ART SG 2024: Interview with its co-founder and fair director on Singapore's rise as the new Asian art hub

For many years, Hong Kong has joined New York and London as one of the world's top three international art markets. But with its regional rival Singapore gaining ground, particularly with the launch of ART SG last year – the event which billed itself as Southeast Asia’s largest-ever art fair – many have wondered if the city-state would become the new Hong Kong and take its crown off. 

At the beginning of 2024, ART SG is returning for its second edition at the Marina Bay Sands, from 19 to 21 January. Notably, this year's exhibitor list is significantly smaller than that of last year, lacking major galleries like Pace, David Zwirner, and Perrotin.

Ahead of its public opening day, The Value wrote to Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of ART SG, and Shuyin Yang, fair director, to learn more about Singapore's rise as Hong Kong's major competitor in the international art scene, as well as ART SG 2024's appeal. 

(Left) Magnus Renfrew, Co-Founder; (right) Shuyin Yang, Fair Director

In the past, Hong Kong has been a major hub for the Asian art market, and Art SG has now emerged as a challenger. What role do you envision Singapore playing in the future Asian art market?

Magnus Renfrew: One of the main reasons we wanted to launch a fair in Singapore is because of its unique position as the nexus of Southeast Asia.

The region has a population of 650 million – comparable to that of Europe – and is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, so logic dictates that the region deserves one international fair that can be a catalyst for the art market, connecting international galleries with local collectors.

The case for Singapore itself as a dynamic arts hub is continuing to build as it is recognised as the Asia centre of wealth management and is gaining greater importance geo-economically and geo-politically.

ART SG 2024 PLATFORM installation image, Marcos Kueh,Woven Billboards: Nenek Moyang (part of the
Kenyalang Circus series), The Back Room | Courtesy of ART SG

Compared to Hong Kong, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the operating environment for the art industry in Singapore? Do you think Singapore has the potential to replace Hong Kong as the Asian art hub? 

Shuyin Yang: The potential of Asia is huge, and each region within it has its own unique characteristics and strengths, and with the considerable growth of the art market in Asia, there is a need for all of the different constituencies to be to be served.

We do not see these market hubs as being in competition with each other, there is room for both markets to thrive, which is evident through MCH’s (the parent company of Art Basel) acquisition of a 15% stake in ART SG.

Singapore truly has a 360-degree view as the acknowledged hub of the Indo Pacific and this makes it the natural convening point for a diverse region. For the art world it makes it an incredible location in which to discover the breadth of cultural production from Southeast Asia and to connect Southeast Asia to the rest of Asia and beyond. The cultural landscape in Singapore is developing rapidly with great museums, commercial galleries and an increasingly active community of collectors.

ART SG 2023 showcased an assembly of leading galleries from the region and around the world | Courtesy of ART SG

The debut of ART SG in 2023 brought together galleries, artists and collecting audiences from Southeast Asia, Asia and around the world to Singapore | Courtesy of ART SG

Which collectors does Art SG target as its customer base? Does it overlap with Hong Kong? 

Shuyin Yang: Apart from the curated content of the fair, ART SG aspires to be about the people, the experiences and the relationship‑building. ART SG is designed to appeal to a wide range of audiences—and I think we delivered that with the first edition.

We welcome collectors from all over the world to the fair halls, and one of most exciting outcomes we witnessed from the inaugural iteration was that many galleries met new collectors at ART SG, fostering new relationships, as well as having the opportunity to reconnect with other collectors, galleries, artists, and museum professionals from around the world. of

During the preview day of ART SG, we welcomed a strong audience from Singapore, as well as regional and international collectors from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Korea, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan as well as Europe and the United States.

Art Basel Hong Kong returned full steam in 2023

In the primary market, what are the collecting habits of local and nearby Southeast Asian collectors in Singapore? How do international galleries adapt to local characteristics? 

Shuyin Yang: Collecting interests among Southeast Asian collectors have expanded rapidly over the past decade.

