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The long-awaited debut of Art SG marks a turning point for Singapore’s art scene as it reaffirms its ambitions to be the region’s primary art-market hub. Co-founder MAGNUS RENFREW reflects on its wildly successful launch.

It was the event on everyone’s lips in the new year. After four cancellations due to Covid and organisational issues, the inaugural Art SG by leading art fair organiser The Art Assembly met with an impressive 42,000-strong turnout, which included local and international collectors as well as leading art museums and institutions.

Under Heaven-2801GK2191 by Xu Zhen

Staged across two floors of Sands Expo and Convention Centre from Jan 12 to 15, the fair presented more than 160 galleries from 35 countries. Industry heavyweights such as David Zwirner, White Cube, Pace Gallery and Thaddeus Ropac were among the stellar list of exhibitors, alongside local establishments like STPI, Cuturi Gallery and Yeo Workshop.

Sales figures were just as robust. New York-based Sundaram Tagore Gallery sold two works by Korean artist Chun Kwang Young and a large-scale painting by Singaporean artist Jane Lee within 10 minutes of the fair’s opening; White Cube sold 17 pieces totalling around US$3 million ($4 million) on the first day; Museum MACAN in Jakarta acquired two artworks by Ashley Bickerton from Gagosian; and American graffiti artist Futura, who made an appearance at the fair, had his works at Eric Firestone Gallery picked up by new buyers.

magnus renfrew art sg
Magnus Renfrew.

Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of The Art Assembly, is full of hope. “The overall quality and scale of the fair was exceptional, and the attendance has exceeded our previous launches by a long way,” says the art veteran, whose resume includes stints at Phillips, Bonhams and Pearl Lam Galleries before becoming the founding director of Art HK, now Art Basel Hong Kong.

“Galleries have been impressed with the inaugural edition. They have made solid sales and have generated new relationships and leads on which to build. The consensus is that the first showing has laid firm foundations for the future. There is a lot of work still to do but it has been a very positive start.”

Art SG comes hot on the heels of Frieze Seoul, which debuted last September with around 120 booths and some 70,000 visitors across four days. Come July, The Art Assembly will also launch Tokyo Gendai, a new international art fair featuring approximately 80 exceptional galleries. Evidently, Asia’s art market is burgeoning.

Octetra by Isamu Noguchi

“The rise of Asia is the biggest trend in the art world today. Collectors from the region are increasingly asserting their importance on the world stage, and the international art world is paying attention. Asia is now becoming a key focus,” says Renfrew.

Although there are now more players in the field than ever before, he is of the opinion that a rising tide lifts all boats. “We are all working to build an audience for contemporary art in Asia. The work that we do independently benefits us all collectively. Art SG caters to the expanding market in Southeast Asia and helps to connect the regional scene in Southeast Asia with each other, the rest of Asia and beyond.

Nanohana Heels by Sputniko!

“Southeast Asia has a population of over 650 million (approaching Europe in scale), and is home to many of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Logic dictates that this important region deserves one major international art fair.”