In the often fickle art world, it seems ART HK director Magnus Renfrew has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. The Cambridge, England native was helping to put together the first sale of contemporary Asian art for London auction house Bonhams in 2006 when he was approached by Chinese art pioneer Pearl Lam to head exhibitions at her Shanghai gallery.
'I felt that we were living through an incredible time and I wanted to come to Asia to see these changes firsthand,' he says. 'I was pretty much on the first flight out after the [Bonhams] auction and had an incredible year visiting artists' studios around China and learning about Chinese culture.'
At the end of his one-year contract, he 'jumped at the chance' to help Asian Art Fairs start up ART HK. Since its launch in 2008, the fair has grown from 101 galleries and 19,000 visitors to 260 galleries and 63,000 visitors.
'The earth is tipping Eastward on its axis and the fair is becoming a key fixture on the international art calendar,' Renfrew says. 'Galleries from around the world are looking to engage with new markets and there is incredible wealth being generated in Asia.' The fair's growing profile has kept Renfrew busy travelling to other international art fairs and galleries in Asia and around the world. Outside office hours he can often be found meeting visiting collectors, curators or gallery owners and attending events around the city.
He's also had to adapt to his new hometown's unique approach to time. 'Hong Kong is a fast-paced city. It seems to be in a different gear from cities in the West,' Renfrew says. 'People work long hours, so time is a very valuable commodity. We communicate on different time zones, often speaking to galleries in the US, for example, late into the evening.'
What little free time he does have, Renfrew enjoys spending with his wife and young son. And at times, building their own 'minor' art collection.
'I like work that has an element of surprise to it that reveals itself over time. I am drawn to work that is about ideas rather than merely about decoration,' Renfrew says, citing the works of Chinese artists Zhang Huan, Li Yongbin and Qiu Anxiong. 'Collectors from Asia are increasingly interested in buying work from outside the region and there is an increased curiosity from collectors in the West about discovering work from a different cultural and aesthetic background,' he says.
'This is by a British designer based in Hong Kong. I thought it was simple, sleek and understated. It has a bit of a retro kick but I also like that it's not trying too hard to make a statement.'