Art Basel’s Parent Company MCH Group Bought Back a Minority Stake in the Singapore Fair ART SG Just a Few Years After Selling It Off

The Swiss conglomerate is expanding its presence in Asia beyond its longtime hub of Art Basel in Hong Kong.

Singapore, the Merlion, statue representing a mythical creature with a lion's head and the body of a fish, in Marina Bay. In the background the Marina Bay Sands (hotel and shopping mall). (Photo by: Benard E/Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Art Basel’s parent company MCH Group has acquired a 15 percent stake in the company organizing ART SG, a new major art fair planned for Singapore, in a move that revives the Swiss group’s regional art fair strategy while boosting its presence in Asia.

The acquisition is MCH Group’s second go with the Singaporean fair, which was supposed to launch in 2019. The European conglomerate bought a minority stake in ART SG in 2016 before divesting a few years later during an overhaul of its fair strategy.

MCH Group will have a board level presence in Art Events Singapore, the organizer of ART SG, a new art fair that is set to be inaugurated in January 2023 after multiple delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was understood that MCH will lend professional support to ART SG behind the scenes.

Art Basel has recently been diversifying its business in Asia while maintaining its flagship fair Art Basel Hong Kong, which is set to take place in March in spite of stringent travel restrictions. Art Basel has been collaborating with regional events including Art Week Tokyo in Japan and S.E.A. Focus in Singapore as a consultant, offering strategic advice and professional support.

While taking a slightly different tack, the stake in ART SG’s organizer “is part of MCH’s strategy to support the development of regional art scenes across Asia,” Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director Asia, told Artnet News.

MCH Group bought a minority stake in ART SG during a major expansion into regional art fairs around the world back in 2016. But it pulled out in 2018, one year before the fair was set to debut (it still has yet to run), at the same time that it withdrew from India Art Fair and Art Düsseldorf. The aim then was “to focus on its core business for economic reasons,” noted Christian Jecker, MCH’s head of corporate communications.

“In the meantime, a lot has changed at MCH,” Jecker told Artnet News. This includes, he said, developing a strategic framework that encompasses numerous initiatives in “art and art related industries.”

Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of ART SG, told Artnet News that the minority stake in ART SG’s organizer “strengthens” the fair’s position. He called it “a great endorsement” that MCH “shares our belief that Singapore is a natural gateway to Southeast Asia.”

Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of ART SG. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of ART SG. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

In recent years, Singapore has seen a surge of so-called family offices, a setup dedicated to managing ultra rich families’ financial affairs. These bespoke fund managers are a testament to the growing wealth of the region, and the number of them doubled between 2019 and 2020 to around 400, with each family office now managing an average of $100 million assets.

Renfrew, who is also the co-founder and co-director of Taipei Dangdai art fair, said that considering South East Asia’s population size (which is more than 655 million) and its promising economic growth, an art fair of international standard is needed.

“Galleries have been reporting an increase in sales to the region,” he said. Despite an earlier decision to postpone the fair dates again, nearly 100 galleries—including Victoria Miro, White Cube, and Gagosian—have already committed to the inaugural edition of ART SG, which is scheduled to run from January 11 to 15, 2023.

Nevertheless, Renfrew, who previously ran ART HK and was the Asia director of Art Basel, did not agree that the art world is looking for a backup for Hong Kong. “There’s been a genuine understanding that Southeast Asia has a potential as a market itself,” he said. “It’s a dynamic region from an economic perspective.”

This article was updated on January 28.


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