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ART SG: What to expect at Southeast Asia’s largest commercial art fair

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 9 min read
ART SG: What to expect at Southeast Asia’s largest commercial art fair
From left: August Hatecke, co-head of global wealth management in Asia Pacific and country head of UBS Singapore; Shuyin Yang, fair director for ART SG; Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of ART SG.
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A long-time supporter of contemporary art, Swiss bank UBS is presenting ART SG, Southeast Asia’s largest commercial art fair, in partnership with the international art fair organiser, Art Assembly.

To be held from Jan 12 to 15, 2023, at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, the event will be co-timed with Singapore Art Week to offer both art collectors and the general public access to more than 150 established galleries and emerging artists from over 30 countries. This will be the region's first fair of such scale and international significance.

As a key hub within the Southeast Asia region, home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, Singapore’s status as a leading centre of wealth is further accentuated by its rapidly developing cultural scene. This has created an ideal nexus for the region’s extensive and knowledgeable collector base to gather and connect with artists, curators and other cultural stakeholders.

“In our recent survey of high-net-worth collectors, published in the ‘Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report’, spending on art in Asia maintained strength over the pandemic and dealers in Asia had among the most substantial increases in sales. Our partnership with ART SG is an extension of our commitment to support our clients and the region's vibrant cultural and art scene,” says August Hatecke, co-head of global wealth management in Asia Pacific and country head of UBS Singapore.

He reports that spending on collectibles such as watches, cars and art has maintained strength over the pandemic and more than doubled, rising from a median expenditure of $72,000 in 2019 to $274,000 in 2021. In 2019, collectors in the region acquired an average of eight works annually. In 2021, that figure rose by a third to 12 pieces.

More interestingly, he shared that Singapore was the only location in Asia where female collectors spent more on buying art than their male counterparts. In addition, over half of high-net-worth collectors surveyed (56%) were planning to buy digital art in 2022, of which millennial collectors made up 62%.

See also: Hong Kong’s art scene is undergoing a renaissance sparked by a vibrant full-year programme at the M+ museum

UBS has one of the world’s most extensive corporate art collections carrying over 30,000 pieces by some of the most significant artists of our time, distributed across its offices in over 70 markets. As part of its suite of services, UBS offers clients insight into the art market, collecting and legacy planning through its Collectors Circle and the UBS Art Advisory. It seeks to advance international conversations about the art market through its global lead partnership with Art Basel.

“For UBS, collecting art has been in our DNA since the 1960s, and we believe contemporary art encourages innovative thinking and provides insight into our society. That is why our extensive collection continues to acquire and commission artworks internationally, supporting communities in the regions where we operate,” elaborates Hatecke.

He adds: “A curiosity best drives art collecting for discovering new ideas and the desire to leave behind a legacy. We do not advise our clients to view art as an investment class but as a passionate pursuit that pays ‘emotional dividends’ by enriching lives.”

See also: Edmund Koh, Asia-Pacific president of UBS Group AG, discusses the growth of its art collections over the years

Contemporary art is important at UBS, which is why the organisation continually invests in art education and co-partners with some of the world’s most important art institutions, events and art fairs. “The launch of ART SG with such an impressive list of world-class galleries is a testament to the strength and potential this fair has for Singapore and the art scene in Southeast Asia. As the founding and lead partner of ART SG, we see great potential in the regional art market and expect ART SG to become a showcase event for UBS and Singapore. Supporting this new flagship platform will provide the art-loving public and UBS clients access to the most important galleries, dynamic artists, and artwork available today,” adds Hatecke.

Meet the organisers

An organiser to major international art fairs such as Taipei Dangdai, India Art Fair, Sydney Contemporary, Photofairs Shanghai and Tokyo Gendai, which will be held in July 2023, The Art Assembly pulls together decades’ worth of experience, expertise and extensive global network of contacts and assets. Led by co-founder Magnus Renfrew, every event is tailored to its unique orientation and informed by a deep understanding of the local market. It provides a meeting ground for local and international art worlds to converge and acts as a regional focal point for creative and commercial exchange.

Renfrew believes the time is nigh to hold a major international art fair in Southeast Asia.

“As the earth continues to tilt eastwards on its axis, people are beginning to look at Asia more seriously. There’s been a big influx of wealth into Singapore. And when one considers that Southeast Asia has a population of around 600 million — which is approaching the same scale as Europe — that logic dictates that in such a context and with the economic rise of the region, it deserves one major international art fair,” he attests.

