Art SG 2024 D1B
Art SG 2024

The interview: Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of Art SG, on the state of the art show

By Hamish Mcdougall

Co-founder of Art SG, Magnus Renfrew talks us through the rising regional art market, the growing global interest in Southeast Asian talents, and the next generation of collectors.

Visitors are already streaming in as the doors open to the final Sunday of the Art SG fair in Singapore, eager to take in – and perhaps to take home – works presented by 114 galleries from 33 countries. This second edition of the fair cemented its position as one of the most important art shows in the region, with a record attendance of more than 45,000 enthusiasts, collectors and curators. Co-founder Magnus Renfrew unpacks the highlights and insights, so far, from this second edition of Art SG.

Boulevard: You’re back! What’s changed since the inaugural Art SG fair in 2023?

Magnus Renfrew: The biggest development this year has been the incredible way in which the city has embraced the fair. There’s been a marked step up in activity and ambition. The shows at the National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum have drawn a lot of attention.

And there’s been a very strong attendance from collectors from right around the region. We did events in Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai that seem to have paid off.

We really wanted to try to attract a cross-section of buyers and collectors, those who are involved with the art world as advisors or consultants, and also institutional curators, museum directors. We’ve had the chief curator from the Pompidou Centre here; we’ve had curators from the Tate, from LACMA, and even from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. So it’s been a very strong attendance.

Art SG 2024

Blvd: And how has the fair evolved? Do you have the same mission and ambitions in 2024 as when you first set out?

Renfrew: We see the fair as serving Southeast Asia, which has a population of 650 million – it’s about the same size as Europe. So logic dictates that it deserves a decent international art fair. The region is also home to many of the fastest-growing economies in the world, so it’s an incredible opportunity for international galleries to come and meet potential collectors. The fair can be a focal point around which people galvanise, but it’s also an opportunity to see shows around the city, museums and private foundations, and to experience other lifestyle elements. The talk every morning, when the galleries come in, is – where did you eat last night?

Blvd: Who would you say the visitors are, and particularly the buyers? What’s the profile?

Renfrew: There are some collectors who are very established, but there’s also a younger generation coming through who are internationally educated, and because of the digital age, they’ve got access to all the information that you could possibly want to have. And so their tastes are perhaps more diverse than their parents’ generation, and I think there’s a desire to build an international and cross-cultural collection, but also to support one’s home territory and to encourage the local artist community.

Blvd: How do you see the art market faring against the backdrop of wider economic uncertainty?

Renfrew: Well I think we’re in a growth market here. While globally there may be headwinds and inflationary pressures and so on, for galleries in Southeast Asia, the time is ripe for a huge degree of expansion. The art market has moved on from a few years ago, when it was very much centred on China. There’s an opportunity to play a role in expanding the market, and I find that job fun and compelling to do.

Blvd: And how has that translated into sales this year so far?

Renfrew: There have been good conversations and good sales happening each day. This year it feels like we’ve had more sales than last year in the six-figure US dollar bracket, which I think is really encouraging, particularly in these market conditions. And we’ve had a number of transactions in the million-plus bracket which is pretty solid.

Art SG 2024

What we found last year is that things happened right up until the final whistle at five o’clock on Sunday – and often nowadays transactions are happening in the weeks and months following the fair as well. I think fairs are becoming first touchpoints, where transactions are not limited purely to the work itself.

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