Archives for posts with tag: Art Fair


In September 2013 Australia’s new art fair, Sydney Contemporary will launch.  Francesca Valmorbida is the Art Fair Director of Sydney Contemporary and gave up some of her time to share her thoughts with arts interview. Sydney Contemporary will be held at Carriageworks, 20th – 22nd September 2013.

Interview by Leanne Rich

What does Sydney Contemporary do?

Sydney Contemporary is Australia’s newest art fair presenting modern and contemporary artwork including painting, sculpture, new media, photography and performance from leading Australian and international galleries. Essentially, it is a commercial platform for outstanding visual art; an event that brings together artists, gallerists, new and established collectors, and people who are generally interested in visual art – whether they are a seasoned collector or first time buyer.

What is your role within Sydney Contemporary?

As Director, my role is to collaborate, plan and deliver an art fair that everyone wants to be a part of. I work with a broad range of people – colleagues, contractors, selection committee members, ambassadors, institutions, corporations, sponsors, curators, art lovers, collectors and of course gallery owners – it’s exciting.

You have been involved in art events all over Australia, how do the states compare in promoting the local and international art industries?

Each Australian state is unique with its own personality and cultural focus. Sydney has not yet hosted a high end art fair and we have some fabulous art galleries, both public and private. As a new art fair, we will be primarily concerned with educating local audiences as to the role of a fair, and international audiences as to the richness of Sydney’s cultural scene.

How does Australia become an international contender in the art scene?

Australia is an international contender and we should perhaps stop questioning this and enjoy the abundance of talent we have on offer.

What strategy are you using to engage the Asia Pacific Regions?

Sydney Contemporary is open to applications from all new and established galleries who present excellent work by modern or contemporary artists. We welcome applications from commercial galleries across the Asia Pacific and beyond with a consistent history of exhibition. Sydney Contemporary is a dynamic event that has been developed to international standards and is exciting and enticing international galleries.

How would you like to see the future unfold for the arts sector in Australia?

Ideally, I would like to see Australians revel in the breadth of the arts available in this country and regularly attend the many cultural events, performances and exhibitions that surround them. Many public, and all commercial, galleries are free to enter, and I would like to see Australians take more time to drop in to local galleries for example, and to experience the work of some inspiring artists first hand. Online has its place, but there is nothing like seeing an artwork in the flesh.


The Fair Director since the inception of ART HK, Magnus Renfrew has over a decade’s professional experience in the international art world. Before joining ART HK, Magnus was Head of Exhibitions for Contrasts Gallery in Shanghai. Previously Magnus was a London-based specialist with the auction house Bonhams. During his seven years there he was responsible for sourcing works internationally for Modern and Contemporary sales, as well as having been instrumental in bringing to fruition their first sale of Contemporary Asian Art in London.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani-Gandhi

How does cultural difference impact how you direct Art HK?

It affects the way you behave with people. My character is suited to work in Asia – I was brought up to respect people and to give people time. You need to physically give people time – have conversations, make them feel that they are important and valued. You need to develop personal relationships and friendships – business is based on how people get along and so it is important to set the ground for trust.

It becomes difficult to implement an international standard for selection (of galleries represented in the fair), because people assume that since they have a personal relationship with you, they have a better chance of getting in. And when they are not selected, they feel personally slighted.

You also have to deal with the intimidation factor – people often do not ask the question because they do not already have the answer. They do not want to ask the price because they do not want to lose face or look like they cannot afford it. We encourage galleries to be as forthcoming and un-intimidating as possible. And the fair also offers different levels of education through programming.

What is the difference in leading people in Asia vs. Europe?

We have a cross-cultural team and a flat management structure. We are not big into hierarchy and everyone’s role is equally important. It is a high pressure job, so you need to have a supportive environment. I am constantly travelling and so my work is often in parallel with the team in Hong Kong.

We also have a diverse advisory team that we use to seek introductions and build networks. It is important to have people who are respected in their own countries. Introductions are very important in Asia, so that you connect with the right people.

In China, it was quite difficult to manage people. Sometimes as a foreigner there can be resentment or questioning of your position. It becomes important to get an understanding of the culture and to gain people’s respect by working hard, rather than just bossing people around.

Is there a personality type in the arts? Is it different in administrative roles as compared to artists? Is personality a consideration when you are recruiting?