While fifteen years ago, there was a preference for artworks created within Southeast Asia, due to cultural familiarity and a strong history of modern art within the region, in recent years there has been increasing interest and appetite for Asian and international artworks, due to various reasons, such as a new generation of young collectors who were educated overseas and received exposure to Western and international art from an early age, the ease of travelling for art fairs and a greater familiarity with international galleries, as well as a number of foreign-owned galleries choosing to open spaces, present international showcases, or staff based within Southeast Asia to heighten engagement with the audience here. 

A number of foreign-owned galleries have chosen to open spaces in Southeast Asia, including WOAW Gallery which set foot in Singapore 

There has been an increasing number of young collectors entering the art market, and their preferences and tastes differ from the older generation. What is Art SG's perspective on this? Are there considerations in selecting exhibitors in this regard? 

Shuyin Yang: It is exciting to see a new generation of collectors engaged with contemporary art, and we are seeing a strong appetite for a balance between internationally recognised names and fresh discoveries. 

As a fair, our aim is to play a role in invigorating the art ecosystem in Singapore and Southeast Asia, and also create a touch point for Singapore and Southeast Asia to engage with the rest of the international art world.

At ART SG, we have a rigorous selection process for galleries applying to the fair to ensure the curatorial quality of the presentations and artworks, and that collectors receive access to a wide range of high-calibre artworks from around the world, which showcase the best of contemporary art practice.

ART SG attracted 43,000 visitors in 2023 | Courtesy of ART SG

What were the sales figures for the first edition of Art SG (e.g., total sales, highest-priced artwork, highlighted artists/galleries, customer distribution, etc.)?

Magnus Renfrew: Throughout the fair week for our inaugural edition, galleries reported robust sales, with works placed in major collections. Galleries highlighted an enthusiastic response from both established and emerging collectors from all corners of the world, with many commenting that ART SG had provided a great platform for meeting new collectors. We were delighted with the success of the first edition of the fair.

For reference: please note, galleries are not required to share sales information, so we therefore can not provide the total number of sales.

Top galleries such as Pace, David Zwirner, and Perrotin participated in Art SG last year, but they seem to be absent from the exhibitor list this year. Will this affect the appeal of the exhibition?

Magnus Renfrew: Not at all. We are delighted with the number and quality of participants for the second outing of ART SG in January 2024, which comprises a strong and curatorially balanced list of established and upcoming Singapore and Southeast Asian galleries, alongside leading international names from around the world. We are confident that ART SG will continue to be a critical meeting point and key destination for artistic exchange.

Lehmann Maupin | Lee Bul | Perdu V (2017) 

Kaikai Kiki Gallery | Aya Takano | April, dragon, dance, look, there are mysterious clouds (2021)

What are the highlights of this edition of Art SG? 

Shuyin Yang: We are anticipating with great excitement the second edition of the fair, following our strong launch last year. We are thrilled to welcome some of the world’s best‑known galleries, including Gagosian, White Cube and Lehmann Maupin, who will return to the fair, together with leading regional galleries such as Yavuz Gallery, STPI, Richard Koh Fine Art and Sullivan+Strumpf.

Joining them will be 38 new exhibitors, including Kaikai Kiki Gallery, who will present a curation of outstanding Japanese artists, particularly those engaging with the Superflat movement such as Aya Takano and Mr., Asia Art Center with a duo presentation of Taiwanese sculptors Ju Ming and Li Chen, as well as new Southeast Asian galleries including Nadi Gallery, Wei-Ling Gallery, The Back Room and Rissim Contemporary.

Southeast Asian highlights include a showcase by Richard Koh Fine Art reflecting on the evolving tapestry and rich visual language that is characteristic of the regional scene, including work by artists such as Htein Lin, Justin Lim, Ruben Pang and Yim Maline; as well as BANGKOK CITYCITY, making their debut at ART SG 2024, which will feature a new installation by Tanatchai Bandasak, large-scale paintings by Alex Face inspired by significant political movements in Thailand, and renowned Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai featuring his signature motifs of denim and fire, who is also spotlighted within our ART SG FILM program of artist films and video art.

Richard Koh Fine Art | Htein Lin | Cell Blocks (2006)

BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY | Fill still from Songs for Dying (2021) by Korakrit Arunanondchai