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Magnus Renfrew, Deputy Chairman, Asia and Director of Fine arts, Asia at Bonhams, March 11, 2015

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Magnus Renfrew, Deputy Chairman, Asia and Director of Fine arts, Asia at Bonhams, March 11, 2015
Magnus Renfrew, Deputy Chairman, Asia and Director of Fine arts. (Image courtesy of News of the Art World)

 

Our Conversation Series features intimate interviews with leading experts from around the world: collectors, curators, artists, gallerists, and museum directors.

 

 

I am Magnus Renfrew. I’m Deputy Chairmen Asia for the auction house Bonhams, and was previously the founding fair director for Art Basel in Hong Kong and Art Hong Kong.

Art Basel Hong Kong is approaching in a week’s time. What do you expect from this year’s edition?

I am very much looking forward to visiting the fair as a visitor for the first time and to be enjoying the greater array of events that will be taking place. I am particularly excited by the fact that the fair has moved to March. I think that’s going to help encouraging a much greater audience from all over the world to attend, as it is a much more convenient time on the international calendar, so I think we will see a greater presence from collectors from Europe and the United States than we have done previously. I am also very excited to see the first edition of Encounters under the curatorship of Alexie Glass-Kantor. It was one of the last things that I did before I step down as Director Asia for Art Basel, which was to appoint her as the curator for that sector. And I think she is going to do a great job. So I am looking forward to seeing that.

How has Art Basel Hong Kong evolved during your directorship?

The art fair really developed considerably in terms of its scale, the quality of the galleries that participated, and in its profile and presence on the international stage. We have really witnessed a great increase in interest from galleries and from collectors from all over the world, and engaging both with the work from Asia, but also with the greatly expanding audience from Asia, and I anticipate that will continue for the long term. I think that since the Art Basel’s involvement, the fair has really moved on from being a fair of regional importance to being one of truly global stature.

How do you see the Hong Kong art scene evolving in the next decade?

Over the next ten years, I would anticipate that we will see an increasing audience coming to Asia. I think that Asia is now becoming of mainstream interest rather than niche interest in the global art world. And with Art Basel’s presence at Hong Kong, I think we now see this is a firmly key fixture on the international art calendar. One of the most important developments that we will see over the next ten years in Hong Kong will be the opening of M+, and this will be the final piece in the cultural ecology.

What is the biggest challenge for the foreign auction houses in Asia?

The big challenge for auction houses in Asia is the scale of the region. It is a very big place with very diverse cultures and languages. Personal relationships are incredibly important for gaining trust and for doing business here, so it’s very important to have a reach into the different constituencies around the region. And to those ends, Bonhams now has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo and Singapore, where we have people on the grounds networking constantly with collectors and helping them to be aware of our activities.

What has been your experience with collectors in Asia?

We have seen a great expansion of interest in the field of contemporary art in Asia over the last few years, certainly during my time as the director of Art Hong Kong and for Art Basel in Hong Kong. We saw the audience grew for the fair from 19,000 visitors in 2008, to approaching 70,000 visitors in 2014. That really gives you a sense of the increasing appetite there is to see art and buy art. We have also witnessed the increasing sophistication over the last few years of buyers from Asia. It’s no longer enough to have a work by a big-name artist. It has to be from the right date, it has to be the right subject matter. So we are seeing an increasingly discerning audience, and that is a sign of a maturing market. One of the exciting things that we are witnessing is a key demographic of 30 to 45 year olds who are coming into their own wealth, either through having made money entrepreneurially or through inheriting their wealth from their family; who are very internationally minded and often internationally educated, and who are beginning to start collecting and asking a lot of questions, doing a lot of research, and being very thorough in their approach to collecting.

What is your advice for young collectors?

For me, I am interested in buying work that might be of interest in fifty or a hundred years time. And I think for that to be the case, I often say that there are four ‘h’s that one should look for. First of all, the good work should be from one’s head; it has to have conception integrity. It has to be from your heart, and that is genuinely intended. It has to be from your hand, and it has to show your technical ability; and even if you are negating your technical ability, I think that still shines through in the work. It has to have a sense of history, in that no work is produced in isolation, and it has to recognise the context in which it was produced.

 


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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