Art Basel Taps Art Adviser Adeline Ooi for Asia Director Post

She replaces Magnus Renfrew, who resigned in July.

Art Basel Director Asia Adeline Ooi Photo: Tara Sosrowardoyo

Art Basel Director Asia Adeline Ooi
Photo: Tara Sosrowardoyo

Art adviser Adeline Ooi has been appointed as Director Asia of Art Basel, the fair announced on Tuesday. Ooi will take up the post in January and replaces Magnus Renfrew who resigned in July to join Bonhams. Renfrew was the founding director of ArtHK, which was purchased by Art Basel’s holding company, MCH Group in 2011 and thereafter became Art Basel in Hong Kong.

Ooi has served for the past two years as an Art Basel VIP relations manager for Southeast Asia, including the key emerging collector bases of Indonesia and Singapore. That southward glance will prove essential in continuing to anchor the still relatively nascent fair in the APAC region. Ooi founded the RogueArt advisory in 2009 with Beverly Yong and Rachel Ng after working as the director of Kuala Lumpur gallery Valentine Willie Fine Art.

“I am honored to have been selected for the position and look forward to joining the team in Hong Kong,” Ooi said in a statement. “While I have worked with Art Basel for the last two years, this new role will require a lot of learning, and my focus for the initial months as Director Asia will be on supporting the team in delivering the upcoming show in Hong Kong.”

Renfrew, who played an integral role in the selection of his successor, told artnet News that, while leaving was bittersweet, the new Asia director will “have fresh energy and excitement and take [the show] up to the next level,” ahead of the announcement. He added, “In terms of my own departure, I like building things and I really felt that I had achieved what I set out to achieve, so it was time to move on to new challenges.”

While some had expected the announcement to come in the early fall to give the new director time to participate in the gallery selection process for the Hong Kong fair’s 2015 edition, Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told artnet News ahead of the announcement that such a quick transition wasn’t realistic. “Even if we had found a candidate very quickly, the likelihood that the candidate would have been unemployed and able to start immediately is pretty low,” he said. “I would rather wait and have the right person for five years than rush and have the wrong person for five months.”

Art Basel in Hong Kong atmosphere, 2014.

Art Basel in Hong Kong atmosphere, 2014.
Photo: Xaume Olleros / Art Basel.

The upcoming edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong marks an important shift for the fair. It is the first to take place in March, which has allowed a significant number of international galleries to come back to the fair or participate for the first time (see “Five Theories on Why Art Basel in Hong Kong Is Moving to March Next Year“). Around 20 percent of the 115 international dealers showing in 2015 are new or re-entrants and represent a marked increase in quality of participants, especially with regard to European galleries.

Though Spiegler travels to the region frequently, he sought Renfrew’s aid in vetting Asian applicants to the upcoming fair. “He had built up tremendous knowledge about the galleries in Asia,” Spiegler said. “So even though it wouldn’t have been appropriate for him to be in the room,” when the selection of galleries for Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015 was taking place, “we still had him go through all the applications and point out which galleries we should pay attention to that we might otherwise not have.”

It’s a role that Spiegler is confident Ooi will soon be able to fill, however. “With her wide background in curating and advising, Adeline brings experience and contacts across the diverse art scenes within Asia and the Asia- Pacific region. […] I look forward to seeing how her energy and personality will shape our future Hong Kong shows and amplify Asia’s many dynamic art scenes within Art Basel’s activities worldwide,” he said in a statement.

Zoe Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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