Mag­nus Ren­frew

Art Basel HK di­rec­tor

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - First Profile -

Love, sex, death, life, loss and man’s in­hu­man­ity to man. Art has al­ways been about the great is­sues. Th­ese are shared hu­man ex­pe­ri­ences and things that define our lives. I firmly be­lieve that art should be trans­gres­sive; that is to say, to be made un­com­fort­able by a work of art is just as valid as be­ing up­lifted — that’s my start­ing point. Peo­ple of­ten re­mark on the shock value of con­tem­po­rary art but this has al­ways been a fea­ture. Gen­er­al­i­sa­tions are danger­ous and the idea that con­tem­po­rary art from Asia is al­ways more lyri­cal and dec­o­ra­tive than the art of Europe and the US is a mis­con­cep­tion. In the re­gion there is the full spec­trum of sub­ject mat­ter and ap­proaches to pro­duc­ing art and much of it is just as chal­leng­ing. My back­ground is art his­tory, which I stud­ied at the Univer­sity of St An­drews in Scot­land, and on grad­u­a­tion I worked for the auc­tion house Bon­hams for seven years. In my last year be­fore leav­ing Bon­hams I helped put to­gether their first sale of con­tem­po­rary Asian art in Lon­don. That was June 2006 and in the lead-up to that event I was for­tu­nate enough to meet the Hong Kong-born gal­lerist Pearl Lam, and I moved pretty much im­me­di­ately af­ter the auc­tion to Shang­hai to run her gal­leries. I was sent around to a num­ber of cities in China — Chongqing, Kun­ming, Hangzhou, Nan­jing and Bei­jing — vis­it­ing the stu­dios of es­tab­lished and younger artists and it was an in­cred­i­ble learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. As my con­tract with the gallery was com­ing to an end I was ap­proached to be­come found­ing di­rec­tor of a new art fair in Hong Kong. In June 2007 I moved to Hong Kong from Shang­hai and we be­gan re­cruit­ing gal­leries for the in­au­gu­ral Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Art Fair, or ART HK, which ran for five years. I was re­tained as di­rec­tor, Asia, by its suc­ces­sor, Art Basel, which opens its in­au­gu­ral edi­tion to the pub­lic on May 23. Art Basel, es­tab­lished in 1970, runs shows in Basel and Mi­ami Beach for mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary works but this is its first show in Asia. Peo­ple of­ten ask what is Asian art but it’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer be­cause there are many dif­fer­ent cen­tres of cul­tural pro­duc­tion in Asia, from the Mid­dle East to Tokyo, that are very dis­tinct. At Art Basel in Hong Kong, 53 per cent of the 245 gal­leries on show are com­ing from Asia and the Asia-Pa­cific, which is our fo­cus, and

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