Art Basel

Art Basel Hong Kong founder says Taiwan is undiscovered market for collectors

Magnus Renfrew has come up with Taipei Dangdai, a fair which will have a major focus on Asia whilst showcasing also some of the world’s leading galleries

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 12:00pm

When the Swiss events company MCH Group bought Art HK and turned it into Art Basel Hong Kong in 2012, Magnus Renfrew became the man of the moment in the city’s art scene.

Now, he and his partners have a second act coming up in January 2019 – Taipei Dangdai (Taipei, the present moment), which he believes can tap into Taiwan’s underappreciated art scene.

Renfrew talks about the forthcoming show and why he thinks the island is an undiscovered market for Hong Kong art collectors.

Why did you and your partners decide to start a show in Taipei? Whose idea was it and who needed convincing?

I was approached by galleries from Taipei asking me if I would set up an art fair. I thought about it for quite some time, and then I began to do more detailed analysis and it became clear that there was a real opportunity to do something that could help to activate the local scene and to attract international visitors.

I approached the former shareholders of ART HK, as we had worked exceptionally well together as a team previously, with complementary skill sets and strengths. They saw the point of it quickly and have been excited by the early endorsement of key sponsors such as UBS and strong interest from some of the most recognisable names in the art world.

I spent a great deal of time in Taiwan during my tenure at Bonhams and was struck by the extent of the collectors that were buying from auction that I had not come across during my time with ART HK and Art Basel. It seemed that there was a very strong local base on which to build a pan-Asia attendance.

What will be the focus and the scope of the new show? How will you be different from other current art shows in Taiwan?

We want to be an art fair that adheres to international standards of practice in terms of selectivity. We want to have a positive definition of regionality, rather than it being regarded as second best. We want to have a major focus on Asia whilst showcasing also some of the leading galleries from around the world.

How will you manage the selection process? Is there a mandate of any kind to the selection committee?

We have a selection committee of eminent gallerists from around Asia who have a strong understanding of the art scenes across Asia as well as in Europe and America. Galleries are invited to apply for the different sectors of the fair and are evaluated on the basis of the consistency of their exhibition programme, the quality of the artists that they represent and importantly, their proposal for what they would like to show at the fair.

How has the perception of Taiwan as art market and source of art changed over the years? What have people in Hong Kong been missing all this time?

Collectors from Taiwan have long been widely recognised as among the most active on the international art market, but there is still considerable scope for developing that audience further by bringing an exceptional offering to them on their doorstep. For the auction houses, Taiwan is one of the most important consignment gathering constituencies for the auctions of Asian art. Major auction houses showcase their top lots from their New York and London Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales in Taiwan.

Taipei has an excellent gallery scene and it is a place with a wonderful atmosphere, great people and excellent food. It is just a stone’s throw from Hong Kong and we hope to provide the perfect excuse for Hongkongers to come back again and again.

What is most underappreciated about the Taiwan art scene, in your view?

The strength of the collectors, the quality of the artists, the museums, but also the overall experience of visiting Taipei – it is a vibrant, creatively rich scene.

How would you describe contemporary Taiwanese art?

Engaged, perceptive, curious, committed. There are some exceptional artists in Taipei and a vibrant artists’ community. There are also a number of overseas artists that have chosen Taipei as their base, including Hong Kong’s very own Lee Kit. The cost of living is reasonable, which provides a context for art and creativity to flourish.

Apart from your show, what do you recommend Hong Kong collectors see and get to know in Taiwan?

There are some great commercial galleries and non-profit spaces. I would advise going to see MoCA, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, which will also host the Taipei Biennial later this year and which will still be on view during Taipei Dangdai in January. The National Palace Museum has an exceptional collection of Chinese antiquities.

(The full version of this article is published in the June issue of the The Peak magazine, available at selected bookstores)

Do you anticipate that a show in Taipei being purchased by MCH Group one day?

We need to concentrate on building and delivering an excellent fair that can form the foundation for further development in the coming years. I am focused on delivering the best possible event that we can so that the galleries have a successful time and the visitors have stimulating, refreshing, fun and memorable experience.

This has been lightly edited for brevity

(The full version of this article is published in the June issue of The Peak magazine, available at selected bookstores)