG. It is focusing on the existing Art Basel parcel of art fairs in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong.

ART SG plans to bring in around 80 established and experimental contemporary art galleries next year.

They will be chosen by a selection committee - still being set up - and focus on South-east Asia, with room for international galleries keen to engage with the region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'ART SG fair goes ahead with new backer'. Print Edition | Subscribe