There are many stereotypes of the art world. The galleriests I have met have been demanding, intelligent, sensitive and have high expectations of themselves and others. In any organisation you need show horses and work horses. There are the ambassadors who win business and become the face of the organisation, versus those who are structured in their thinking. When recruiting, it is important for us to know how they will get along in the organisation. People here have to work as a team.

What is the personality of Art HK?

Humility – you are only as good as the last fair and the galleries that participate, so you take nothing for granted. Geographic diversity, accessibility and quality are defining characteristics of the fair.

We are an art fair that reflects and celebrates the diversity of the region. In the West, fairs are showing works to match the western aesthetic sensibility and have been slow to adapt to the changing world. Art means different things to different people and the purpose of art is not a universal concept. We want to be inclusive of the arts scene here, but not ghettoise it into ‘Asian art’. Artists do not want to be pigeon-holed as ‘Asian artists’.

Many other fairs in the region are run by local gallery associations or by people who are very powerful within the scene without having international credibility. They are not able to get international galleries that do not want to be seen next to galleries that are not the best in the region. We have broken that spell through the selection process and by getting galleries that are doing interesting things. We are balancing the flavour of the fair with 50% from Asia-Pacific and 50% from the rest of the world.

More information on personality and cultural difference:


The former lawyer was roped in to direct a quiet art fair in a small village, Basel, which he transformed into the center of the art world by turning collectors into celebrities, introducing corporate sponsorship, and supporting emerging artists. He also initiated and created the glamorous Art Basel, Miami Beach, as well as ShContemporary in Shanghai, and is currently at the helm of his new baby, Art Stage Singapore.  He took the time to discuss with arts interview how he makes decisions and their potential repercussions.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What are some of the key areas in which you have to make decisions as a director of an art fair?

You have to make decision on every level. On the one side, you are an entrepreneur, and you have to make decisions as a businessman. On the other side, you have to take decisions as an exhibition-maker. You also create a get-together platform, where you match-make the right people. You have to invest yourself in all these aspects, and then make the right decision. And I find this most fascinating.

What are some of the most difficult decisions you have made at Art Stage?

If you take decisions on a business-level, many can be very important, but they can be quite logical and clear. Difficult decisions are more often in the cultural direction – for example the selection of galleries. There are certain galleries, where you say “forget it”, but you have many galleries where it is difficult. Sometimes, it is hard to have to say no, but you have to do it. And you have to stand for it and explain it. You know these people, and you can hurt them with such decisions, but it is part of the game.

What influences decision-making when putting together an art fair?

For Art Stage, I try to travel through Asia and the Pacific to see as much as possible to form an impression of what is going on. Then I try to find what I want to show – the right artists, the right pieces and the right galleries. Especially, in Asia where you do not have a structured scene or market as you have in Europe or America, you have to work like an exhibition-maker. If I go to China, I have quite a good structure, in Indonesia, it is weak, and in Philippines, forget it! Nevertheless, I want to integrate all these in the show, so we have to find totally new ways.

Who are the stakeholders and what is the decision-making process you follow, particularly, when working closely with the Singapore government?

There are different levels. When it comes to content, the government takes no interest – I would also not allow it. That is absolutely no problem because we share a clear vision and we have full respect and confidence in each other.

On decision-making for content, it is important that you have an entire network of experts with whom you can exchange (ideas). At the end you have to take the decision, but I like to have a lot of discussions before I make one. For instance, if I select artists in China, I discuss a lot with the curator and artists until I have made an impression. Sometimes you have discussions to assure yourself, and sometimes to open new doors and give you new ideas – I think that is very important.

For more local things like the organisation, marketing and political direction, we have many open discussions with various government agencies. That is a very open dialogue and a flow of information and communication with a clear goal.

Can you recollect any decisions that brought unexpected results?

When I started to think about the content of this art fair, I was convinced there would be at the most 4-5 galleries from Singapore – the others do not have the quality. We had a gallery, that I said at the beginning, sorry – in my first impression, it was too commercial. However, as we had discussions we came to totally new ideas, new forms. At the end, this gallery made a project for the fair, which was the most discussed and respected one. Discuss with people and look at what you can do together – this can bring results which you would have never had if you only made decisions at certain levels.

Interested in more reading about decision making?