ART SG Co-Founder Tells-all on Southeast Asia’s Largest-Ever Art Fair | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

The ART SG logo reinvented in an installation conceptualized by London-based design studio The Plant with tropical plants endemic to Singapore by Humid House


“The relentless boom in the art market is a topic of conversation” (Sarah Thornton, “The Fair”). When we asked long-time fair founder Magnus Renfrew what he thought about Thornton’s claim that art fairs are a challenging environment for artists, the ART SG co-founder pointed out that “This book was written some years ago” and “whilst some artists feel ambivalent about being so close to the market, many artists now see art fairs as another avenue to engage with new audiences.” While Thornton’s quoted book Seven Days in the Art World was written in 2008, we easily see how more than 10 years later, the environment of the global fair has changed into something more than just a spectacle of business and trade, but as Renfrew anticipates for the upcoming fair ART SG – an “exchange of ideas”.

With more than 150 galleries from over 30 countries, Singapore is about to host Southeast Asia’s largest Art Fair with over 1000 artists. Presented by lead partner UBS and right in time with Singapore’s art week, the inaugural ART SG was highly anticipated even before the pandemic. The participating space Cebu-based Tropical Futures wrote in a post, “After three hard years of a pandemic, cancellations, and start/stops, the fair is launching with much excitement” – and at this moment likely fine-tuning for its VIP launch at the Marina Bay Sands this January 11, 2023. Apart from the main gallery presentations, there will be specially curated solo and duo exhibitions in the FOCUS sector, a space for young galleries running for less than 6 years in the FUTURES sector, and REFRAME, presentations on the dawn of art in digital technology. Visitors will also be treated to large-scale installations, films, and thought-provoking talks. 

ART SG Co-Founder Magnus Renfrew
ART SG Co-Founder Magnus Renfrew

The Lifestyle.INQ team was in luck getting an insider interview via email with veteran fair organizer Magnus Renfrew. As the ART SG co-founder alongside fair director Shuyin Yang, he has had over twenty years of experience in the international art world as founding director of ART HK, Art Basel Hong Kong, and Taipei Dangdai. The founder of ARTHQ, a leading service provider for the art world, his generous work has advanced the industry in Asia by leaps and bounds. Cited by ArtReview twice as one of the 100 most influential people in the international art world, Renfrew reflects that “Launching a fair is a demanding and exhilarating experience” as he continues to build the ecosystem of contemporary art. 

In this exclusive article, Renfrew tells all about the inaugural fair from ART SG’s vision for Southeast Asian Art, the Philippines in the global art scene, and recommends talks to visit and booths to see.

An Expansive Vision for Southeast Asian Art

“Over the past two years Asia has surpassed North America and Europe to become the world’s largest art market, accounting for about 36% of the world’s turnover” (Sotheby’s, Asia’s Art Market Is Back in Business 2022). This inaugural edition of ART SG intends to be a catalyst to expand the art market in Asia even further. Full of ambition, diversity, infrastructure, and environmentally-friendly spaces, Singapore is at the center of the region making it a hub for art in Asia. Renfrew explores ART SG’s ambitions on a regional scale with a vision “to create a world-class art fair for Southeast Asia on its doorstep and on its terms”. With a spotlight on Asian art, the fair will create “new conversations” by bringing in the best galleries from Europe and North America as well.

Marina Bay Sands will be the venue for the inaugural ART SG. Credit Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands will be the venue for the inaugural ART SG. Credit Marina Bay Sands

Booths and Talks You Can’t Miss

As Per Magnus Renfrew’s recommendations, there will be major presentations by the best international galleries: Pace, with its locations in Hong Kong, London, Geneva, Seoul, and around the USA, will present leading artists from the 20th century like sculptor Louise Nevelson, the distinct Claes Oldenburg, and Alexander Calder, known for his colorfully engineered mobile work. These will be in dialogue alongside Jeff Koons’s sculpture ”Nike Sneakers (N110 D/MS/X)”, developed for the artist’s recent solo show at the DESTE Foundation’s Space in Hydra, Greece. White Cube will also have a program of over 30 works by artists such as Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley, as well as a new curation of Isamu Noguchi’s Octetra series in the ART SG PLATFORM sector.