“As Southeast Asia’s most selective and largest art fair to date, ART SG will create a defining moment in Asia’s cultural landscape and shine a spotlight on Singapore. The scale and calibre of our inaugural exhibitor list demonstrate a strong commitment and shared belief in the importance of the art market in the region. With the support of our exceptional partners, stakeholders, Advisory Group and team, ART SG will be a new platform with global significance on the cultural landscape to bring the international community to Singapore to experience the best contemporary art from Southeast Asia and around the world,” shares Renfrew.

To manage the curatorial aspects of the event, he pulled on board Shuyin Yang formerly from Christie’s. She was appointed fair director of Art Central Hong Kong in 2017, where under her leadership, the event saw its strongest edition to date. As fair director of ART SG’s launch edition, Yang brings incomparable knowledge of the Southeast Asian art world, with deep ties and networks spanning artists, galleries, collectors, curators and key players.

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“We believe the launch of ART SG will crystallise Singapore’s position as an exceptional cultural venue within the international art landscape. From new modalities of painting to contemporary practice in sculpture, installations and stimulating conceptual works, as well as experimentations in technology-driven art, we hope the inaugural edition of ART SG will provide collectors, galleries, and art lovers alike a vital opportunity for discovery, exchange and discourse,” says Yang.

Programme highlights

Across ART SG, visitors can view and buy exceptional artworks covering 30,000 sqm, displayed over two floors of MBS’s convention centre.

In addition to the main galleries, there will be areas dedicated to specific or contextual themes. Under “Focus”, one will find solo or duo artist programmes or curated thematic presentations; “Futures” will be dedicated to supporting young galleries under the age of six years; and “Reframe” presents art that is engaged with, made or presented using digital technology, which includes digital painting, animation, immersive installations, augmented or virtual reality, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

“There has been so much attention paid to art on the blockchain. However, there hasn't been a clear sense of context and history in presenting these newly discovered art forms. We're very pleased to bring together galleries working in media art and digital art for the past 10 to 15 years,” explains Yang.

She gives an example of the New York-based Postmasters Gallery, which has been around for two decades and created the first NFT art in 2014. Another is Bitforms Gallery from the US — one of the most acclaimed pioneers in the aesthetics of data and machine intelligence and whose generative artworks have redefined the parameters of technology and algorithmic-based practice in this current era.

Bringing progressive concepts to the Singapore art landscape, the fair will also present a film sector specially selected by Gridthiya Gaweewong, the artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok and previous artistic director of the Thailand Biennale 2023. Her component will focus on showcasing new film-making practices, experimental film or film as an artistic medium from artists and practitioners from Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.

There will also be critical and thought-provoking talks and education helmed by Cosmin Costinas, former executive director of Para Site and the upcoming director of Sydney Biennale 2024. The programme will offer critical and thought-provoking discussion on key topics and issues today, such as cross-cultural dialogues within new global realities, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and novel ways of building and supporting art ecosystems and encounters.

Art for everyone

Will the rising cost of living and inflation affect the consumer’s appetite for art collectibles in fine art? Renfrew is confident that ART SG will be received well and is targeting to attract up to 40,000 local and foreign visitors. “High inflation environments can benefit the art market in some respects. For example, blue-chip artwork is often seen as a hedge against inflation and a good store of value,” he attests.

The prices for artworks at ART SG will start from US$3,000 ($4,051) and can run up in the millions. But Renfrew understands the need to stay affordable and nurture new customers keen to start collecting. He shares that a sector at the fair will be called “New Now”, which allows any gallery participating to submit one artwork under US$10,000.

To discover more about ART SG, visit artsg.com.

Mandy El-Sayegh, Performance rehearsal still, UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles, 2022. Photo: Josh S. Rose, Lehmann Maupin, and UTA Artist Space

Tropical Shades (III): Rainforest Narratives from the National Geographic 1970 – 1979, 2022, by Donna Ong. Photo: FOST Gallery

Plum Trees and Black Swans 2021, by Makiko Kudo Photo: Tomio Koyama Gallery

Opera Chocolates, 1994, by John Chamberlain Photo: Galerie Karsten Greve

Pacific Ocean A, 2022, by Refik Anadol Photo: bitforms gallery

I wish I had learned more trivia, 2022, by Xu Zhen Photo: MadeIn Gallery

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