Showcases by Singapore and Southeast Asian art will be at the front and center. Renfrew cites “regional stalwarts such as Richard Koh Fine Art, Yavuz Gallery, The Drawing Room, Artinformal, Gajah Gallery, FOST, to new emerging spaces such as Tropical Futures Institute, Warin Lab and Cuturi Gallery” with a strong spotlight placed on curation emerging out of Southeast Asia. In particular, he says to look out for the booth of Yavuz Gallery, which will present a group show featuring Southeast Asian and Australasian artists.

Grace Wright, “Elemental Freedom” 2022, Acrylic on linen, Yavuz Gallery.
Grace Wright, “Elemental Freedom” 2022, Acrylic on linen, Yavuz Gallery.

Renfrew credits the Philippine art scene as ”dynamic with strong galleries and exceptional artists” that “compares favorably with those from anywhere in the world”. As ART SG and the Philippine art industry work together to nourish its talents, he hopes “that curiosity sparked at the fair will lead to increased visitation (to the Philippines) to explore the cultural scene.”

Pam Yan-Santos, "If I Behave Can I Go Up". Image for reference, actual works will be exhibited in The Drawing Room at ART SG.
Pam Yan-Santos, “If I Behave Can I Go Up”. Image for reference, actual works will be exhibited in The Drawing Room at ART SG.

Among the presentations from the Philippine delegation, he suggests watching out for Pam Yan-Santos’ solo booth “Building Things We May Not Know” with The Drawing Room, which will explore themes such as “everyday intimacy, domesticity, and the interchanging feminine roles of mother, wife, and artist.” While Artinformal will be holding a “tightly curated presentation” featuring works from rising talents Brisa Amir and Nice Buenaventura, alongside established Singapore-based Filipina painter Elaine Navas. Newcomer Tropical Futures Institute from Cebu will be setting up a multi-disciplinary showcase of Visayas-based artist Kristoffer Ardeña, artistic duo Stephanie Comilang/Simon Speiser (whose work “Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?” was recently screened at Tate Modern), American painter of Dutch-Indonesian descent Adam de Boer, and a gaming installation by Rimbawan Gerilya.

Kristoffer Ardeña, "Inang Mahal Party List Manay Gina De Venecia" Elastomeric paint on woven PVC fiber, 2022, Tropical Futures Institute.
Kristoffer Ardeña, “Inang Mahal Party List Manay Gina De Venecia” Elastomeric paint on woven PVC fiber, 2022, Tropical Futures Institute.

The idea holds that the Art Fair has developed from a commercial space to a space of dialogue and education. Renfrew recommends visitors attend the “expansive talks program that will engage with leading figures in their respective fields”. Under the series of conversations, “ART SG PERSPECTIVES: Reconnecting Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific” curated by Cosmin Costinas, the platform will feature practitioners in the region as they “come together, post-pandemic, in an effort to reimagine our common geography, ways of working, and future exchanges.” 

While artists are the core of the art world, collectors allow their practices to flourish. A talk Renfrew recommends is “Novel ways of supporting artists and art scenes to grow”, featuring the unique perspective of collectors as they discuss the dual role of acquisitions and advocacy. Some illustrious collectors include foundation heads Uli Sigg, Rajeeb Samdani, and Patrick Sun. 

Advice for Fair Visitors

Walking through an art fair is an experience full of movement, color, and conversation. For new audiences – whether collectors, artists, or admirers of art for what it is, Renfrew advises with his fair-visiting habits, “When visiting art fairs I tend to make a fairly quick journey round once and take note of any stands with works that particularly catch my eye. Having reviewed my list, I then return to those stands to look in greater detail.”

While the art world can seem intimidating, it can also be a welcoming community, which is expanding its reach with this inaugural edition of ART SG. Renfrew describes how they are looking forward “to welcoming our galleries and collectors to come together in this post-pandemic moment to celebrate art and culture, to see old friends and to make new friendships.” Through a dynamic curatorial program and gallery roster that will experiment with all kinds of mediums, from photography to painting, installation, and blockchain art, this inaugural edition of ART SG promises to be a first step to becoming a central event of the art world in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Art SG will run from January 12 to 15, 2023, with a VIP preview on January 11 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore. Buy your tickets at